Orthodoxy and Reform – Israel National News – Arutz Sheva

Posted By on July 18, 2017


Q. Why doesnt orthodoxy accept that the Reform movement is a valid option in Judaism?

A. It never happened that every Jew thought like every other Jew.

Two Jews three opinions is an expression of reality that goes even further than Elijah, who said, How long will you hesitate between two opinions?

It resonated through the ages, with dissident sects and competing ideologies, bitter conflicts and reluctant compromises.

There has always been diversity in Jewish life. Even the problem of the orthodox versus the non-orthodox is not a modern invention.

The problem is not whether the question is new, but whether anyone has discovered a way of solving it.

Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik distinguished between brit goral, the covenant of fate which binds all Jews regardless of their opinions, and brit Sinai, the covenant of faith which unites those who uphold the Revelation on Sinai.

It is a useful approach, but it creates its own new problems.

The second arm of the thesis allows orthodoxy to maintain Sinai-based halakhic Judaism as the authentic tradition which defines a Jew, but leaves unspoken the status of the Conservative movement, which also claims to be halakhic, and that of the Reform movement which, whilst not claiming to be a halahic movement often claims halakhic legitimacy on the basis of a Talmudic statement that both Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai are the words of the living God.

There is a difference between, on the one hand, the secular Jews who have no room for God in their Jewish identity and come within brit goral but not brit Sinai, and on the other hand the three religious groups, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, who believe in God (though there are apparently some Reform rabbis who are not certain about Him).

The words of the living God assessment is in Eruvin 13b. The passage informs us, For three years Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel were in dispute. One side said, The halakhah is in accordance with us. The other said, The halakhah is in accordance with us. Then a heavenly voice said, These, and these, are the words of the living God, but the halakhah is in accordance with Bet Hillel.

Two things emerge from the discussion: one, that there can be several ways of interpreting a law, and two, that in behavioural matters there is no room for halakhic indecision.

To think that the first statement sanctions pluralism is illusory. In the Bet Hillel-Bet Shammai dispute, both sides are within the halakhic loop. It is not that one is inside the halakhah and one outside it. Both are wholeheartedly halakhic. Both accept the authority of the mitzvah, but each has a different emphasis or nuance.

One cannot use this passage to say that halakhah and the abrogation of halakhah are both Judaism. It is like saying that kosher and non-kosher are both kosher. Neither Bet Hillel nor Bet Shammai can be used to lend support to this position.

Bet Hillel did sometimes reverse a view they had espoused in favour of one advocated by Bet Shammai, but neither was outside the halakhic loop.

Orthodoxy has no choice but to say that whilst they respect followers of the Reform movement as part of brit goral, Reform as an ideology cannot be counted as part of brit Sinai.


Q. How can the Siddur say, Scholars increase peace in the world? How can study bring peace?

A. You shall teach them (the words of the Torah) diligently to your children (Deut.11:19) is the basis of the Jewish stress on education.

Initially the command must have been addressed to parents in relation to their own children, but Rashi explains, Pupils are called children and the teacher of Torah is called a father. So the relationship of teacher and pupil is as holy as the relationship of parent and child.

Pupils and teachers are referred to in the Talmudic passage (Brachot 64a) that you quoted from the Siddur: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said, And all your children (pupils) shall be taught of Hashem, and great shall be the peace of your children (Isa. 54:13). Do not call them banayich but bonayich.

The banayich bonayich play on words is usually explained as Do not call them your children but your builders, because boneh is a builder. Alfasi, however, derives bonayich from a root that means to understand, and hence the sages were saying that great peace comes from being a person of understanding.

How do Torah students bring peace? The subject-matter first: the patterns set out in the Torah create a just, stable, equitable society. As the Book of Proverbs says (3:17), Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.

The method of study: sitting with others and learning Torah together starts by pointing up differences of opinion, but ends either by coming to a position of peaceful agreement or at least peacefully agreeing to disagree and to acknowledge that there can be peace when there is respect for difference. Even a person who studies alone can help to attain peace because when you discover and grasp the truth you are at peace with yourself, with the world and with God.

Rav Kook points out in his Ein Aya that the Talmud does not say, make peace but increase peace.

The Talmud is full of passages in which the Torah scholars are in sharp disagreement within the parameters of halakha and belief in Hashem.One might have thought every rabbinic debate would end with someone drawing the strands together and making a compromise, but would be unfair to the protagonists, who are all sincere in their opinions and interpretations and as a matter of principle cannot resile from their positions even to give an appearance of peace.

Rav Kook says, The increase of peace occurs when all the angles and opinions that exist in wisdom are seen and it is clear how each one has a place. When there is a compilation of all the parts, details and opinions that look different, through them will be seen the light of truth and justice. Torah scholars increase peace in the world by widening, explaining and producing words of wisdom with different facets.

True peace does not require papering over or removing differences but the recognition that they exist. Peace is when they live together in mutual respect and trust.

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Orthodoxy and Reform - Israel National News - Arutz Sheva

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