Friday, December 15, 2006

The Danger of Reform Conversions

Dearest Chaviva,

I normally shun these public Internet discussions as more often than not someone ends up being offend or hurt by the opinions expressed, to witness your comment:
To say, in sum, that I am part of a religion that is in no way Judaism.
That I am
living in a religion that is, in essence, one big fat sin.
Out of respect for your willingness to exchange understandings I ‘ll respond to your request for clarification. I prefer to approach the issue indirectly, and not on a personal level. Your personal choices in life are just that. I respect them even if I might personally think you are making a mistake. The real issue is not on the personal level, but the Klal Israel (Collective of the Jewish People) level.

If conversions that do not adhere to the standards and criteria that have been the norm for the Jewish People these past two millennium were to be recognized by the State of Israel, the very fabric of our society here in Israel would disintegrate.

Think about it Chaviva. Up until today the “status quo” in effect in Israel is that we all agree to respect the individual’s choice in their private lives, but in the public life we seek the highest common denominator that will permit everyone to be full members of the Jewish collective. That means all Jews can intermarry. That means that all Jews can serve together side-by-side in the Israeli Defense Forces, eat the same food, observe the same basic standards of public observance, Shabbat, Pesach etc. More importantly tens of thousands of idealistic men are willing to place their lives on the line day-after-day to protect their fellow Jews who are threatened only because they want to live Jewish lives in the Land of Israel.

Introducing America’s pluralistic recognition of everybody’s interpretation of what it means to be a Jew would fragment Israeli society. It would create a situation where Reform Judaism and Torah Observant Judaism would be as valid a ‘definition’ of Judaism as those perversions of Judaism like the ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Jewish Jehovah Witnesses’. You have to understand that my children could not marry your children. More over I foresee a day where many idealistic Jews will think twice before they are willing to place their lives on the line to defend the ‘civil rights’ of non-Jews who stand for values and norms antithetical to everything that traditional Judaism stands for. Why bother. These same ‘civil rights’ can be enjoyed elsewhere in the world without having to place your life and the lives of your sons at risk.

As for the remark you made:
To say, in sum, that I am part of a religion that is in no way Judaism.
That I am
living in a religion that is, in essence, one big fat sin.
If anything, you should direct your anger to those people who convinced you that by ‘converting’ according to their conventions and standards you would become a ‘Jew’ instead of a member of a breakaway schismatic sect that calls itself Judaism. Believe me, I truly identify with your feelings for I too was there once. I originally converted according to the Reform movement and only gradually over years, and much book learning, came to realize that it did not reflect in anyway, except empty form, the concept of Judaism as embodied in two millennium of recorded Jewish learning.

If Judaism originates from some form of divine revelation, then it is a package deal. Succoth with its quaint booths and four-kinds is as integral a part as the prohibition against marrying a mamzar, the fruit of an adulterous union, even though the child did not sin. It isn’t some sort of ala Carte menu of what feels good and makes sense but what doesn’t feel good or is incomprehensible is rejected. Does a cancer patient truly understand the intricacies of treatments developed by hundreds of doctors and scientists over decades of research? Of course not, but at some point he makes a decision to undergo the treatment based upon a faith that they collectively know what they are doing.

Can’t you see the arrogance of deciding whether to lay tefillin each morning or avoid eating milk after meat. Yet the intricacies involved in defining these ‘practices’ if divinely inspired, are far beyond the ability of the human intellect to understand.

Chaviva, please accept my sincerest wishes that you find what you are looking for. It was my never my intention to offend or hurt anyone individually although there was no doubt that my opinion of Reform Judaism would never be desirable to those who travel that path. That is why I tried to help you rise above the individual and see what this direction means to the future of the Jewish People as a collective.

If you (or others) would like to continue this discussion, please direct your comments to This will be my last public post here, and probably anywhere on this issue. It simply does not seem to be a productive exchange. One should be able to express oneself openly without being perceived as 'attacking' others. You should be able to 'attack' ideas without being misrepresented as attacking the individuals who currently espouse those ideas.

Wishing all of you a Chanukah full of Light, the true light of Torah.

Yoel Ben-Avraham
Shilo, Benyamin, Israel

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Peversions of Nationalism

“Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered,” George Orwell wrote in his landmark 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism. “He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should. It is difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight of God, and that one is justified in rearranging the records accordingly.”
A powerful and insightful description of people and movements that want to rewrite history to meet their own aspirations, instead of facing the reality of the present to create a better world.