The new President of Israel deserves respect

Reuven Rivlin, newly elected President of the State of Israel

Reuven Rivlin, newly elected President of the State of Israel

Reuven ‘Ruby’ Rivlin has been elected President of Israel, and it warms my heart to see an admirer of Jabotinsky replace the dangerous Shimon Peres, about whom the best I can say is “at least he’s not a convicted rapist.”

But rather than dump on Peres, to whom I wish a peaceful (and quiet) retirement, I want to use this opportunity to go after another of my favorite targets: the remarkable arrogance of the American Reform movement, which, despite its total ignorance of Israeli security issues, politics and culture, thinks that it has the right to dictate to Israel in every sphere, from its relationship to the Palestinians to the behavior of women at the Kotel.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former President of the Union for Reform Judaism, has a problem with Rivlin, which he expressed last week in an article for Ha’aretz:

I have a question for Knesset member Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin: If he is elected president of the State of Israel, will he address Reform rabbis by the title “rabbi”?

I ask this question now, because I have asked it before, to no avail. In 2007, I was the leader of the North American Reform Judaism movement. Rivlin had announced his intention to run against Shimon Peres for president. I visited his office and asked for his assurance that he would use my rabbinic title following his election. He hedged. I asked twice more, and he still hedged. The best he would do is say that as president of Israel, his door would be open to all segments of the Jewish people.

Not good enough. I left disappointed and dismayed.

“Not good enough?” Can you imagine Rabbi Yoffie interviewing Barack Obama before his election and then judging his answers “not good enough?” I can’t either.

Yoffie continues:

In the 1980s, when I led the Reform movement’s Zionist arm, we brought a Knesset delegation that included Rivlin to the United States. On Erev Shabbat, the delegation prayed at a Reform synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey, then as now a thriving center of Jewish life. That evening, hundreds of Jews came to greet the Israeli lawmakers. Rivlin, however, had never experienced men and women praying together and had never seen a woman hazan. While others in the delegation were impressed by the enthusiastic davvening, he was appalled. Immediately after Shabbat, he phoned a reporter for Yediot Aharonot and informed him that Reform Judaism was like Christianity — a story that was featured prominently the following day.

Reform Jews were furious. After one visit to an unquestionably vibrant synagogue, Rivlin had rushed to the press to announce that American Reform Judaism was not really Judaism at all. In subsequent years, I worked on Ruby, hoping to open his mind a bit. But I made very little progress, as my meeting in 2007 demonstrated.

Here is the same arrogant tone. They were furious! Furious because the man has principles that are important to him, and he sticks to them?

I’m sure Rabbi Yoffie has a bottom line for what he would call Judaism. I’m sure he would say that Jews for Jesus don’t practice Judaism, and he might question the semicha of a ‘rabbi’ from that movement. Doesn’t Rivlin have the right to draw the line in a different place? And if he does, should he lie about it?

One can see, from an Orthodox point of view, how it’s possible to question whether Reform Judaism is Judaism. After all, daily prayer, observance of kashrut and above all Shabbat, are missing or sharply attenuated in Reform Judaism. There is a commitment to “Jewish ethics,” but this refers to a set of beliefs that are closer to secular humanism than to Torah mitzvot as an Orthodox Jew understands them. So what’s left? If Yoffie can’t understand this, perhaps it is his mind that needs to be opened a little.

Personally, I see myself as ‘traditional Jew’, which someone has defined as an insufficiently observant one who should know better. So I don’t make judgments about who is or isn’t a rabbi, although I do admit to believing that Jews for Jesus are not practicing Judaism.

The Reform Movement has an attitude problem toward Israel. An amateur psychologist might say that it feels inadequate when it compares its ideological emptiness and  fading constituency to the vital Jewish culture being created in Israel, so it overcompensates by acting like an 800-pound gorilla when dealing with the Jewish state.

I think Rivlin, who has shown himself to be both a strong Zionist and a defender of minority rights, is perfect for the Presidency.

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4 Responses to The new President of Israel deserves respect

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I also think Rivlin promises to be an excellent President. He grew up with the country, knows its people well, has good connections with a very large number of people and communities.
    He will however lack the international appeal and connections that Shimon Peres had. Peres can of course be criticized for Oslo, for disregarding the real character of the Palestinian leadership, for much else. But he as President restored to the office its honor and prestige. He too has a lifetime record of service , the positive parts of which have made tremendous contributions to Israel.

  2. Olgordo says:

    Surely the irreparable damage that Shimon Peres (together with the late Yitzhak Rabin) did to his country and people over Oslo far outweighed his “tremendous contributions”.

  3. sabashimon says:

    With due respect Mr. Freedman, all of the “international appeal” in the world cannot undo the almost unfathomable damage Peres has caused to the State of Israel, my birthplace. In my view he is a despicable human being who has made himself extremely wealthy under false pretenses, and in fact if justice were to be properly served, would be, along with Yossi Beilin, tried for treason.
    Yes, he ( not alone btw) was instrumental in building our Dimona program, but in my view the damage he has brought upon Israel far outweigh any positive contribution he’s made to Israeli society.
    And I fear he’s not done yet.

  4. shalom-hillel says:

    I grew up in an Orthodox community, but I did try the Reform temple nearby because of its proximity. I helped to make one change there, to get them to stop lighting Shabbat candles ON Shabbat. But the one thing that really disturbs me is that they are exposing new generations to only one point of you, the leftist ideology that they continually present as the core and essence of what it means to be a Jew. The speakers they book, the films they show, are an endless drumbeat of negativity against the state of Israel. Unbelievably, they even had a representative from CAIR address the congregation.

    I remember one incident at a Reform Temple on Long Island, New York. A friend of mine, a conservative rabbi, was showing a film on Israel which showed the Gaza rocket attacks and their effect on Israeli towns. The temple’s education director was furious that the film was being viewed without giving the Arab point of view, saying it was biased. She made her views very much known and announced that showing a film like that was inappropriate. In the question and answer session that followed one student raised his hand and said he was glad to see the film because it was the only time that he had ever been exposed to that point of view! Kids at Reform temples are being fed a constant diet of criticism of Israel. Having a different point of view, if you express it, immediately marks you as a “bad person”. Some members of the Reform temple that I had attended came over to me and told me in confidence that they agree with me but would never say so publicly.

    After my experience with Reform Judaism I am very glad to see the Reform movement not get more of a toehold in Israel than they have. They are an undermining influence, very much in lockstep with J Street.

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