BERLIN (JTA) — Orthodox rabbis in Europe challenged the interpretations of a new study that suggests a liberal bent among some traditional European Jews.
Representatives of both the Conference of European Rabbis and the Rabbinical Center of Europe, both with headquarters in Brussels, reacted with surprise and annoyance to the results of a survey conducted for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s International Centre for Community Development by Gallup Europe, released last week.
According to a statement, the study of 251 Jewish leaders in Europe suggested broad, interdenominational support for loosening communal restrictions on membership and more relaxed approaches to conversion. The poll included respondents from 31 countries.
The reported results "raised both a frown and bewilderment" among Orthodox rabbis, according to a statement issued today by the RCE. Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Lichtenstein of London challenged the JDC "to undergo a new survey, this time with a truly representative pool and this time not to forget Europe’s spiritual leaders."
Rabbi Abba Dunner, executive director of the CER, the umbrella organization for some 700 Orthodox rabbis, told JTA that Jewish law is already far more flexible than some would like to think. Halachah does not absolutely rule out conversion of an intermarried partner, he said.
"If people want to join for genuine reasons, we take it very seriously," Dunner said.
Lichtenstein suggested that Orthodox respondents to the survey might not have been truly religious. He likened it to "asking taxi drivers about world economic policy — they’ve got a lot to say but understand little about the intricacies of the subject matter."