Identity

Jonathan Mark on Reform Jews

The following was posted on The Jewish Week Associate Editor Jonathan Mark’s blog last night. It is no longer up on The Jewish Week site.
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Hopefully they’ll put it back up later, so that the views of their Associate Editor are clear and public. In the meantime, here is the text. Because it was culled from a pasted version, it might be formatted somewhat incorrectly, losing external links and/or missing the final paragraph:

When Glenn Beck Compares Reform Judaism To Radical Islam, He’s Unfair To Islam
When Glenn Beck says that Reform Judaism is like radical Islam, insofar as both are more about politics than faith, he’s being unfair to radical Islam.
Yes, both are deeply involved with politics and confuse their own politics with God’s.
But radical Islamists seems to be much more serious about their religion.
Reform rabbis often lead congregations whose overall culture is indifferent to Shabbat and kashrut, indifferent to daily prayer and intermarriage, and indifferent to religious literacy.
A radical Islamic leader, by contrast, is passionate and conscientious about prayer, the Islamic Sabbath, Halal food, and Islamic family purity. He would not be indifferent to intermarriage or classical Islamic teachings.
Only a Reform rabbi would officiate at an intermarriage on Shabbat itself, as did Rabbi James Ponet at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. A Radical Islamist wouldn’t do that.
Not even the Ten Commandments are as important to a Reform rabbi as intermarriage. The integrity of Shabbat (Commandment Four) was considered so meaningless that the ceremony couldn’t even wait until sunset. With a Reform rabbi, officiating for Clinton, a political figure, was more important than Shabbat, faith.
A radical Islamist would not have violated the Koran to perform an intermarriage for a king.
It’s hard to imagine a Reform rabbi who didn’t frequently take political positions. Among their political positions is that we shouldn’t be Islamophobic; we should know that jihad is a spiritual struggle, not a violent one; that imams are moderates until proven otherwise. OK, all the more reason Beck is right. Reform rabbis themselves say that Islam is first a religion of peace, more than politics.
It’s had to imagine a Reform rabbi who isn’t infatuated with the great Reform legends of fighting for Darfur, being part of the (imaginary) black-Jewish alliance, advocating for gay and transgender rights, hating Bush and Sarah Palin, cheering Obama’s pressure on Israel, all of which these Reform rabbis will attribute to their faith but it sure sounds like politics.
Reform rabbis love “dialogue,” the idea that all problems in the world — between religions and between nations — are just a big misunderstanding because we’re all basically the same and want the same things.
Radical Islamists don’t give a damn about dialogue. They don’t think all religions or all people, infidels included, are the same, because radical Islamists take their own faith that much more seriously.
Reform rabbis are “troubled” that settlers live in Canaan, that Ariel Sharon walked on the Temple Mount, that Moses, a Jew, used disproportionate force in killing an Egyptian. Hebron is not loved for its holiness, as faith would have it, but thought an obstacle to peace, as politics would have it.
Radical Islamists have faith that the Temple Mount is theirs, and the Western Wall, too. They have faith that they are Abraham’s children and belong anywhere in Canaan. Radical Islamists don’t care that Moses, an Egyptian, killed an Egyptian. Hebron is loved for its holiness, as faith would have it, not something to be negotiated, as politics would have it.
Radical Islamic leaders don’t go around saying that religion just means being ethical and good and voting for Democrats, the way most Reform rabbis do. Radical Islam believe that faith demands personal service to God, not just service to each other.
Radical Islamic leaders don’t define their faith so singularly with one political party, as do most Reform rabbis, who seem to believe that Judaism never, ever, says no to liberal dogma. Their Reform Jewish faith, to hear so many tell it. is indistinguishable from their Reform Jewish poliitics. To many Reform leaders, the left can disagree with the Torah but the Torah can never disagree with the left. When in conflict, the Torah must adapt.
To a radical Islamist, whose faith comes before politics, the Koran doesn’t adapt, everything adapts to the Koran.
Radical Islamists seem to have more fire in the belly when it comes to their faith.
Reform rabbis seem to have more fire in the belly when it comes to their “progressive” politics.
Beck is wrong. Radical Islamists and Reform rabbis are polar opposites when it comes to balancing faith and politics.
There are many Reform Jews that I love and greatly admire. These are my people. I’d rather be the worst Reform Jew than the very best Islamist. And I wish that Reform rabbis were, in fact, more about faith than about politics.
Dennis Prager, the talk-show host and author, is a Reform Jew who actually talks more about the importance of faith and religion than he talks about politics. Debbie Friedman, another great Reform Jew, was unique in how she restored the idea of blessing and God to the Reform sensibility. There are other Reform Jews like Prager and Friedman who prioritize faith over politics, but I don’t get that sense from too many Reform rabbis.
I despise, fear and fight radical Islamic politics but I love and envy their devotion to their faith. I love how even in the midst of the Cairo revolution, they stopped to prostrate themselves in prayer. When was the last time you saw Reform Jews at a political demonstration stop to say Mincha? And by the hundreds?
Here’s some more on Beck, on related issues, from the Zionist Organization of America, from BigJournalism.com regarding the Jewish Fund For Justice’s anti-Beck campaign, and from David Suissa, an exciting columnist for the Jewish Journal in L.A.
How many people who have opinions on Beck have actually seen him in action? Check out this clip of Beck speaking about Israel, threats to Jews, and attacking Iran.
Beck’s a better man than George Soros, and he’s a better Jew, too. If something bad, God forbid, ever happened to Israel, I’m convinced it would bother Beck more. One guy cares about me and the two countries I love. One guy doesn’t.
I don’t like it when someone who cares about us so much is hated, is laughed at, because his caring is imperfect.

