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Orthodox Rabbi Suggests Policy of ‘creative Engagement’ in Dealing with Reform, Conservative Judaism

The president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinic group in the U.S., said here Wednesday that Orthodoxy should follow a “policy of creative engagement” in its dealings with Reform and Conservative Judaism. But he accused those movements, at the same time, of forcing Orthodox Judaism into a “confrontation and conflict” it did not want.

“We are in a war, not one that we started but one from which we should not withdraw,” Rabbi Milton Polin declared in his presidential address at the RCA’s 51st annual convention at the Homowack Lodge here, attended by several hundred rabbis from all over the U.S.

He defined the policy of “creative engagement” as “sometimes cooperating with the Reform and Conservative movements, sometimes ignoring them and sometimes fighting with them.”

He listed the areas of confrontation as the doctrine of patrilineal descent, the American military chaplaincy, funding for Israeli institutions by the Jewish Agency, and the establishment and recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel.

ACCUSES REFORM JUDAISM

Polin accused the Reform movement of: “promulgating a new definition of Judaism, i.e., patrilineal descent, that a child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is Jewish”; endorsing a woman for the chaplaincy outside of the regular channels of the JWB; pressuring the UJA/Federation to fund their projects in Israel and claiming discrimination; and withholding funds from the UJA “because they thought they could get away with it,”

He also accused the Reform movement of trying to destroy the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the rabbinical court system and the “rule of halacha in matters of personal status.”

But despite all of this, Polin said, Orthodoxy will work with the Conservative and Reform movements. He said in the case of the chaplaincy dispute, “several informal agreements” have been reached that may lead to the establishment of a new Jewish chaplaincy council.

In the case of funding, there is an “informal agreement” that the Reform movement “too will oppose the signing of a loyalty oath as a precondition” to funding by the Jewish Agency.

Polin said “the policy of creative engagement leaves us open to criticism from the Orthodox right and the non-Orthodox left. Therefore, the RCA must expand its efforts to explain to the community where it stands on each issue.”

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