Jewish Scholars Urge Jewry to End Religious Rifts in the Community

A noted Jewish scholar and community leader, deploring the acts of extremists on all sides of the religious rifts that have erupted among Jews in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, urged all Jewry to strive to end the conflicts and not leave "the issues of Jewish survival to the theologians alone."

Striking a note of mingled hope and sadness, Rabbi David Polish also expressed dismay about "the many Jews who perceive any striving for reconciliation to be futile," while at the same time indicating that he did not agree with "this abandonment of hope."

Polish, who is rabbi emeritus of Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, III., and the author of several widely respected books on Jewish thought, spoke at a session of the American Jewish Committee’s annual National Executive Council meeting, which concluded Saturday evening at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel.

The discord of which Polish spoke has included sometimes violent conflict between secular and religious Jews in Israel over such matters as public advertising that the religious faction finds obscene. It has also included bitter disagreement between Jews who hew to the traditional Jewish law that says that a person is a Jew only if was born to a Jewish mother or is a convert, and those who say that Jewishness can be transmitted through the father as well as the mother.

Also causing rancor has been the dissension between those who say that a conversion performed by any ordained rabbi is valid, and those who say that only conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis are acceptable.

Calling the conflicts "a perilous fracture," Polish said that "the Jewish people, through its own leaders and institutions, has an obligation to intervene." Specifically, he said, "we must help raise the consciousness of mainline Orthodoxy to the perils confronting it by its retreat before the extremists."

Along parallel lines, he continued, "Reform and Conservative Jews have also ratified this abandonment of hope. Secular Jews in Israel have most recently joined the struggle by enraged acts of retribution upon Orthodox institutions, leaving us appalled by the ferocity of frustration that triggered these acts."

Castigating those who question whether some Jews are "really Jewish," Polish exhorted: "Who may say that a Russian Jew who risks his life for his Jewishness, or an Ethiopian Jew who trudged into the Sudan, is disqualified from living as a free authentic Jew? Who may say that the Judaism of a non-Orthodox rabbi who jeopardizes himself by working among refuseniks is tainted?"

AJC SET UP A TASK FORCE

At the same session, Yehuda Rosenman, director of AJC’s Jewish Communal Affairs Department, noted that AJC had set up a year ago a task force organized specifically to deal with the problem of disunity in Jewish religious life. Chaired by AJC vice president Alfred Moses and comprising lay leaders of the major American Jewish religious movements, the task force, said Rosenman, had been meeting regularly and had recently issued recommendations for ameliorating the conflicts. Among these recommendations, he said, were these:

That there be "a return to civil discourse" among Jews; that the various Jewish religious movements "renew a commitment to joint action on a common Jewish agenda"; that "the educational programs of each movement stress not only the beliefs and practices of that movement but also the factors that unite all Jews and promote mutual respect", and that American Jewry consider establishing a national beth din (Jewish religious court), with local branches, that could deal with certain religious issues in a way acceptable to all Jewish religious movements.

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