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August 16, 1985 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-08-16

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change the law. Conservative and
Reform 'Jews (mistakenly) believed
that the Orthodox were saying that
they are not Jewish, and not merely
that their converts are not Jewish.
Manifestly, contested Jews and their
friends will express resentment, will
cut off funds from traditional in-
stitutions, and finally will not
socialize with the others. It is
equally likely that Orthodox and
traditional parents will be afraid to
let their children meet such Jews
out of fear that they are halachically
not Jewish. The risk of intermar-
riage in a new, insidious form will
be uppermost in the traditional par-
ents' minds.
One can project a cycle of
alienation, hostility, and withdrawal
that will lead to a sundering of the
Jewish people into two religions or
two social groups, fundamentally di-
vided and opposed to each other.
If the - numbers- in - the abifiVe --&–
timates are too high — and they
may well be too low — then it may
take until the year 2020 or 2050 to
arrive at the same 'disastrous end.
But what difference does a few de-
cadei make over the long span of
• Jewish history?
All it will take is neglect, doing

nothing, to make this script —
which makes my hand shudder as it

writes — .come true. Yet, at this
moment, there is no brainstorming,
let alone serious dialogue, between
the movements to deal with the
problem. •

Denominational Politics

By the turn of the century, there
will be a million people whose
Jewishness is contested or whose
marriageability is denied by a large
group of other Jews. It has been es-
timated that the total American
Jewish population by the year 2000
will be five million. Some say it will
be even lower. The conclusion is
that, within two decades, 15%-20%
of American Jewry will be socially
and halachically separated from tra-
ditional Jews.
Fifteen to twenty percent is not
a fringe phenomenon. Add to these
people their families, friends, their
fellow temple and organizational
members and they would constitute
a major fragment of American

Jewry. Easily fifty percent of the
Jewish people could be, in some say,
allied with this group against the
traditional Jews who challenge their
status. What do you think would be
the impact on you (or your parents)
if you were told that you are not
Jewish when your parents tell you
that you are, when you believe you
are, and when you belong to a
Jewish temple and engage in Jewish
Tremenious anger surfaced in
the "Who is a Jew" controversy, A
measure of the intensity is found in
the resolution of the highly Zionist
Conservative Rabbinate to
"blacklist" from their pulpits those
Knesset members who voted to

As the threat of social and reli-
gious civil war looms larger in
American Jewry, the most ominous
development is in the internal
dynamics of the individual denomi-
nations towards meeting their own
needs. .
The decision of the Reform rab-
binate to declare a child of Jewish
patrilineal descent a Jew — without
requiring conversion — is a classic
example of this trend. Within Re-
form congregations, there are
thousands of families with Jewish

husband and non-Jewish wife. The
need was to bring them closer to
Judaism and to make them feel wel-
come in the Reform community.
It should be noted that telling
the children, "You are Jewish," and
not requiring a conversion ceremony
can only offer marginal improve-
ment in their feeling of being
wanted in the Jewish community.
Moreover, Egon Mayer's research on
inter-marriage shows that when the
non-Jewish partner fails to convert
— even when the parents consider
their children Jewish — the per-

Friday, August 16, 1985 15

tentage of such children who ulti-
mately define themselves as Jewish
drops to twenty-five percent.
Those who opposed the resolu-
tion argued that it was a breach of
the principle of Klal Yisrael . (Jewish
unity) and would alienate and offend
the Orthodox and traditional Con-
servatives. The response of the Re-
form rabbinate; in effect, was that
"nothing we will do will satisfy the
Orthodox anyway. They say that we
are not rabbis. Let us then, solve the
problem for ourselves, to meet a real
need in our 'own congregations." So
distant have the Reform become
from the Orthodox, that marginal
improvement for Reform congregants
overrides concern of a breach in the
Jewish people or of offending the Or-
The Orthodox community has
begun to feel the impact of the
mamzer (illegitimate child) phenom-
erion. Thanks to the baal teshuva
(returnees) movement, young people
coming from non-observant homes
enter yeshivot and become deeply
committed, learned, and observant.
It happened that such a young per-
son sought to be married and only
then was the discovery made that
this was the child of a second mar-
riage of a mother whose first mar-
riage was terminated without a get
(divorce) — i.e., the child, was il-


Facing this crisis, Rabbi Moshe
Feinstein, the dean of the Orthodox
rabbinate and its leading decisor, at-
tacked the problem boldly and liber-
ally. Determined to prevent mam-
zerut (illegitimacy)• in accordance /
with the compassionate tradition of
the halacha, Rabbi Feinstein simply
ruled that since Reform rabbis are
not valid rabbis, their marriages are
not valid; therefore the first mar-
riage was not valid and so required
no get. There is no problem of mam-
zerut. In halacha, a child out of wed-
lock is not illegitimate.
Rabbi Feinstein has brilliantly
solved the Orthodox problem and
permitted worthy people who would
otherwise be excluded to marry in
the community. He is liberal and
compassionate — otherwise, he
would simply reject the mamzerim.
However, this solution is predicated
on, quite simply,. dismissing the
spiritual validity of more than a mil-
lion Reform Jews and utterly deny-
ing their rabbis. The alternative —
to approach the Reform rabbinate
and seek to work out some policy of
convincing the masses to obtain a
get — would be far more explosive
politically in the Orthodox move-
The Conservative movement

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