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November 15, 2002 - Image 29

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-11-15

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

Opinion

Editorials are posted and archived on JN Online:
www.detroitjewishnews.com

Dry Bones

A Missed Opportunity

etroit Jewry lost out when a talmudic schol-
ar was pressured by his ultra-Orthodox
leadership into not appearing with his co-
author, a Reform rabbi, at this week's 51st
Annual Jewish Book Fair ("Worlds Apart," Nov. 8,
page 22).
Rabbi Yosef Reinman of Lakewood, N.J., was sched-
uled to appear Nov. 13 with Reform Rabbi Ammiel
Hirsch at the Jewish Community Center in West
Bloomfield. The Detroit stop was one of 17 cancelled
by Rabbi Reinman, who co-authored One People, Two

Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi in
Search of Common Ground.
The book was written with the sanction of some
haredi scholars, but after it was published,
two haredi rabbinic groups issued statements
condemning it, prompting Rabbi Reinman
to cancel participating in a promotional tour
with Rabbi Hirsch, executive director of the Reform
movement's Zionist arm, ARZA/World Union.
The incident strikes a blow at the cause of religious
pluralism — a fragile, determined effort to build toler-
ance, if not acceptance, among Judaism's varied .
streams. The rabbinic tour could have been structured
so each rabbi stated his themes from the book without
expecting to debate each other. This format would
have honored the haredi ban on "give and take" about
the Torah, including "casual speculations" — really the
Reform perspective --- by Rabbi Hirsch.
It's unfortunate that Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of
America-Council of Torah Sages, Agudath Israel of
America and Beth Medrash Govoha, a Lakewood
yeshivah where Rabbi Reinman was ordained, don't
realize the ill-fated book tour is now a missed opportu-
nity for the haredi to let a tolerant representative share
his brilliance in a non-debate, non-confrontational set-

ting. Rabbi Reinman — a rich thinker and an
engaging teacher — could have done immeas-
urable outreach for the haredi community.
Sadder than the speaker pulling out is what
the haredi leadership said in urging the pull-
back — that followers of the more liberal
streams of Judaism, like the Reform movement,
"have been brought up with and ensnared by
the falsehoods of our time and locked in the
spiritual prison that has overtaken our world."
The Detroit Jewish community is immersed
in multi-stream activities — from Aish
HaTorah events, to Jewish Experiences For
Families programs to the Seminars for Adult
Jewish Enrichment to day school
dinners, all well supported by non-
Orthodox Jews. The vast majority of
Detroit's 96,000 Jews is not
Orthodox, but respects the Orthodox commu-
nity and its vital role in building Jewish identity
and continuity. Orthodox rabbis have shared
the podium with Reform, Conservative and
Secular Humanistic rabbis with no outcry.
Rabbis Hirsch and Reinman, both sons of
rabbis and hardly radical within their move-
ments, sought to share the distinctiveness of
their ideologies, not co-mingle their views.
At issue is not the divergence between
Orthodoxy and the Reform movement, but
why the haredi would pass up a golden oppor-
tunity to speak to well-read Jews around the nation
and put a human face on their scholarly teachings of
Torah. Meanwhile, Jews of all religious backgrounds
had the chance this week to hear Rabbi Hirsch's salient
message.
Rabbis Hirsch and Reinman remain fast friends

It\J

ev6Ry

G‘mozotot ,1

ver the next two months, some 15,000
North American Jewish adults will take a
few short and, one hopes, pleasant first
steps toward learning to read Hebrew, the
language of their religion, of their history and of the
state of Israel.
The free classes, Read Hebrew America/Canada,
offered by the National Jewish Outreach Program,
are an effort toward overcoming the massive Jewish
illiteracy in the United States and
Canada, where just one of every five Jews
is estimated to have a working knowledge
of Hebrew.
Organizers say that the inability to understand
Hebrew words effectively freezes several million Jews
out of wanting to attend religious services. They
claim that their five-week crash course in "aleph-
bet" already has inspired three quarters of its
150,000 graduates to take further Jewish instruction
aimed at building understanding of spoken Hebr e w.

0

At less than $20 a head, the program seems a rela-
tively efficient start toward overcoming the vast
North American Jewish ignorance about its roots.
But the effort raises a deeper set of questions: How
important is it, in fact, that members of the largest
diaspora community seek competence in a language
that they may use only a few times a year? Are we
less committed Jewishly because we can't tell a yud
from an apostrophe nor read the Ramban's com-
mentaries in their original version?
In a recent outburst worthy of Jeremiah, Leon
Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic,
told a Washington gathering that American
Jews' belief that they "can do without the
Jewish language is an arrogance without
precedent in Jewish history" that "will leave
American Judaism and American Jewishness forever
crippled."
Wieseltier did not argue that reading Hebrew is
indispensable to religious belief. But by learning it,
he said, Jews can assure that their children "will
never be shut out of their own tradition, out of
their books.
"If we cannot be sure that we will be followed by
believing Jews, we certainly can make sure we will

EDITO RIAL

Related story: page 55

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EDIT ORIAL

The Impact Of Hebrew

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CIAFF-HAtIGER• •

despite the philosophical divide. But American Jewry is
poorer for the rabbinic intervention that stopped them
from publicly sharing their beliefs after publication of
their book. One People, Two Worlds reaffirms the per-
sonal connection inspired by their common history
and heritage.



be followed by competent Jews."
The argument, that language is intrinsically neces-
sary to culture and belief, is hardly new While the
Roman Catholic Church managed to give up its
liturgical Latin without apparent harm, it's not clear
that Judaism can do the same thing. Hebrew, after
all, is not a dead language but at the vibrant center
of Israeli life. Even if you don't use it in daily life,
having Hebrew promotes greater awareness of
Jewish identity and reinforces the ties to the nation
of Israel past, present and future.
In the end, American Jews are free to choose not
to read or understand Hebrew. Mastery of the lan-
guage is not a barometer of how Jewish you are so
much as a personal reassurance of connection.
The outreach program of Read Hebrew
America/Canada seems to be on the right track in
thinking itself another point of entry through which
many unaffiliated or marginally affiliated Jews will
develop an interest in their Jewish heritage. Reading
can easily promote further growth through mecha-
nisms like weekly adult education programs.
If we really do want to be the "People of the
Book," learning how to read that book is a good
place to start. ❑

11/15
2002

29

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