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Jewish Journal

Is Reform Judaism a separate religion?

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 14, 2009 | 5:24 pm

Rabbi Forman

Ben Plonie sent me this email last week:

Here is a story that fits your mission from the Jerusalem Post. Reform Rabbi David Forman, founder of Rabbis for Human Rights (implying that the other Rabbis are against human rights of course) proposes in the Jerusalem Post’s Counterpoint: Let’s declare ourselves a separate religion that non-Orthodox offshoots of Judaism stop trying to demand legitimacy from the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel in a frontal assult, in order to gain Israeli government benefits and recognition given Christians, Muslims, Bahai and so forth. He believes that they will thus do an end-run around the Orthodox and gain new adherents for conversions and marriages.

That’s his purpose but the important and interesting thing to me is that he is sure that non-Orthodox Judaism can be justifiably shown to be a separate religion, something that the Orthodox have been saying from Day 1. The usual justification for offshoots is that they are the real, the true, the core, the authentic, the meaningful essence lost to the bourgious power structure etc. It seems after a couple of centuries of failure to sweep the grass roots into the fold, they are leaving the field. Booyah!

Interesting insights from a regular God Blog commenter. Thanks, Ben.

Forman’s op-ed ran under the headline “Let’s declare ourselves a separate religion.” Here’s an excerpt worth reading:

Since Israel’s establishment, the Reform and Conservative movements in this country have waged a war to gain recognition as a legitimate expression of Judaism, entitled to equal rights with Orthodoxy. They have consistently maintained that they too are heirs to the Jewish tradition. In the Conservative Movement’s case, it claims, like Orthodoxy, to be halachically based, that is until sociological realities force it to alter Halacha.

Both movements have been steadfast in their refusal to declare themselves separate sects within Judaism. The reason for this is that they believe to do so would sever them from the Jewish people, which is pure bunkum. The gulf between Conservative and Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy in Israel is unbridgeable. The Conservative Movement virtually admitted as much when, at its recent rabbinical convention here, it called for the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate. This week, the Reform Movement’s North American rabbinical association is holding its convention here. Its members have been told by their Israeli colleagues that the prejudicial attitude against them among the Orthodox rabbinate is becoming more and more entrenched.

IN LIGHT of all the above, if, together, the Reform and Conservative movements were to declare themselves a separate religion from Orthodoxy, which in fact they are - perhaps not in some of their ritual and liturgical traditions, but most certainly in their ethical moorings regarding their respectful tolerance and concern for the “other” - the state would have no choice but to grant them the rights and privileges enjoyed by other religions in the country, which would necessarily include control over life-cycle events for their own constituency.

Such a dramatic move would most likely marginalize Orthodoxy.

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