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June 05, 1987 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-06-05

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14 Friday, June 5, 1987

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Rabbis Examine Jewish
Unity At TVialogue

ROBYN KLEERKOPER

Special to the Jewish News

"The sounding of the alarm
about the vanishing Jew is a
venerable tradition in Jewish
life. My concern is we are los-
ing the ability to learn
together, to teach one another,
to pray together, to share with
one another. Are we really
one?"
Rabbi Irwin Groner of Cong.
Shaarey Zedek posed this ques-
tion at a debate last week that
dealt with questions of Jewish
unity. Groner, as a member of
the Conservative movement,
faced Rabbi Morton Yolkut of
B'nai David who was speaking
from an Orthodox standpoint,
and Rabbi M. Robert Syme, of
the Reform movement's 'Thmple
Israel, in a trialogue sponsored
by the men's clubs of the three
congregations.
Groner continued, "We are
facing some very serious
demographic concerns. The fer-
tility rate amongst Jews today
is perilously low. The 'outman
riage' of Jewish youth is
perilously high. Rabbi Harold
Schulweiss pointed out for Jews
to add denominational
divisiveness to the obstacles
hindering Jewish `inmarriage'
is suicidal.
"There's a kind of Jewish sec-
tarianism that blocks en-
counters between Jewish youth
from different movements. Our
religious youth camps and
movements are denomina-
tionally separated. We are frac-
tionalizing our young people.
We may be drying up in that
way the small pool of mar-
riageable Jews that is required
. . . These aren't academic ques-
tions, not ones about degrees of
observance. It's about our
children and grandchildren."
Echoing Groner, Yolkut add-
ed, "We are kind of afraid of
each other here in Detroit. We
stay in our own bailiwicks and
don't interact with each other.
I feel this is negative, and it's
detrimental to our growth as
Jews . . . We can learn from
each other. It doesn't mean we
have to give up our principles,
our identity, our values."
The problems that have sur-
faced in today's Jewish com-
munities are issues of conver-
sion, Jewish divorce, patrilineal
descent and lack of respect for
different branches of Judaism.
How to go about dealing with
them will take time, patience
and a creative effort, all three
rabbis agreed, but disagreed on
possible solutions.
Yolkut explained, "In my opi-
nion, the cause of Jewish unity
has in no way been helped, has
in many ways been hurt, by the
Reform rabbinate's decision to
accept patrilineal descent
(where a child is considered

Jewish if the father is Jewish
even though the mother is not)
as a sufficient determinant of a
child's Jewishness. This deci-
sion represents a serious break
with Halachah (Jewish law),
and threatens to tear us apart
as one people."
He continued, "I understand
the rationale of patrilineal des-
cent from a Reform perspective
. . . It's an open-door policy .. .
it breaks down barriers. The
reasons certainly play well. But
the decision to formulate that
policy as a public statement
makes it impossible for the
traditional community, for
those who abide by the
matrilineal standard of
Halachah, to accept patrilineal
children as Jews, and that's a
big problem:'

Commenting on the numbers
of Reform Jews now in the
world, Groner deplored the im-
pact patrilineal descent is hav-
ing, and will continue to have.
"Under these circumstances,
the changing of the rules, the
radical alteration of the
understanding of what I call
the "Jewish passport" or "visa"
augurs for very serious conse-
quences for the future unity
and cohesiveness of the Jewish
people."
He explained the Jewish
passport to imply the ability to
know who is a Jew, and to be
recognizable as a Jew by other
Jews all over the world . . . a
sense of identity.
Defending the Reform move-
ment's stand on this issue,
Syme countered with early
biblical examples of patrilineal
descent, and explained the
three traditional religious divi-
sions of the Jewish people an
individual belongs to, such as
Kohanim Levites, or Israelites,
is derived from the father, not
the mother. Groner pointed out,
however, that matrilineal des-
cent has been the principle us-
ed since the time of Ezra.
Another cause of divisiveness
in modern Jewry is that of lack
of respect among the various
denominations for each other.
As Syme commented, "There
are important differences that
cannot be solved — not in the
immediate future . . . but it's
important to respect each
other's right to be different."
Yolkut stated he is concerned
by the dissension and ex-
tremism that is rampant in all
forms of Judaism, and took to
task many of his Orthodox col-
leagues, locally and nationally,
who refuse to have anything to
do with the Conservative or
Reform rabbinate except on
broad, communal issues such as
Israel or Soviet Jewry.
"They won't join religious
umbrella organizations such as
our own Rabbinical Commis-

Continued on Page 16

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