Reform Judaism, represented by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), is now the largest Jewish denomination in the US and Canada, claiming 2.2 million members out of the estimated total of 6.5 million Jews in those countries.
You would expect that the organization would be a powerful pro-Israel force to combat the increasingly anti-Israel policies of the Obama Administration, the anti-Zionist indoctrination in American and Canadian universities, and the unbalanced media coverage of Israel and its conflicts.
You would expect that there would be solidarity between the largest North American Jewish organization and Israel, whose continued existence is essential to the survival of the Jewish people as a whole.
You would be wrong.
The URJ has chosen to focus much of its positive energy on an issue whose specifically Jewish relevance is marginal: LGBT rights. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but for an organization operating in the overwhelmingly socially liberal atmosphere of American Jewry, this is the safest possible area for political action. It is an opportunity to score points without taking risks.
I am not expressing an opinion here about whether their positions on, for example, transgender restrooms, are justified. I am simply saying that it is astonishing that a major Jewish denomination places emphasis on these issues when the Jewish people’s self-determination in their homeland – indeed, the physical survival of that homeland – is under worldwide attack.
When the URJ does relate to Israel, it is to criticize, patronize and even take positions inimical to Israel’s interests. Its idea of ‘Zionism’ is to arrogantly try to force her to change her primarily Middle Eastern and Eastern European culture to that of a liberal utopia that exists only in its collective mind. It consistently expresses disdain for both the national-religious and haredi elements that make up the so-called ‘religious’ sector in Israel, and completely ignores the Mizrachi Jews that constitute about half of our population.
In an act of remarkable cowardice reminiscent of the behavior of the liberal Jewish establishment under Stephen J. Wise during the Holocaust, the URJ chose to take no position on the nuclear deal with Iran pushed through by President Obama. This deal, which was opposed by majorities in both houses of Congress and by both the Government and Opposition in Israel, will empower Iran to increase its support of terrorism against Jews and others, and will accelerate its rush to nuclear weapons. Its ‘safeguards’ are already beginning to unravel.
The head of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, was a board member of the left-wing New Israel Fund and a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet. His ideology places him on the left, even among Reform rabbis. His speech to the URJ’s biennial convention last week had a critical and arrogant tone. For example,
Many Jews, especially younger ones, feel that Israel has become too intolerant, not only of Arab citizens of Israel, but also of non-Orthodox Jews, Ethiopian Jews, LGBT Jews, asylum seekers, and others. Even as they may grieve for Israeli victims of terror, many cannot relate to the continued growth of settlements in the West Bank, or the weakening of democratic institutions like Israel’s Supreme Court as a result of the constant attacks from some ultra-Orthodox and far right circles. …
We teach our children to repair the world by healing brokenness wherever they find it. But Jews who see brokenness in the treatment of Israel’s minorities, or in the way ultra-Orthodox views of Judaism are being enshrined in secular law, are being told that, when it comes to Israel, you should check your commitment to tikkun olam at the door. We will not.
The patronizing message that American Reform Jews are morally superior to Israelis because of their commitment to a universalist “tikkun olam” as opposed to Israeli “ethnocentrism,” know how to solve Israel’s problems, and will do so coercively is highly unattractive in Israel where grandmothers are stabbed for the crime of being Jewish in the Jewish homeland.
Rabbi Jacobs spoke about “courage” and “boldness” while his movement has taken precisely the opposite path.
In my (not inconsiderable) experience, most American Reform Jews are abysmally uninformed about Israel, its society, and its unending conflict. But Jacobs should not be unaware of the historical and geopolitical facts about the Jewish state. He has visited Israel numerous times, and even has an apartment in Jerusalem. He should know better, and should use his position to educate, rather than misinform. Without engaging in too much amateur psychology, I suggest that the arrogant and morally superior – even narcissistic – attitude so prominent in his speech in part explains his inability to see the reality in front of his face.
Reform Judaism began as an anti-Zionist movement, and over the years became more supportive of Zionism. Recently it has begun to adopt the strange formulations of J Street and President Obama, which assert a love for Israel and a concern for its security while favoring policies that promote its destruction.
At this difficult and dangerous time, an organization concerned with the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people should vehemently oppose anti-Israel policies and politicians, rather than distract its constituency with feel-good resolutions about “gender non-conforming people.”
But apparently the URJ is not concerned.
“Reform Judaism began as an anti-Zionist movement, and over the years became more supportive of Zionism.”
Reform Judaism also began as an anti-Hebrew, anti-Saturday Shabbos, anti-yarmulke wearing, etc., etc. movement, and over the years has reversed themselves on these and other signs of Judaism they once bitterly opposed. But that’s not because they’re discovering the greatness of Jewish tradition. Historically, they have always been forced to make a tactical retreat when their foolish assimilationist prognostications flop in the rest of the Jewish marketplace – which has been very often. For a franchise operation like URJ, keeping the fannies in the seats and the dues rolling in, is their top priority.
my daughter’s Reform congregation in Abington would likely not tolerate any of Jacobs unctuous patronizing. My congregation back home however . .. makes me want to join a conservative shul.