Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Who is an Authentic Jew?

Most of Klal Yisroel — certainly most of the residents of Israel, judging by the way they answer surveys about their relationship to Jewish tradition — greeted as good news the announcement that Kibbutz Degania was building a beit knesset. Not so Reform Rabbi Dr. Dalia Sara Marx, a teacher at the Hebrew Union College.

Kibbutz Degania, located at the place where the Jordan River flows out of Lake Kinneret, is known as "the mother of the collectives and the kibbutzim." Although it never adopted the more extreme forms of communal life — children always lived with their parents and not in a communal dormitory — it was nonetheless the first such settlement, founded almost a century ago in Tishrei 5670 (1910).

The ideological groundwork for the kibbutz movement was laid in Degania. Needless to say, that did not include a beit knesset. They "celebrated" the Jewish holidays, but the anti-religious attitude that characterized the kibbutz movement was also born here, even if they are no longer proud of it.

The founding of a fully chareidi shul in a place like Degania was remarked in the media. It also drew a comment from Reform Rabbi Dr. Marx, who teaches in Jerusalem. She wrote that she was "saddened" to hear that they chose an "Orthodox synagogue." Dr. Marx seems to have formed her picture of Orthodoxy from Israeli media caricatures. She suggests that in choosing an Orthodox synagogue, the Degania members "treat Judaism as some sort of singular, simplistic, one-faced beast." She tells them that "a synagogue need not be a white elephant on the kibbutz grounds," but, following the model of Reform kibbutzim, it can serve "as a home for prayer, study, members' meetings, and . . . [as] an organic part of communal life." Someone should tell her how heavily used Orthodox synagogues are and have been since time immemorial.

Her parting slap is to say that we paint ourselves as " `authentic' Jews." Her presumed reference for applying the shudder quotes is a famous piece by former CCAR President Reform Rabbi Simeon Maslin who wrote a piece entitled, "Who are the Authentic Jews?" (which was given an award for "Excellence in Commentary" by the American Jewish Press Association). He asks, "Are Orthodox Jews who nurture extremism by their claim to exclusive truth the authentic Jews?" No he says. Rather, he concludes about Reform Judaism, "we represent authentic Judaism."

In Israel Reform Jews champion "pluralism." But the substance of their comments about traditional Judaism indicates that they do not view it as an ideal that Reform Judaism function alongside Orthodox Judaism. Rather they champion pluralism since they now feel excluded entirely, and want to get their foot into the door.

Pluralism is just an interim stage. They clearly want to take over entirely. They do not regard us as authentic and have no tolerance for our views.

It has been the same since the early days of Reform over 150 years ago. Whenever it had control, it did not recognize Orthodoxy, did not fund Orthodox institutions or needs, and even fought openly against the most basic religious services. In Frankfurt, for almost twenty years one was not allowed to teach Torah in public. The mikveh was closed. It was only with the founding of the IRG of HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch that they reluctantly began satisfying religious needs since they wanted to retain their religious members in the face of the competition.

Yossi Beilin also argued recently that there should be a way that non-religious non-Jews can become non-religious Jews. He does not propose any clear criteria for entry into the Jewish people, and no one ever has. The truth is that the statement of Rav Saadia Gaon that what makes us a people is our Torah is not just prescriptive, but is really also descriptive. If Beilin were to dig a little more deeply into what Judaism means, even to him, he would find the Torah there as well.

It is likely that he will not delve any more deeply than he already has, but he should realize that his criteria will expand the Jewish people at the price of fragmenting it. The definitions that he proposes are such that the chareidi community cannot and will not accept them. The result will be that again, we will be left out of the Jewish people as defined by Yossi Beilin.

We are excluded by the Reform and we are excluded by the secular. Fifty years ago, even the secular leadership of the Jewish people agreed to accept the classical definition of Judaism that had been used through the ages.

Now their heirs are not only rejecting the Orthodox definition of who is a Jew, but in effect rejecting the Orthodox people themselves as authentic Jews.

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