How Dare Rabbi Amar Call Conservative and Reform Jews Corrupt?

Dear chief rabbi, my Judaism comes from the same Torah as yours, and I refuse to apologize for it.

Im mad as hell and Im not going to take this any more.

On Sunday, June 17, 2012, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar released a letter, on government stationery, condemning the work and beliefs of Conservative and Reform Judaism. Of course, Amar did not refer to these movements by name. Instead, he referred to uprooters of Torah. He certainly did not call their leaders rabbis.

Amar reportedly used a number of choice words to describe these religious leaders: they brought terrible destruction on the Jewish people in the Diaspora; they have uprooted every foundation of the Torah; their entire intention is to harm the holiness and purity of Torah; and finally, they corrupt and sabotage the Land of Israel (literally the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts).

I am not yet a Masorti/Conservative rabbi, but I hope to be one within a few years. Amar does not know who I am, but I nevertheless take his letter personally, and I am not happy.

Initially, I was mostly unhappy because of Amars obscene accusations. How dare he say that I (and my colleagues) aim to uproot the principles of Torah? How dare he accuse me of corrupting the land of Israel?

Yet, after much thought, I have decided that maybe he is right. Maybe I am indeed working against what Amar sees as the values of the Torah.

I cannot speak for my teachers, friends, and colleagues who are Conservative or Reform rabbis; I can only speak for myself. However, I am willing to declare the following principles for which I stand, based on my understanding of the Torah:

Women are not a threat to me, to fellow men, or to my society. I accept that some people prefer to accentuate gender differences. Yet I also accept that some do not, and I welcome women to engage in the same commandments as men, including leading services, wearing tallit and tefillin, and becoming rabbis. I certainly believe that women belong in the public sphere.

I take the Torahs statement that it is not good for a human to be alone seriously, and I believe that it applies to all people, regardless of their sexuality. I understand that the Torah places restrictions on sexual acts for all people, and I believe that this is meant to emphasize holiness in intimate relations, not to forbid some people from having them at all.

I believe that the Torah is truth. At the same time, I believe, as Rabbi Yishmael taught nearly 2000 years ago, that the Torah speaks in the language of humankind. As such, certain principles of the Torah are meant to be understood anew as human beings understanding of the world changes.

We are to treat foreigners as we treat citizens. At a minimum, this means treating non-citizens with basic human dignity, as we are to treat all humanity. This statement is not meant to set government policy, as we live in a complicated world, but it is to guide however our leaders choose execute policy.

I do not see non-Jews as a threat. I see value in learning from and with non-Jews, living amongst non-Jews, and being friends with non-Jews. If xenophobia is a value of the Torah, I will gladly uproot it.

All of society must be concerned with the overall well being of those around them, both in terms of physical needs and in creating a society based on law and order. The Torah imposes restrictions and guidelines on our lives, and we are to follow them.

These are but a few of the ways in which Torah is a part of my life. I know that Amar and I find common ground, even if he has accused me and those like me of trying to uproot every principle found in the Torah. However, there are also areas in which we do not share common ground. I refuse to apologize for those things, for I believe there is truth in the way that I see the world and allow Torah to guide it.

In fact, I am done apologizing. I am not a Conservative Jew out of compromise. I do not strive to be Orthodox. I see the way in which Orthodox Judaism enriches the lives of many of my friends, and I am happy for them. But it is not the way for me.

I believe in modernity, I believe in progress, and I believe that Judaism fits in with these values. I do not believe that the corrupt way of government-sponsored rabbinate in Israel is the true Torah. Amar has accused me of corrupting Judaism. Well, Rabbi Amar, Id like to tell you something:

According to the Midrash, Moses did not recognize the teachings of Rabbi Akiva as Judaism. In the same way, Moses, Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides, would not recognize my brand of Judaism, nor would they recognize yours. Your brand of Judaism is no more authentic than mine. My Judaism comes from the same Torah as yours, and I refuse to apologize for it.

Arie Hasit studies at the rabbinic seminary of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, with plans to become a Masorti rabbi. He works for a number of different Masorti and Conservative institutions, and the opinions expressed here are his own only.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
Emil Salman