Does Israel Fund Conservative and Reform Jews Threaten Jewish Identity?

Israel’s minister for Diaspora Affairs recently announced that his government’s new budget will include 40 million shekels ($ 12.3 million) to fund progressive groups and causes in the Jewish state. This should send an earthquake directly to anyone interested in preserving Israel’s Jewish identity.

Far from being “progressive,” these groups and causes are “regressive,” proactively determined to undermine the religious and cultural integrity of the Jewish people. To know what’s going to happen in Israel, you only need to look at the conservative and reformist leftist Jewish denominations in America, which have precipitated the most dramatic decline in Jewish identity in modern history.

Consider what someone at the top of the conservative pyramid, a key eyewitness, in other words, had to say about the unfolding disaster. In his farewell address to the 2006 graduating class of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the conservative denomination’s flagship institution for clergy training, Chancellor Ismar Schorsch criticized the conservative denomination as “impoverished,” lacking direction. and passion for Judaism. He criticized his translation of the Torah, Etz Hayim (“Tree of Life”), for lacking spirituality. The guiding principles of the conservative denomination, he added, were “stupid.” As for rabbinic students, Schorsch criticized them for craving “instant gratification.”

Unfortunately, in the 15 years since Schorsch’s retirement, the conservative denomination has only accelerated its own decline and dragged mainstream Judaism with it. With an almost prophetic foresight, many of the developments that Schorsch envisioned, such as putting aside Torah ethics and morals in favor of “awakened” interpretations of Jewish values, have come to pass.

In truth, an individual in Schorsch’s position is not required to predict the eventual demise of the conservative denomination. From its inception, the denomination defined itself as nothing more than a collective product of its members. In articulating its founding theology, one of its earliest icons, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, said: “The sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath is not based on the fact that it was proclaimed at Sinai, but on the fact that it found over thousands of years its expression in Jewish souls. “In other words, who cares about God, much less His commandments? What matters now is only what Jews consider important. Unfortunately, in today’s society, very little of what It is truly valuable is considered worthy of admiration, not to mention the savings.

THE WRITINGS FINISH writing a Torah scroll. (credit: DAVID COHEN / FLASH 90)

With the zeitgeist eliminating Jewish tradition, it’s no wonder that a 2020 Pew Research study found that no more than 8% of American Jews ages 18-29 identify as “conservative.” I can’t necessarily blame them. Why bother being a Jew, which involves specific duties and obligations, when you can simply be a warrior for social justice?
Reform Judaism is in worse shape. Temples across the country are avoiding the threat of closure caused by declining membership and a lack of interest by renting their space to kindergartens and charter schools (as is the case in my own Hollywood, Florida neighborhood), as well as rapidly growing Orthodox. congregations.

In 1983, the Reform denomination, led by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, alarmed by the decline in membership, changed millennia of Jewish practice by adopting the patrilineal lineage as a valid criterion for Jewish identity alongside the matrilineal lineage, which had been the sole determinant of a person’s Judaism. . This artificially strengthened the ranks and put the Reformation denomination numerically at the top of the list. Consequently, this gave him enormous influence in communicating Judaism to the unaffiliated and non-Jewish public.

However, the false increase in their ranks had unintended consequences. In a 2013 study for the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute, sociologist Sylvia Barack Fishman documented the subsequent decline in mothers from Jewish families who identify as Jewish and, furthermore, the weakening of ties to Judaism that accompanied to this decision. A Reform rabbi friend of mine in Georgia shared that not a single member of his temple board is Jewish. He then joked (sort of) that if he hadn’t had a work contract, he probably would have been fired and replaced a long time ago. How many other Reform rabbis face the same dilemma? It is a valid question.

A pivotal study by Dr. Edieal Pinker, vice dean of operations research at Yale University, predicted that by 2063, the percentage of Jews who identify as Reform and Conservative combined will be no more than 39%. Of that 39%, we can only wonder how many will be Jewish at least in some substantial way, and how many will be Alexander Schindler’s creations. According to the Pew Research study cited above, in that same 18-29-year-old cohort, already many more Jews consider themselves simply “culturally Jewish” than do those who join Reform and Conservative denominations combined.

And it’s getting worse. According to Pinker, only Orthodox Judaism will experience growth in this century. Reform and conservative denominations will “wake up” in a permanent slumber. There is an old line from Rodney Dangerfield: He went to his local Reformed temple for Rosh Hashanah, and the sign on the door read, “Closed for the Holidays.” That could have been a tickle in the belly in the 1970s. Today it should be a blow to Reform and Conservative Jews.

Behold, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs today celebrates the funding of progressive groups and causes whose very antipathy to religion and tradition have decimated mainstream Judaism in America. Do you, for example, really want the money to be distributed to the new generation of reformist and conservative clergy, like the 100-plus “rabbis” who denounced Israel for defending itself against terrorists?

A wise person once said, “Learning through your own mistakes is an expensive way to gain experience. It is much better to learn from the mistakes of others. ”The not inconsiderable amount of money would be better spent supporting well-established Jewish educational and experience programs, in Israel and abroad, run by educators who have a proven track record of building the Israeli society through timeless Jewish ideals, rather than those who strive to achieve it. It “awakened” Judaism out of existence.

The writer is dean of Hollywood Community Kollel in Hollywood, Florida, and delegate of the Eretz Hakodesh Party, WZO Congress.

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