31 thoughts on “Jonathan Mark on Reform Jews

  1. Putting aside for a moment the fact that he generally agrees with Glenn Beck, what’s wrong with the rest of what he’s saying? I’ve heard a few Reform rabbis and rabbinical students say similar things. More tellingly, I’ve heard a larger number of rabbinical students who grew up Reform but who now pursue ordination at institutions other than HUC express similar sentiments.
    Rather than be righteously indignant, I’d be much more interested in hearing what you (EV) have to say in response to the substance of Mark’s comments.

  2. Reform Rabbi Andy Bachman had a few things to say about the content of Mark’s screed:

    So Reform Rabbi David Einhorn’s being driven from Baltimore for his abolitionist views is worse than radical Islam? So Reform rabbis activism in the passage of American labor laws at the turn of the 20th century is worse than radical Islam? So Reform rabbis support for the creation of Hebrew University and the building up the Jewish state is worse than radical Islam? So Reform rabbis working for better race relations in the establishment of the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress is worse than radical Islam? So Reform rabbis getting jailed alongside other religious and civil rights leaders so that all American citizens can be free is worse than radical Islam? So Ruth Messinger’s work on behalf of victims of genocide and totalitarian regimes across the globe is worse than radical Islam? So Reform rabbis insistence on equal rights for women and gays and lesbians in American Jewish leadership is worse than radical Islam? So countless Reform rabbis who work in hospice care, labor as chaplains, staff day care and after-school programs, push their congregants to a deeper relationship to Torah, Worhship and Deeds of Lovingkindness are worse than radical Islam?
    Jonathan Mark’s claims are laughable. And I don’t know a single Jewish leader who is concerned with what he thinks. We go about doing our work unimpeded by such ignorance.

    Hat tip DAWM.

  3. It seems that R’ Bachman is simply reinforcing Beck’s point, which is paraphrased by Ha’aretz as:
    On his February 22 radio show, Beck compared Reform Judaism to “radical Islam,” saying that both were more about ‘politics’ – changing what is outside of oneself – rather than about ‘religion’ – changing what is inside of oneself.

  4. Formal apology by Gary Rosenblatt, Editor in Chief of the NY Jewish Week:

    But a blog Jonathan wrote Feb. 23 and posted on our site that, in part, spoke unfavorably about Reform rabbis went beyond the boundaries of spirited debate, in my opinion, and I apologize for it having appeared.
    It was removed from our web site.
    Our web site’s rules regarding readers’ commenting on blogs say that we do not allow the denigration of any religion or any of the Jewish religious streams.

