(Last updated: July 4, 2017)
Reform Judaism dominates the American Jewish landscape. It seems safe to call Reform the single largest sector of the American Jewish community (Michael Lipka, "Few Jews in Israel identify as Reform or Conservative", pewresearch, March 15, 2016). The size of the Reform Movement in the US easily makes it the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in Jewish America.
Now, America's Reform Jews want to throw around that 800-pounds of power--in Israel. They're demanding to run prayer services at the Kotel--the iconic Western Wall in Jerusalem-- exactly where Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox pray in their style of service. True, the Reform already have a main prayer service spot now for their group prayers--and, we may note, individual Reform Jews can always pray silently their own prayers where the Orthodox pray. But these two arrangements are apparently no longer acceptable to the American Reform movement. They want their group services to be exactly where the Orthodox hold their own services.
The problem with all this is that Reform Judaism , as an institution, violates every major tenet of the historical Jewish religious norm. They don't abide by traditional Jewish law. They've arranged their own law, their own beliefs and their own ideas of what Judaism is all about. Now, they want to bring those laws, beliefs, violations and services to Israel.
They're making a very big fuss (Amanda Borschel Dan, "US liberal Jews decry 'slap in the face from Netanyahu ' on Western Wall prayer", timesofisrael, June 25, 2017). They want to run their public services on Orthodox turf. But the Reform have already been granted their own 'plaza' at the Kotel. What is this new demand all about?
It's about power (Aaron Panken, "Why are Israelis lashing out at Reform Jews? Because we've reached the tipping point!", forward, April 25, 2017). It's about who controls religious life in Israel.
At least some in the Reform movement believe that Reform's call is so attractive, its appeal is spreading like wildfire (ibid). The time may have come to end Ultra-Orthodox influence over religious life in Israel. Perhaps some Reform leaders feel now is the time to change who controls religion in Israel--and/or to make Israel yield to a Reform ideology that promotes social justice, progressive liberalism and gay rights over Torah.
Few dare suggest this is a Reform Movement power-grab. Israel is afraid. The American liberal Jewish vanguard--the Reform Movement--is very, very powerful.
Certainly, the Reform demands over the Western Wall make no religious sense. The Reform version of Judaism is, arguably, as different from Orthodox Judaism as Unitarianism is from the Anglican church. Demanding a Reform prayer spot at an Orthodox venue is similar to a Catholic religious sect demanding to pray their own service in Europe's most important Protestant church.
It's simply not done. It's offensive to those targeted to be intruded upon.
America's Reform Jewish leaders don't seem to care. They're taking on the Orthodox--and they're offended that the Orthodox are offended. They threaten to punish Israel if Israel refuses to give in to their demands (Stewart Ain,"Liberals threaten israel giving in wake of Cabinet moves", newyorkjewishweek, June 28, 2017).
The problem here is that Jews in Israel don't follow Reform religious ideas. According to the Pew research center, less than 3 percent of Israeli Jews identify with Reform (Michael Lipka, ibid) "Few Jews in Israel identify as Reform or Conservative", pewresearch, March 15, 2016).
For Israelis, the historical Jewish religious norm is called Orthodox Judaism. Some fifty percent of Israeli Jews identify with some form of the Orthodox tradition. Even though some who express such an affinity don't live Orthodox lifestyles, they chose the Orthodox Brand over all others.
Put another way, in Israel, Reform doesn't have a meaningful toehold. Orthodoxy does.
There are various branches of Orthodox Judaism, but all of them share two significant characteristics which are rejected by the Reform: first, Orthodox Judaism represents the one sector of Judaism that most closely follows what our written Torah and Oral Torah teach; and second, all forms of authentic Orthodox Judaism represent the longest-lasting sector of Judaism, dating back to the time the Torah was given some 3,300 years ago.
Reform Judaism is very different.
-Reform Judaism rejects the obligation to observe the Shabbat as our Torah requires.
-Reform Judaism rejects what are called the laws of family purity.
-Reform Judaism rejects the laws of 'keeping kosher'.
-Reform Judaism rejects Torah statements regarding the practice of homosexual acts.
-In practice, Reform Judaism essentially rejects more than 1,000 years of traditional Jewish religious behavior and belief. This rejection ranges from how to pray and with whom to pray to the question of who is a Jew.
The behavior of Reform Jews--as encouraged by Reform Jewish leaders--has brought Reform Judaism in America to a breaking point. That breaking point is called, intermarriage.
Marrying outside your religion is pretty much accepted to be a religion's path to self-destruction. You cannot remain a religion if most of your followers marry those who are not part of your religion. For some, religious intermarriage is considered to be a form of apostasy--a renunciation of your religion ("Apostasy", newworldencyclopedia, April 9, 2016).
The experience of the Reform community appears to corroborate such a point of view. For example, in America, intermarriage in the Orthodox community is extremely low--perhaps as low as 3 percent ("American Jewry: where are we now? Where are we heading? Two views", jewishactionmag, November 28, 2016). But in the Reform community, intermarriage is greater than 70 percent (ibid).
This intermarriage-rate difference is stunning. It's not just a lifestyle difference. It's an existential difference: it's the difference between growing Judaism versus destroying Judaism.
Many in America understand the danger of intermarriage ("Left, right agree: intermarriage marks demise of US Jewish community", jewishpress, October 30, 2016). America may lose up to 100 Jews a day--every day--to intermarriage and its consequence--assimilation ("Jewish intermarriage statistics", simpletoremember, no date, retrieved July 3, 2017). For some in America, the Reform Movement leads the way down this path because they embrace intermarriage (Intermarriage", reformjudaism, no date, retrieved July 3, 2017). American Reform rabbis are known for the number of intermarriages they officiate--and that number is growing ("More interfaith marriages being officiated by US Reform Rabbis", haaretz, July 4, 2012).
The Reform movement fails as a religion. It's been estimated that for every 100 Reform Jews today (called, 'the first generation'), there will be only 13 Reform Jews three generations later (called, 'the fourth generation') (jewishactionmag, above). But for every 100 Hasidic/Yeshiva Orthodox Jews today, there will be more than 3,300 Jews in 'generation four' (ibid).
That's no misprint: Hasidic/Yeshiva Orthodoxy leads to a Jewish flowering. Reform leads to the demise of a Jewish community.
Israeli Jews are smart when it comes to survival. We in Israel live surrounded by a pressure to disappear, go away or be exterminated. We know what it takes to survive.
Reform Judaism doesn't help Jews survive. It helps Jews leave their religion.
Put another way, the US Reform Movement is not a survival-driven entity. It's something else altogether, something we in Israel don't need--or want.
Israel's leaders should just say 'no' to the US Reform demand. Israel doesn't need to import yet another threat to Jewish survival.