What They Really Want

One wall for one people. This is what ‘progressive rabbis’ like Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs are insisting upon. What they are purposely ignoring is that we already have that. It’s called the Kotel. Any Jew regardless of how observant they are can pray there any time they want. What they really mean is that they want one wall for ‘their’ people. Actually they don’t even mean that. They mean one wall that will satisfy the egalitarian demands of their ‘progressive rabbis’. Something that they already have at a location called Robinson’s Arch.

The facade comes off. Finally the truth comes out. Anyone that thought the fight over the Kotel is about egalitarianism should now be disabused of the notion. Conservative leader, Rabbi Steven Wernick, has made that very clear. Here, quoted in the Jerusalem Post are his exact words:

The issue is about legitimization, it’s about recognition,” Wernick said, highlighting the importance of the part of the deal that would have allowed for a joint entry to both the traditional space at the northern part of the wall, and the pluralistic section at the southern end of the wall.

They want legitimization. Which makes it impossible for any rabbi that calls himself Orthodox to support. There is no way that Orthodoxy can — or ever will — agree to legitimizing movements that allow heresy into their midst; that say Halacha is not necessary (Reform); or pervert Halacha permitting something which is clearly forbidden like driving to Shul on Shabbos (Conservative).

I don’t know how many times I have to state the obvious. But heterodoxy has been a colossal failure. The two major ‘progressive’ denominations, Reform and Conservative Judaism are hemorrhaging Jews at an unprecedented rate. More Jews are intermarrying than ever at alarming rates! For the first time in modern times parents of children who intermarry don’t even care anymore. There are more Jews than ever questioning the value of being a Jew if all it means is to be humanistic. One does not need to  be a Jew to be a humanist.

Some of the brighter lights of — at least Conservative Judaism know the real reason this is happening. They blame their pulpit rabbis for not placing any emphasis on Halacha to their synagogue members. Those rabbis practically ignore the fact that the vast majority of their members have little to do with following even the Conservative Movement’s interpretation of Halacha.

Their belated attempt at educating their young via the Solomon Schechter School system has not helped them much. That has been a dismal failure, too. Most Conservative Jews either aren’t interested or don’t want to pay the exorbitant tuition costs. The results of all this are as plain as day. As indicated by Pew and analyzed by impartial sociologists like Steven Cohen, heterodoxy is dying.

I have made all these arguments before. And they are still true. ‘Progressive rabbis’ are now struggling for existence. They have seen the handwriting on the wall and they don’t like it. Scrambling for ways to stay viable – they see that opportunity in Israel where Jews are Jews no matter how unobservant they are. They see a market for their product. The prototype secular Jew is a perfect model for their continued existence. They want in. And they are fighting for it.

Recognition from the Jewish state will get them a foot in the door. They can tell secular Jews their lack of observing Shabbos (for example) is a legitimate form of Judaism. Lack of observance will be legitimized. Orthodox leaders are supposed to go along with this?! Are they kidding!

Unfortunately, they are not kidding.

One might argue that that progressive movements are a form of Kiruv. ‘Let us keep them Jewish and try to instill a little Yidshkeit in them – even while we ignore and therefore tacitly approve of violations of Halacha by virtually always looking the other way.’

That may have worked once. But as Pew has shown us, it doesn’t work anymore. Besides, as I just said Israeli Jews don’t need to be reminded that they are Jews. The vast majority of them are not only fully aware of it, they are far more traditional than the secular Jews of the Diaspora.

Furthermore, if I understand correctly most Israelis are not really interested in becoming Conservative or Reform Jews. They are happy to simply be Jews – some more observant and some less. They don’t need labels.

Of course Conservative and Reform rabbis would like to change all that. But who are they really serving? Traditional Irsaelis or themselves? If they crave legitimacy than is it not their own existence they are primarily concerned with? I believe that they want to be recognized as legitimate so that they will not become extinct as a movement.

I don’t know whether to be angry or feel sorry for them. I guess I am a little of both – although I do feel a little more angry than sad.  It seems that the gloves are off now with recent threats (implied or otherwise) about pulling support for Israel. That makes me angry.

But what about that? Is Heterodoxy’s threat of withholding support an existential threat?

It might hurt at first. But Israel now has an economy that is among the most thriving economies in the world. And Orthodox Jews are not only growing numerically; they are growing financially too. There are more than a few billionaires among us. And many more multi-millionaires.

(To illustrate – when I walk into the opulent recently built Agudah of West Rogers Park Shul here in Chicago the first thing I think of is how wealthy so many of Chicago’s Orthodox Jews are. And there have been many other new Orthodox shuls built recently in Chicago that are also well appointed. Conservative shuls and Reform temples on the other hand are either closing or consolidating with other Conservative shuls or temples just to stay alive. There has not been a new heterodox shul built in Chicago in decades — a fact not lost on Chicago’s Jewish Federation.)

Orthodox Jews will rise to the occasion. They may not be able to pick up all the slack, but they may not need to, as Israel’s economy continues to flourish. As will — God willing — the relationship Israel has with United States. Which no doubt continue since Israel is the most strategic ally in the Middle East the United States has.

But even if Israel would be hurt financially by a withdrawal of heterodox support — it doesn’t matter. Money cannot buy Emes. And at the end of the day, Emes is what it is all about.

The sad part is that I believe these ‘progressive’ rabbis are sincere in the belief that they add something to Judaism. Their struggle for existence is at least partially motivated by that.

They might mean well. But good intentions are not enough. You can easily end up paving the road to a very different place than where you intend to pave it. You cannot legitimize a movement you believe to be false just because its leaders have good intentions.

This is what the fight is all about in Israel. And it has nothing to do with how anyone feels about the Israeli Chief Rabbinate- who happens to be on the right side on this issue. This is a fight between Emes and Sheker. And Emes always wins out in the end.

Reform and Conservative Judaism will die on the vine in the not too distant future – despite the fact that the percentage of Jews that are members of these movements is far greater than the percentage of Jews that are Orthodox. But even though that is true now, the future of Judaism is clear. It is going Orthodox. That is the only segment that is growing.

Which side do you want to be on when that happens?

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.