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March 11, 1988 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I CLOSE-UP

of the conflict, including the need to bridge
the widening gap by strengthening the
movements in the center of the religious
spectrum.
They also agreed that there is a danger
of a split between the Jews of Diaspora, the
majority of whom are non-Orthodox, and
the Jews of Israel, who would align
themselves with the Orthodox though
most Israelis are not observant them-
selves. "They feel the religion they hate
must be Orthodox," quipped Greenberg,
who explained that most Israelis view
traditional Orthodoxy as the only
legitimate form of Judaism, regardless of
whether or not they practice it themselves.
But while Cohen argued that this issue
of Jewish unity (or the lack of it) is being
dealt with adequately in the community,
Greenberg claimed that it is largely ig-
nored. He pointed out that more than $10
million a year is spent by the Jewish corn-
munity on Jewish-Christian dialogue, yet
virtually no funds are spent on what he
calls "Jewish-Jewish dialogue," with the ex-
ception of his own organization, CLAL,
which spends about $650,000 promoting
discussion on the issue.
Greenberg maintains that the issue of
"whether or not we can live with our fellow
Jews is far more threatening and urgent"
than that of whether or not "the Christians
love us:'
According to Greenberg, this notion is
indicative of "our assimilationist outlook,"
where American Jews are more concerned
about how they are perceived by the Chris-
tian community than in dealing with inter-
nal Jewish religious dilemmas.
Suggesting that we face anescalation of
religious sectarianism, he cited the growth
and power of right-wing Orthodoxy and
"the moral and financial collapse of
modern Orthodoxy." Greenberg looked

"Everyone wants
unity, but everyone
wants the next
victory."

pained when he said this, for he personal-
ly identifies as a modern Orthodox rabbi
himself and he has suffered strong
criticism for his views.
He cited examples of Orthodox rabbis
who refuse to criticize right-wing positions
they disagree with for fear of being cen-
sured by the powerful right-wing of their
movement. And he noted with wonder that
the Lubavitch organization — the main
proponent for changing the Who Is A Jew
legislation in Israel that would delegiti-
mize Conservative and Reform rabbis —
still manages to raise more than $100
million a year from non-Orthodox Jews in
the U.S.

The great danger, according to Green-
berg, is that both extremes are convinced
that they will prevail' and that the other
side is doomed. So the Orthodox, who are
certain that the Reform will assimilate and
disappear, see no need to sit down and
engage in dialogue or make any com-
promises. And the Reform, who are equal-
ly certain that the Orthodox are a small
anachronistic movement that will disap-

Schiffman stressed the centrality of -
Jewish teachings. "The question we are
dealing with is that of theology, not
numbers," he said. "As long as we all share
a fundamental commitment to the
theological basis of Judaism, then we are
one people. When we lose that commit-
ment we are divided."
Dr. Shaye Cohen, professor of Jewish
history and dean of the graduate school of
the Jewish Theological Seminary, dealt
with historical definitions of Jewish iden-
tity. The writings of the first-century
historian Josephus, for example, suggest
that a Jew was defined as someone who
observed Jewish laws, rather than deter-
mining who his mother or father were.
Cohen argued that models of antiquity
were only partially relevant today, when
the problem is greater because the
numbers are greater.

In Search Of Diversity

RABBI JACK SIMCHA COHEN: "Once you reject
Halacha, we have no common language with which to
speak."

pear, feel the same way. And what is need-
ed, Greenberg stressed, is the willingnes
for both sides to recognize that the oppos-
ing movement is here to stay, and "to be
prepared to make painful choices" and
compromises.
He closed his remarks by drawing an
ominous analogy to the American Civil
War. "When it finally came," he said, "it
was not the choice of most Americans, but
the product of the breakdown of the
moderates on both sides."

Historical Precedents

A session on what can be learned from
Jewish history — Who Was A Jew — was
enlightening. But both presenting
scholars, while extremely entertaining,
agreed that there were no historical models
for today — except for one — from the ex-
periences of the Karaites, Samaritans,
Pharisees, Sadducees and other ancient
sects of Judaism who eventually broke
away from the fold.
The one relevant historical model,
according to Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, an
expert in Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls
at New York University, is that. the deter-
mining factor as to whether a Jewish sect
remained part of the Jewish people was
whether or not the laws made it permissi-
ble to marry one another freely. Once
Jewish law forbade marriage with a group
or sect, they were no longer considered
Jews, though sometimes the process took
centuries.

The final section of the conference dealt
with Halachic and communal strategies for
dealing with diversity. Rabbi Jack Simcha
Cohen of Los Angeles, an Orthodox pulpit
rabbi and author of Intermarriage And
Conversion: A Halachic Solution, stressed
the need to understand the Halachic pro-
cess as a first step. He said that Halacha
is not cast in stone and should be inter-
preted by the scholars of each generation.
But, according to Cohen, there is a vacuum
today regarding Halachic rulings in the
wake of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's death.
Cohen advocates establishing a group of
centrist scholars to be given a mandate by
the community to make such rulings.
In his book, he proposed a Halachic way
of dealing with the children of intermar-
riage by having them taken to mikvah and
converted to Judaism before the age of Bar
Mitzvah. He said he solicited and wel-
comed comments, pro or con, to his pro-
posal, but he was disappointed in the
refusal of many Orthodox leaders to deal
with his suggestions. He called for in-
novative research, creative thinking and
courage to stand by one's convictions from
Orthodox leaders in the face of personal at-
tack and political pressure. And he bemoan-
ed the fact that the more liberal branches of
Judaism have become so far removed from
tradition.
"Once you reject Halacha," said Cohen,
"we have no common language with which
to speak."
Dr. Paula Hyman, a professor of modern
Jewish history at Yale University, asserted
that "solutions will not come through
Halacha but through the historical pro-
cess." Speaking personally, she said that
women's rights and egalitarianism should
not be sacrificed for the sake of unity, and
that they are non-negotiable demands. Too
often, she said, demands are made on the
non-Orthodox to compromise because Or-
thodox Jews cannot be expected to soften
their stand on Halachic issues. "It's an

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