I Denounce

Rick Jacobs, head of the Reform Jewish movement, has demanded that “ultra-Orthodox Jews” denounce the recent attack at the egalitarian prayer site at the Kotel by young hooligans dressed in “ultra-Orthodox” garb. I speak for no one but myself but I denounce, condemn and repudiate those attacks that included harassment, destruction of prayer books and the like. I don’t know who the attackers were, from where they came or who instigated them (if anyone). My denunciation is unequivocal.

     Yet, it cannot rest there. I noticed that amid the plethora of Reform Jewish fulminations against the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe. v. Wade, which sent the determination of the legality of abortion back to the state legislatures, I do not recall hearing of even one Reform Jewish criticism of the violent attacks on Christian pro-life clinics in America nor any censure of the relentless, illegal and dangerous harassment of the Supreme Court justices. Call this selective outrage. Well, now you know what happens when people feel that their sacred institutions are trampled upon, in Reform’s case, abortion, and in our case, the Kotel.

     It is possible to unequivocally condemn the assault at the Kotel and still recognize the Reform provocation that fomented the assault. It is absolutely true that even vulgar provocations are no excuse to lose control and commit despicable acts of violence against property and harassment against people. Torah Jews, if that is who they were, should know better. And there is a long history of provocations from the non-Orthodox including those of the Women of the Wall, who have long violated halacha, Israeli law, and even common decency (smuggling a Torah under someone’s dress) with their monthly antics, and thereby disturbed the prayers of thousands of faithful women coming to this hallowed site. Certainly, the provocations of these adult women should be held to a higher standard than the immature, senseless and wrong actions of a bunch of teenagers. The pain caused to religious Jews is real and is not going away, even as the criticism of the Reformers is wrapped in waves of sanctimoniousness.

       Here is the bottom line. We love you, Reform Jews, but we despise the qualifier that you have placed before “Jews.” We are not angry but sad, sad at the destruction you have wrought to Jewish life, and sad at the sheer inability to recognize the harm you have already caused and persist in causing. You are asking – sometimes demanding – for modifications that we cannot grant. Here are some examples.

 You are asking us to rewrite the definition of Jewishness. We love you all, but even you, Rick Jacobs, once conceded that a majority of “Reform” Jews are no longer Jews according to Jewish law. You have taken an identity that is God-given and emptied it of meaning and import. This action, born of the necessity of keeping members affiliated due to the astronomical rate of intermarriage in your movement, has grievously injured Jewish unity and peoplehood. Rather than admit this historic error, you double down, and pretend that you are retaining Jews instead of repelling them. But the definition of Jewishness is not changing. It is immutable.

 You are asking us to rewrite the Torah. We love you, but we resent your grievances against our God-given Torah, if you even believe that God gave us the Torah. The Torah is “perfect” (Psalms 19:8) but you reject that foundational principle of Judaism. You have renounced the core of Torah and have jettisoned those practices that mark our uniqueness, our “wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations (Devarim 4:6). In so doing, you have stripped Judaism of its majesty and reduced it to a series of platitudes. You interpret Judaism through the prism of Western values that you deem superior. In the United States, you have been labeled with justification “the Democratic party with holidays.” Your Torah bears a faint resemblance to the Torah. But we are not reforming the Torah in order to accommodate your value system. Our Torah is immutable.

 You are asking us to ignore the desecration of our holy places. St. Peter’s Square does not contain a Protestant church, just like Mecca does not offer a variety of mosques to service every Muslim denomination. They possess self-respect. But you insist after many decades of acquiescence in changing the status quo at the Kotel. In the shadow of the holiest site in Judaism – the mountain that housed two Temples, for whose rebuilding you do not pray – you demand that your reformed service, with its mixed seating, singing and dancing, all done without a modicum of modesty, be not just tolerated but even celebrated. At the very place from which we derived the necessity of gender separation during prayer, you brazenly clamor for worshipping in your own style and then wonder why that should be provocative. But we are not denuding the Kotel of its sanctity or transforming it into some national, historic tourist site devoid of holiness in order to satisfy your needs.

     It is two minutes to midnight. You are close to causing an irreparable schism in Jewish life. Insiders know that the Reform movement’s detachment from Israel results not from a shift in values (maybe that too) but primarily from a shift in demographics. So many “Reform” Jews are no longer Jews that it is unsurprising that support for Israel has waned. We know as well that these provocations are necessary to generate interest and fund-raising.

      We are pained by your historic error and want nothing more than your return. We perceive you as desecrating our Torah, our peoplehood, and now our holy places. One sin begets another. Your rejection of Torah and mitzvot necessitated a redefinition of Jewishness that has now eventuated in a demand for a place at the Kotel, remnant of the Holy Temple, to appease your egalitarian impulses that are antithetical to the Torah. We do not want to witness your celebration of intermarriages at the Kotel on Tish’a B’Av, but you know that will invariably occur.

      These words are written in genuine sorrow and anguish. You can still save the remnant of your followers. And I can denounce the assault on you and the sanctity of the Kotel and denounce as well your provocation that induced it.  Focusing on the shameful actions of a group of unruly teenagers is deflecting from the real issues that involve the shameful actions of unruly adults who should know better.  It is great PR within the echo chamber and good for fund-raising but it is no way to bring Jews together in these perilous times. Let us all reflect on what is wrong, and what can be rectified, and salvage the honor of the Torah, the Kotel, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel.

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