Pluralism in Israel

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

I was prompted to write this article after learning of the decision of the Israeli government to place Reform Rabbis on the government payroll.

May I share a story I heard from Rav Oscar Z. Fasman, z”l of the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie Illinois, concerning the first group of Israelis who came to the United Stares to be trained by the U.S. Air Force, I believe in 1949.

It was Erev Rosh Hashanah and they were invited to attend High Holy Day services at the local Reform Temple. Dressed in their Israeli military uniforms, after services they were besieged by the congregation wishing to just touch an Israeli air force pilot, have him for dinner or, at the very least, just wish him a good year. The air was filled with admiration and respect for this new reality – a Jewish military protecting a sovereign Jewish State.

Next morning the pilots didn’t show up for services. After Rosh Hashanah the Rabbi contacted them to find out what had happened. “Did someone say something offensive to you? Were you not treated well in our Temple?” asked the Rabbi.

Their reply, “We wanted to attend Rosh Hashanah services at a Synagogue, so we went to the Orthodox Schul.”

With no desire to be crude or insulting, but for the sole purpose of stating an obvious and simple truth, the Reform movement in Israel acts like a chazir, extending its “foot” and claiming Kashrus. They do not look like their movement in the United States. In fact I suspect that the average attendee at a typical Reform Congregation in the U.S. would be rather put off by an Israeli Reform service.

I know this suggestion at first blush may seem wild, yet it makes sense to me. Israelis, all Israelis, know what Judaism looks like. Why cannot our Gdolim, under the concept of Ais Laasos HaShem, support the Israeli government in extending an invitation to, for example, Temple Sinai of Chicago, to conduct Kabbalas Shabbos services at the Kosel, including organ and mixed choir. By mixed choir I don’t just mean men and women, but Gentiles as well. Their lead vocalist has an amazing voice, especially when she sings with gusto Negro Spirituals, as she is a Baptist and sings in her local Church choir. Of course, the service would be in English. Let the Israeli media cover this special “religious” occasion.

Perhaps the Rabbi, accompanied by his assistant Rabbi, who by now may very well be a Lesbian, could, in his D’var Torah, reiterate his eloquent objections to the barbaric rite of circumcision, echoing Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), who led reform groups in Breslau, Frankfurt and Berlin, who called circumcision “a barbaric act of blood-letting rite.” His Assistant could give a D’var Torah concerning the validity of female Rabbis, including Lesbian Rabbis, as but a continuing development of the Jewish religious tradition and perhaps discuss how her union with her significant other was “consecrated” before G‑d or, as the Rabbi understands, the Deity as The First Cause; She, The First Cause, no longer having a personal relationship with Her creation beyond its initiation. In keeping with the recent trend in American Reform to be more open toward the practice of traditional Jewish ritual, those men and women (egalitarianism) attending the service who wish to wear a kipah would not be discouraged from doing so.

After the service, buses could be at the ready to transport the dignitaries and invited guests attending the service to a five star hotel for Shabbos dinner. The hotel’s kitchen would have been unkashered for the occasion. In keeping with Reform belief in the value of pluralism, some Jewish nostalgia, and the affinity of the Jewish palate for the culinary delights of the Orient – the dinner reflecting the sense that the Shabbos meal should contain “meat, fish and all manner of delectables,” may I suggest the following menu:

First course, a Sadow Nam Plo Wan (grilled catfish with sweet and bitter herbs and savory tamarind sauce), followed by wonton soup (kreplech), egg rolls, spring rolls, chow mein or lo mein, your choice, all prepared with sweet and tender basar lavan. Desert would include Chinese homemade ice cream, tea served with fortune cookies embedded with universal messages from the Prophets regarding the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity.

I am confident, just as the Israeli pilots, the population of Israel would be duly impressed, or perhaps a better word – SHOCKED by this manifestation of the tragedy of Galus. They will begin to understand that Reform is but a product of the Jew’s pathetic attempt to live as a minority in a Gentile world, something that, thank G‑d, the Cholani needn’t consider in his sovereign country – The State of Israel. As the Reform put it, “We are Germans of the Mosaic Tradition.” Mah yomru hagoyim is the motivating factor for non-observant American Jews – we can’t be too Jewish. Remember Jackie Mason’s story about audience comments after his act? The Jews: “Your act is too Jewish!”

A Chaloni bears little resemblance to a non-Observant American Jew. He has Jewish pride and identification and loves the concept of a Jewish State. Let’s not forget Rav Kook’s zt”l view on this subject. To the Chaloni the statement “You are a Jew,” requires the simple proud response, “YES.” To the non-Observant American Jew, it is an accusation causing him tremendous angst.

At least this would begin the process of assisting our brothers and sisters in Israel to recognize that the American export of Reform Judaism is not in sync with a Jewish State. Attacking the non-Orthodox Rabbis’ rights as clergymen in Israel makes them the nirdaf and we the rodef. Considering the goal we all seek, that of insuring that every Israeli, indeed, every Jew, understands that Judaism is Torah M’Sinai, this plan would help us begin to realize our collective goal as Orthodox Rabbis, no matter our personal “stripe.”