Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5766 - March 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
What if they Call us a Cult?

Despite the fact that we are by no means brainwashed and, on the contrary, even a cursory acquaintance with Talmud is enough to convince anyone that critical thinking is central to our lives in theory, and a quick visit to the mikvehs and yeshiva dining rooms will make it abundantly clear that it is also applied in practice, some spokesmen for Reform and Conservative whose concern is more for scoring rhetorical points than accuracy persist in calling the chareidi community a cult.

The logic is very weak, but the rhetoric is strong. Since the basic characteristics that they cite in calling us a cult are things that we admit to and are actually proud of, any denial on our part will be complex, unsatisfying and probably vaguely unconvincing in any common media forum where superficial sound bytes usually trump complex logic. So even though we are certainly no cult, it is probably not worthwhile to explain this to someone who hurls the charge at us.

Far more effective is to reply by citing some of the things that both Reform and Conservative admit to and may even be proud of. We are clearly within accepted usage if we call them heretics. Both are clearly heretical since they openly deny the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth of the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim that relate to Hashem's communication with us in general and the Torah in particular. However they may try to justify themselves, denying even one of the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim is a generally recognized, objective criterion for applying the term "heretic."

Casual comparisons for the purpose of name-tagging can be made on a number of criteria. A serious effort to be truly accurate in applying a description can often be a subtle and difficult exercise in balancing and weighing which aspects are critical and which are incidental to the true nature of the subject.

In the case of the Reform and Conservative movements, for a more accurate characterization it is better to leave the realm of religion entirely. In their loose entry requirements and minimal demands — centering prominently on annual membership fees — they are like nothing more than clubs.

Instead of demanding commitment, they offer convenience. Instead of preparing devotees for a relationship with something Absolute, they emphasize the actualization of the Self.

They have the competitive drive that characterizes many clubs. The Reform organization in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), is active both in pursuing the interests of the Reform movement that sponsors it, and in doing its best to frustrate the efforts of chareidim at every turn — just like one expects from a very competitive club.

The entry requirements are minimal. A club is always concerned with adding to its membership, and it is more worried about the possibility that it might keep out someone who could be in than vice versa. Why not try to let anyone who wants to be a member just join up, especially if they can pay the dues?

When Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, the house of slavery, he took us to be His slaves. The demands are high — much higher than any club. He demanded a commitment that permeates our lives.

But the rewards are great as well. A life of service to the King of Kings is the most fulfilling and ennobling thing that can be imagined. Joining the Reform or Conservative Judaism club, with requirements that change and flex to meet the latest fads, might make people feel good, but it will not be enough to break the tyranny of This World. The only thing that can do that is a complete commitment to fulfilling all of Torah and mitzvos, as Hashem gave us on Sinai.

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