  5. The comparison to Islamists is ridiculous and intolerable. On the other hand, EV routinely publishes grotesque, demagogic, often blatantly anti-semitic artoons that KFJ (and perhaps DAWM) consistently defend, on the grounds that sometimes it’s necessary to shock people to make them pay attention. Certainly comparing the Reform movement to radical Islam made Jewschool pay attention. Just saying, what’s good for the goose… But still offensive and unacceptable to me, in both cases.
    As for the rest, on broad strokes substance, he’s raising points that prominent Reform Rabbis have, including in this Forward piece.
    I think the guestposter who has published a multi-part response to the conservative movement’s strategic plan has reset the Jewschool bar for a thoughtful, serious discussion. I would like to see a similar, serious conversation from Reform.

  6. Yaakov,
    Have you ever considered the possibility that perhaps that is no need to treat inner change and outer change as being mutually exclusive?

  7. Balaam’s Donkey,
    Of course I don’t consider them mutually exclusive, but it would be naive to suggest that the majority of activities or pursuits favored in the Reform world emphasize the external far more than the internal.

  8. This article was spot on. The last paragraph is:
    I don’t like it when someone who cares about us so much is hated, is laughed at, because his caring is imperfect.
    Having grown up Reform and then having become Orthodox. JM was right on, and it’s a very disturbing development that the Jewish Week censored this post.

  9. Side point:
    Rabbi Andy Bachman is the ignorant one.
    “So Reform rabbis support for the creation of Hebrew University and the building up the Jewish state is worse than radical Islam? ”
    Right – when did Reform jump on the Zionist bandwagon? It wasn’t before 1948.
    “So Reform rabbis insistence on equal rights for … gays and lesbians in American Jewish leadership is worse than radical Islam?”
    Well, given that __. Wait nevermind. Pshing people who are proud of anti-Torah leanings into Jewish leadership is a good thing. Of course.

  10. A similarity between Reform Judaism and Islam is that you can convert very quickly to either(I know one Gentile woman who converted to marry her Jewish husband-it took less than half an hour and of course no Bet Din required)
    A difference is that Muslims tend to have lots of children, while Reform Jews aren’t anywhere close to replacement rate (2.1 children/female).
    As my favorite pundit says: ‘The future belongs to—whoever shows up for it.’

  11. The thing that I find weird about complaining about Reform rabbis being too political is … compared to whom? Compared to the Roman Catholic Church? Compared to the Southern Baptist Conference? Compared to James Dobbs or Rick Warren or Mike Huckabee? Or, to use a liberal example, compared to the Presbyterian Church’s activism on illegal immigration or the Episcopal Church on gay rights. Many, many, many people are religious and political. And?

  12. And the reason I’m using Christian examples is because Beck is speaking to an American audience whose frame of reference is Christian. The average Beck viewer is not interested in intra-Jewish debates. But given that that audience is disproportionately part of the Christian right, complaining about Reform rabbis being political is weird.

  13. Beck has continually exploited the Holocaust to bash his political opponents. Several hundred rabbis spoke up about it. Now rather than deal with the substance of their complaint, he has successfully sidetracked the discussion by turning people’s attention towards whether Reform rabbis are legitimate rabbis– as if the Jewish community needs a Mormon radio commentator to be the arbiter of one’s Jewish bona fides.
    Beck and Mark both ignore that all religions have political implications, and that the vast majority of organized religions (certainly in America) have political positions that, through one way or another, they try to act on. There are plenty of examples of Orthodox Jews being politically active in US elections as well as in Israel. And Beck’s LDS church has been instrumental in promoting “pro-family” legislation such as California’s Prop 8 a few years ago. The suggestion that being politically active invalidates one’s right to be taken seriously as a member of the clergy is not only one-sided, it’s also just plain stupid.

  14. em writes:
    The thing that I find weird about complaining about Reform rabbis being too political is … compared to whom? Compared to the Roman Catholic Church? Compared to the Southern Baptist Conference? Compared to James Dobbs or Rick Warren or Mike Huckabee?
    Clearly what Beck and Mark mean by “political” is taking political positions they disagree with. How else could Mark say with a straight face that DENNIS FUCKING PRAGER is less “about politics”?
    Debbie Friedman z”l deserves better than to get dragged into this.

