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July 11, 1986 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-07-11

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might affect him or her, and without being
defensive — regard the following.
A Jew is a Jew, no matter what he rejects of

Judaism. But, by the same token Judaism is
Judaism, no matter what Jews may reject of it.
The rejecters remain Jews; the rejected, Judaism.

I would not expect any intelligent Jew
to have much trouble with that. After all,
a Jew for Jesus, for instance, is most cer-
tainly still a Jew, subject to the same con-
siderations and care as any Jew, though
what he professes is certainly not what has
historically been called Judaism.
Here, however, is where true objectivity
and a keen sense of honesty is needed:

Judaism has a specific historic definition. The
essence of that definition has always been Jew-
ish law and, though that law does most cer-
tainly flex and accommodate changing times
and new situations, it only does so within clear
and decisive bounds. Those bounds constitute
the limits of the much maligned word halacha -
the Hebrew word for the conclusive thrust of
Jewish religious law.

The preceding is historical fact. No
scholar of history would take issue with it
and no truly open-minded person could
find fault with it. Yet most Jews do,
because they perceive where it leads — to
a definition of Judaism and Jews which is
out of their hands, and in the hands of
honest, saintly scholars of Jewish law,
those who most resemble in their essences
the determiners of Jewish law in genera-
tions past.
A few more words, in explanation of the
cardinality of halacha:
In any halachic question, there is typi-
cally a good deal of latitude in the appli-
cation of the legal precedents. Limits,
though, are there as well. If any of those
limits are exceeded, then it is no less than
the definition of Judaism which is com-
promised, and the result, though perhaps
derivative of Judaism, is something dif-
ferent. Maybe something good, maybe
even something better. But something
clearly other than Judaism.
A model: If there were a halacha (as in-
directly there is) which required one to pay
one's income tax to the government, then
a valid application of the law's flexibility
would be the allowance to choose to keep
one's assets in investments of a nature
which would limit one's tax liability. That
would be, and indeed is, legally and
halachically acceptable.
However, were one to ignore any of the
tax laws, or read one as it clearly was not
intended, because one did not like the way
it stood, then one would be guilty of tax
evasion, both by the government's judg-
ment as well as by that of the halacha.
Were one to encourage others to join in
such fraud, one would be acting, to most
people's understanding, in a highly un-
ethical manner.
For laws define the meaning and bounds
of "income tax." Just as laws define the
meaning and bounds of "Judaism." And
as farcical as is the term "illegal income-
tax allowance," is the term "non-halachic
One step further in the model: Were an
American to become so fed up with his
country's tax system, so disillusioned with
what he perceived as its unfair laws, that
he retreated to neutral soil to establish his
own, sovereign tax-system, he would be
said to have seceded, to have forfeited his
affiliation with his original country.
The blunt, unadorned fact: The Reform
movement has — to its credit — never tried
to hide the fact of its outright rejection
of halacha. The Conservative movement,
though it for many years elevated the
straddling of fences to an art form, has
recently and unmistakably stripped itself
of any pretension of fidelity to halacha by
"revoking," in one fell swoop, an entire
area of halacha. This was done through a
procedure which was a blatant mockery of

the traditional halachic decision proces.s,
in order to shamelessly yield a precon-
ceived conclusion — that no halachic role is
Members of the Conservative rabbinate
who had until now believed their move-
ment to be fundamentally dedicated to the
concept of halacha, went into theological
shock on hearing of that decision, reached
as it was by a vote in which people totally
uncredentialed in Jewish law took part.
The shocked halacha-respecting Conser-
vative rabbis were forced, as it were, to
suddenly confront the unsettling fact that
they themselves had really been "Ortho-
dox" all these years.
For the Orthodox, and the Orthodox
alone, have consistently resisted the urge
to treat the past as expendable, to view .
Jewish law as a mere relic of ages gone by.
And there you have, in a rather large
nutshell, the Orthodox attitude, unper-
fumed and uncushioned, toward the move-
ments popular with so many American

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