A Reform and Orthodox Rabbi Call for a United Beth Din

– Leading Orthodox and Reform Judaism spokesmen jointly called for a rabbinical court (Beth Din) to include representatives of all the trends in Judaism.

At a recent dialogue on theology here, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a leader of modern Orthodoxy and spiritual leader of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, said that the Reform movement was responsible for an “irreperable schism” of Jewish unity because of its laws on divorce. Rabbi Daniel Syme, national educational director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), responded:

“I would like to offer Rabbi Riskin to join together to begin a Beth Din in the New York area for all branches (of Judaism). Let’s have a consensus on divorce, and bring it to our colleagues. We might have a chance to serve as a model for other cities as well.”

ISSUE OF HALACHA

Riskin’s main criticism of the Reform movement was that by creating its own divorce and conversion laws, it was disqualifying many Jews on legal grounds from marrying others who abide by halacha (Jewish law). “We are torn asunder by the issue of divorce and conversion, “Riskin said. “The one area of whether one Jew can marry another should be left to those whose methods are acceptable to all. The unity of the Jewish people should not be tampered with.” Syme responded that he saw the value of halacha but added, “I see tradition having a vote but not a veto.”

On another issue, both rabbis concurred that American Jews lacked a knowledge of Judaism. Syme pointed out that the Reform movement is committed to increase Jewish education. “We are doubling the number of Reform day schools (nationally and in Canada) by September. ” The number would increase from six to 12 schools. Riskin observed that such emphasis on day school education signalled a change on the part of the Reform movement’s thinking regarding intense Jewish study.

Riskin, commenting on the need for increased Jewish education, said: “Let us teach every Jew the Jewish heritage to the maximum. Let a Jewish child spend a full Shabat, according to tradition. If somebody rejects it, let it come because he knows about tradition.”

The dialogue was held at Columbia University and was attended by more than 300 students. The meeting was sponsored by the North American Jewish Students’ Network (NAJS). Richard Horowitz, chairperson of NAJS Network-American Section, who moderated the program, later noted that “a discussion between religious leaders is important to Jewish students, as it allows an exchange of ideas, essential for increased Jewish awareness.”

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