Dallas — Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar had heard enough. Israel’s top representative to the United States was squirming in his seat at the Reform movement’s national convention as he listened to noted Jewish historian Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg refer to Israel’s chief rabbis as “bigots with computers” — referring to a confidential computer list they maintain of children of illegitimate unions known as “mamzerim.”
The Reform movement is embroiled in an emotional national debate on the future of its belief system.
At issue is a controversial draft document titled the “Ten Principles of Reform Judaism” that seeks to set guidelines for how North America’s 1.2 million Reform Jews should practice their faith in the 21st century.
Rather than fostering unity, the platform, authored by the leader of the movement’s rabbinic arm, has provoked a firestorm of criticism from Reform lay leaders, academics and rabbis nationwide.
Clinton and Lewinsky. The general manager of the New York Mets. Teens shaving their heads and piercing their tongues. High schoolers killing their classmates with guns.
Popular culture in America is not providing a pretty picture to those interested in teaching their kids ethics and morals.
But how should they be taught? Whose ethics?
And what are morals, anyway?
Orlando, Fla. — In a continued effort to spiritually reinvigorate its 1.5 million adherents and bring young people back into the pews, the Reform movement plans to revolutionize its prayer services, stressing more Hebrew and new American-style music.
A newspaper ad by a Yeshiva University-linked Orthodox rabbinical group is denouncing the Wye agreement as a violation of Jewish law that threatens the lives of all Jews in Israel.
But the rabbinic group called Ichud Harabonim, or Union of Rabbis, is itself being criticized for using language some say evokes the violent rhetoric used against the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin — who was assassinated three years ago this week.
Hate crimes against Jews continued across the nation this week even as political leaders from New York’s City Hall to the White House were promising stepped-up protection and renewed attempts to push tougher anti-hate and gun control laws.
The moves come in response to the shootings at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center in which five people were wounded, including a 5-year-old boy and two 6-year-olds.
Like the biblical prophets Samuel and Nathan, who admonished their kings for sinning, the spiritual head of the Conservative movement found himself a lone Jewish voice in the nation this week following his daring call for President Clinton to resign.
Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, last week thus became the first national Jewish religious figure to urge Clinton to quit because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He said the president’s moral authority has been “destroyed” and in effect cannot be recovered.
Modern changes suddenly are afoot at Jerusalem’s ancient Western Wall. Two developments this week signal greater access for Jews who seek to pray in their own way at the 2,000-year-old surviving outer retaining wall of the Second Temple, Judaism’s holiest site.
In a landmark decision, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled Monday that women can hold group prayer services at the Wall, wear prayer shawls, read aloud from the Torah — and must be provided police protection.
Into the fray comes the Reform movement. On Sunday, members of the Conservative movement were verbally accosted by some ultra-Orthodox teenagers while praying in a mixed-gender service at the Western Wall on Shavuot morning. There was pushing and shoving as well, according to eyewitness accounts.
Evangelical Christians, long seen as a monolith in lockstep support of Israel, publicly fractured last week as two significant evangelical factions lobbied President Bush with criticism of Israel from opposite points of view.
For the first time, Christians United for Israel, a major Christian Zionist group with strong ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, lobbied President Bush against the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a solution advocated by Israel, the Bush administration and the pro-Israel Washington lobby itself.