Look, I know we don’t get along. We don’t agree on much of anything. But still, we really need to talk.
The other day, you said some really stupid, really offensive, and really ignorant things about Jews. I know you’re insulted – after all, four hundred Rabbis from across the spectrum came together to call you out for being an antisemitic asshole, and that’s gotta hurt.
But that’s no excuse for being a pig-ignorant jackass.
Where to start?
Well, first, you said that all of the Rabbi’s that signed the letter were reformed rabbis.
There’s no such thing as a “reformed” rabbi. (Unless, perhaps, we’re talking about a Rabbi who comitted some sort of crime, and then tried to make recompense for his crimes.) What you were trying to talk about was Reform Judaism and Reform rabbis. It’s a small difference, but it’s an important one. Sort of like “protestant christians” versus “protesting christians”.
See, the fundamental philosophy that Reform Judaism is built on is the idea that Jews should always be looking at our religion, and trying to reinterpret – to re-form – Jewish practices based on our understanding of the Torah, our understanding of the universe, and our understanding of ourselves.
To give one example: Reform jews are egalitarian – that is, they don’t follow strict gender roles. Part of the reasoning behind that is that many people believe that the gender roles are a sort of accident. In biblical hebrew, everything is gendered. Every noun, every verb contains a gender. And when genders are mixed, male overrides female. So if you’ve got a single male child, that’s a “yeled”. If you’ve got a single female child, that’s a “yalda”. Many boys are “yeladim”, and many girls are “yeladot”. If you have a group of children that are a mixture of boys and girls, you use the word “yeladim”. So without any context, when you hear the word “yeladim”, it’s ambiguous whether it means “children” or “boys”. So according to many reform jews, the commandments that are normally taken to apply only to men don’t only apply to men; it’s been interpreted that way because of the linguistic ambiguity. But looking at it with modern eyes, there’s no reason that a woman shouldn’t be obligated to study the Torah just like a man, and the language is ambiguous – so we reform our practice to give men and women equal roles.
The key difference there is the tense of the word. Reformed describes a process that’s completed: a group of german Jews in the 19th century reformed Judaism, creating a new movement. But Reform Jews don’t believe that. They believe that reform is an ongoing process – that as we study and learn, both about the Torah and about the world and the universe, that we need to use that knowledge to continually reform our religion, and that through that process, we can make the world a better place.
Ok, enough about that. Next, you said that there are two kinds of Rabbis: Reform and Orthodox. That’s thoroughly wrong. There are four major movements within American Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform. And that’s not a trivial distinction: Conservative an Reconstructionist Judaism aren’t just a variation on Reform. They’re very different. A reconstructionist synagogue, like the one that I belong to, is quite different from a conservative or reform synagogue. The services are different; the fundamental philosophy and approach to understanding our religion and our obligations as Jews are different. Reform isn’t the same as reconstructionist; reconstructionist isn’t the same as conservative; conservative isn’t the same as reform. Muddling them together so that you can make some general statement about all non-Orthodox Jews means one of two things, both of which are quite possible given your track record: either you’re astonishingly ignorant, or you’re a malicious liar.
Moving on, you said that all of the Rabbis that signed the letter were reform. That’s wrong. If you actually look at the letter, most of the rabbis who signed don’t identify which movement of Judaism they come from. But there are several particularly prominent Rabbi’s who signed it, and whose affiliations are listed:
- Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, from the American Jewish University. Rabbi Artson is a Conservative Rabbi, and teaches at a Conservative Jewish rabbinical school.
- Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Obviously, Rabbi Ehrenkrantz comes from the Reconstructionist movement, where he is a teacher at the Rabbinical school. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the reconstructionist movement, and I have donated money to the RRC.)
- Rabbi Yael Ridberg, from the Reconstructionist Rabbincal Association. Also a reconstructionist.
- Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, from the Central Council of American Rabbis (CCAR). The CCAR is the primary organization of Reform rabbis. So with her, you’re right, she’s reform.
- Rabbi Daniel Nevins, from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). The JTS is the main Conservative rabbinical school. Rabbi Nevins is a conservative Rabbi.
- Rabbi Steven Wernick, from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Again, a conservative.
