Yom Kippur 2007: Jews Who Hate Reform Jews

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to let Jews be Jews. It is time to recognize that Judaism itself is changing - even Orthodox Judaism. It is time to let individuals be alone with their God, and, at least this one day of the year, to accord that relationship the respect it deserves.

The Scene: A spinning class at a smartly appointed gym at a kibbutz in the Judean Hills, a few days before Yom Kippur. The instructor has yet to arrive. "We have a minyan, we can begin anyway," says one member of the class.

"Wait," says another, astride his exercise bike. "Women aren't counted in a minyan."

"Reform Jews do count women in the minyan," says a woman in the class.

The man on the bike is unmoved. "The Reformim aren't Jews," he says.

There are those among us Jewish Israelis, whether we define ourselves as traditionalist or secular-as-Stalin, who cannot abide Reform Judaism and those who choose to practice it.

"I have to admit that the pseudo-spiritualism that the Reform Jewish synagogue manufactures is foreign to me," wrote Gafi Amir in an opinion column in Yedioth Ahronoth this week.

Taking a shot at the "neo-secular, particularly those who congratulate themselves for being enlightened and pluralistic," Amir decided that their level of religious observance will not include the commandments of fasting and searching one's soul.

"On Yom Kippur they will skip over these two clauses when they visit the Reform synagogue. Afterward, they will wear out their less enlightened and secular friends, like me, with the purifying experience they underwent there."

There's a certain glee in the tone of these words. Part of it is because the words break new ground, going well beyond the timeworn observation that "The synagogue that I do not attend is Orthodox."

In particular, the words identify and castigate a new foreign body, yet another enemy in our midst. The words address the "Reformim" with the same dismissive contempt once reserved for Arabs, or for Jews who came from the other side of the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide.

The words treat the Reform as some form of quaint, deluded, would-be-Jewish tribe, like the map that Yedioth splashed across its front page the day before, pinpointing what it suggested were Jews who aren't really Jews in a dozen countries from Brazil to China.

Deep down, we all know what the glee is really about. It is the blissful assurance that the collective "We" silently agrees with Gafi Amir, that it scorns and even pities these pathetic self-styled people of faith.

But even that will not suffice. Borrowing another image from the Yedioth front page of the day before, Amir tells us exactly how far these Reformim are from being a part of Us.

With a nod to the photo spreads on the celebrity participants in last week's Kabbala conference in Tel Aviv - among them non-Jewish stars Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek ("Dawson"), and Rosie O'Donnell - Amir delivered her coup de grace to the Reform and other neo-secularists who, she says, selectively perform only "mannerisms of Judaism":

"Many of them will joke around at the expense of Madonna/Esther and the delegation of Hollywood stars that landed in Tel Aviv. I haven't succeeded in seeing the difference between them."

Inherent in the hatred of Reform is the assumption that even the most pork-stuffed of the secular know authentic Judaism when they see it, and a fraud when they do not. They can somehow divine lack of commitment and observance in Reform, even when they themselves do not study, do not practice, do not believe.

Fundamentally, the ridicule of Reform ignores the fact that all over Israel, Jews raised in Orthodox homes have become active members of Reform and Conservative congregations because they believe both in religious Judaism and in equality for women within Jewish observance.

I suspect that much of the scorn directed toward Reform Judaism reflects a certain frustration over the inability of many Israelis to feel a part of any congregation, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. For many, the gulf between secular Israeli culture and the available forms of organized religion has yet to be bridged by liturgy and customs that speak to the non-religious.

Oddly, the anti-Reform venom in us seems to seep out most strikingly at this time of the year, those 10 days beginning on Rosh Hashanah, during which the Gates of Repentance are briefly open, and secular Jews the world over, decide how - and if - they want to walk through.

Abroad, the decision may have to do with such factors as, Can my career stand taking off work for Yom Kippur? Do I really want to spend hundreds of dollars, pounds, or euros on synagogue seats for the family? Can the kids bear the services? Can my spouse? Can I?

Here in Israel, of course, the questions are radically different, if they are asked at all. In this place, socialism-bred kibbutzniks may know infinitely more Hebrew - and even more of the Hebrew Bible - than many formally Orthodox Jews abroad.

But as Amir and others stress, powerful efforts by the kibbutz movement to replace Orthodox practice with a new religion based on values of agriculture, Jewish history, the Bible as literature, and modern Israeli culture have been sidelined as the kibbutz movement itself has imploded.

Israeli Jews are searching for a synthesis that will speak to them. Judaism evolved over thousands of years. We would be well advised to allow people of good faith to carry out their trials, without laughing like bullies at their errors.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to lay anger aside. It is time, as the prayers of both Orthodoxy and Reform specify, to shelve slander, scorn, ridicule and baseless hatred.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to let Jews be Jews. It is time to recognize that Judaism itself is changing - even Orthodox Judaism. It is time to let individuals be alone with their God, and, at least this one day of the year, to accord that relationship the respect it deserves.