  15. Shorter Mark: Radical Islamists are better than Reform Jews, because Radical Islamists take their religion seriously, and Reform Jews don’t take my [Mark’s] religion seriously.
    He’s judging Islam by (what he perceives to be) Islamic standards, and judging Reform Judaism by Orthodox Jewish standards. To be consistent, he should either judge Reform Judaism by Reform Jewish standards (and yes, there is plenty to critique about Reform Judaism from the “Why aren’t you Zusya?” perspective, but that’s not the critique he’s making) or judge “Radical Islamists” by Orthodox Jewish standards (and ask whether they’re scrupulous in observing the Noahide laws). The relationship between Reform Judaism and kashrut has a long history, but if you were to sum it up with one word, it wouldn’t be “indifferent”.

  16. I still don’t get why “an intermarriage on Shabbat itself” is considered to be worse than a marriage between two Jews on Shabbat, or an intermarriage on another day of the week. If you don’t consider a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew to be a valid marriage, then it’s actually less of a Shabbat violation (since nothing has actually happened) than a marriage between two Jews.

  17. Also, notice the subtle shell game here:
    Reform rabbis often lead congregations whose overall culture is…
    A radical Islamic leader, by contrast, is…

  18. …basically, this makes me want to vomit. I wish I could express it in a more eloquent way, but that’s all there is to it. So many of the things he talks about disparagingly, as though they are things of which Reform Jews should be ashamed, & shamed for – these are the things I AM PROUD OF. I’m so tired of the public shamings from other Jews.
    I’m frustrated by the idea that Reform Jews are faithless, that we just use the guise of faith to deal in politics. I’m frustrated that criticism of Israel is seen as infidelity to Israel rather than caring about it deeply enough that we want its actions to align with its values. I’m frustrated that active pursuance of social justice is seen as politics – that caring about a genocide in Darfur, the blatant oppression of civil rights for LGBT people, & so on & so forth, are somehow issues we should NOT care about – when it is, in fact, our faith that guides us to care for & take care of others. I’m frustrated, above all, that Jews cannot find it in themselves to respect other Jews – that we’re constantly & relentlessly under attack for being “not Jewish enough” when it’s simply that we care differently.

  19. Jonathan Mark seems to have the Disney’s “Aladdin” view of Islam (where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face/It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home!) – I believe the people praying in Tahrir Square on Mubarak’s last Friday in office would resent being put in the same conversation as radical Islamists.
    Mark takes the easy (and unsurprisingly common) route of playing the radicals’ game by basically saying that their version of their religion is legitimate because hey, look at how passionate and angry they are about it.

  20. Does Mark know that there is no Muslim Shabbat? The Quran has a six-day period of creation, but Allah ascends his throne to begin ruling over it on day 7, rather than resting. In some Muslim communities, Friday is considered a day of rest, in others it’s simply a day with a different liturgy, and in still others it’s a half-day of rest.
    Yaakov, different religions are are really… um… different from each other. If Reform is more interested in having in internal impact–and I’m neither convinced that it is nor am I convinced that there’s anything one could to ascertain whether it is or not–then that’s part of its unique character. The Christianity that Beck pushes is less focused on the external and more on the internal, or so he claims. And that’s fine too, as long as that doesn’t lead to him declaring that he alone has the power to tell the rest of us which groups are religious in character and which are not based solely on how similar they are to his religious group.
    Boxhead said:
    “A similarity between Reform Judaism and Islam is that you can convert very quickly to either(I know one Gentile woman who converted to marry her Jewish husband-it took less than half an hour and of course no Bet Din required)”
    I don’t believe that for one minute. Reform conversions generally involve at least a year of study, a beit din, a trip to the mikvah and–for 50% or so of the adult population–a trip somewhere else a good deal more painful.
    HMK said:
    “Mark takes the easy (and unsurprisingly common) route of playing the radicals’ game by basically saying that their version of their religion is legitimate because hey, look at how passionate and angry they are about it.”
    Ha! And I’m a liberal lefty religious Jew, but look at how angry and passionate I am about it.

  21. @ Shmilda
    Do you realize that Reform Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes helped found Hebrew University in 1918, was its first Chancellor in 1925, and was its president between 1935 and 1948?
    As BZ says, learn some history.

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