- Rabbi Eric Yoffie, from the Union for Reform Judaism. Another Reform Rabbi.
So, out of 7 Rabbis who’s affiliation is listed, two are Reform. Less than a third. And the other 393 Rabbis don’t have their affiliations listed. Skimming the list, I know three of the listed Rabbis: one Reconstructionist, one Reform, and one Conservative. I also recognize a couple of the names – there are at least two orthodox Rabbis in the list.
So you’re completely wrong when you say that only Reform Rabbi’s signed the letter.
Finally, and most importantly, you said:
Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the reform Judaism, it is more about politics.
That is pure, unadulterated nonsense.
The majority of Reform Jews are politically liberal. But then, so are the majority of Jews, period. Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform, the majority of Jews tend to the political left. Why is that? Because Judaism teaches us certain values, and those values tend to align with the left. Judaism teaches that taking care of the poor is a fundamental obligation of everyone. To Jews, charity isn’t something nice that we do. It’s a central obligation. In fact, in hebrew, the word that we use for charity is “Tzedakah”. That’s the same word that we use for justice, or to mean “the right thing to do”. To a Jew, Tzedakah is a mitzvah. Mitzvah is another interesting word: it’s frequently translated as “good deed”, but in fact, the correct translation is “commandment” or “law”. Justice – including charity – is not an option, not an act of kindness; it’s a commandment, a fundamental obligation. We’re taught that one of the fundamental obligations of a legitimate civil authority is ensuring the welfare of its poor.
So we do tend to lean liberal, because our religion teaches us that that’s the right thing to do. But Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jews are no less driven by their deep, heartfelt beliefs and love of God, Judaism, and the Torah than Orthodox Jews. And none of the Jewish movements is overtly political. No movement of Judaism says anything like “you need to be a democrat”, or “you’re not allowed to vote for political conservatives”. Because of what our religion teaches, we tend to be liberal. But political liberalism isn’t a focus of any movement of Judaism – not Reform, not Conservative, not Reconstructionist, not Orthodox, not Hasidic.
The one way that you’re a tiny bit right is that Reform Judaism isn’t really about faith. But that’s not just Reform Judaism: it’s all Judaism. It’s hard for Christians to understand this, because it goes against everything that you associate with the word “religion”. Judaism isn’t about faith at all. Judaism is about actions. A good Jew is a jew who follows the mitzvot, the commandments. Even if you have no faith – even if you’re unsure whether or not God really exists – you can be a good Jew. Because it’s not about what you believe, but about what you do.
It’s not just reform Jews who believe that. In fact, back when I was in college, I went to a lecture at the Lubavitch Chabad house, where an Orthodox Rabbi gave a talk in which he said that you could actually simultaneously be an atheist and a good Orthodox Jew! (Chabad is an outreach movement of very devout orthodox Chasidic Jews who try to convince Jews to become orthodox.) And there, in the home of a group who’s fundamental ambition is to try to bring people into the fold of Orthodox Judaism, an Orthodox Rabbi was talking about how what you believe isn’t really important. It’s all about what you do. Follow the commandments, perform the mitzvot, and you’re a good Jew, even if you don’t believe in God. But no matter how deeply you believe, no matter how devoutly, no matter how much you pray, it doesn’t matter if you don’t follow through with the actions. The person in the front row of the synagogue every morning in his tallit and tefillin could be a terrible Jew, if he leaves the synagogue and doesn’t perform mitzvot the rest of the day.
I know that that’s difficult for a Christian – particularly for a Mormon – to understand, because it’s just so foreign. But that’s what Judaism is: it’s as much — in fact, it’s more — a system of rules teaching how to live than it is a set of beliefs and faith.
So, to sum up. Pretty much everything that you said about the people who signed the protest against you was wrong, and in the process of being wrong about them, you used the opportunity to tell some vicious lies about Jews who disagree with your politics of selfishness. The people who signed the protest aren’t all Reform; they cover the full range of Judaism, from all of the American movements. (And if you were actually capable of reading, you’d know that.) Reform Judaism isn’t in any way, shape, or form primarily political; nor are any of the other movements. And you are an antisemitic asshole.