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The Platforms of Some Jewish Denominations

I am not absolutely certain of anything but the Orthodox and original teachings (and I welcome corrections from anyone who can furnish proof), but here’s what I have gleaned about the major Jewish denominations, from information I gleaned from their own websites. Bear in mind that there are probably other groups as well, and some of them comprise subsets within them. (And I just might write an article about the subsets in Orthodox Judaism, some time in the future.) But basically, here is what the main groups are about.

A precautionary word: Orthodox Judaism believes that all Jews are Jews, no matter what they believe or do. We do not accept non-Orthodox teachings as valid, but a Reform (or Conservative, or Reconstructionist, or whatever) Jew is still a Jew. Continue reading

Origins of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox

TRACING THE TREE OF LIFE by Lawrence Keleman
JEWISH ACTION, Summer 1999, pp 17-21
333 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001

The path to Orthodoxy is long and labyrinthine. Does G-d exist? Did He give the Torah? Did He also provide an oral tradition? Like many Jews rediscovering their heritage, I had to confront and resolve each of these challenges.

Eventually, we pre-baalei teshuvah [returnees to Judaism] arrive at the denominational
crossroads. Convinced of the Torah’s Divine origin and aware that, to be decipherable, the Pentateuch must have been given with an oral explanation, I sought the Jewish movement in possession of that ancient mesorah [oral tradition].


Working chronologically, I began with the Orthodox. About 2,000 years before the Reform and Conservative movements arrived on the scene, Orthodox sages recorded the claim that the oral tradition was received from G-d at [Mount] Sinai in [the year] 1,248 B.C.E. and passed down intact to the sages of the Mishnah(1). Later Talmudic texts affirm a belief in a G-d-given oral tradition(2), as do the writings of medieval and post-medieval Orthodox scholars(3).

Although the Sadducees and the Karaites rejected the oral tradition of the Orthodox, secular scholars concur that these groups were short-lived splinters off the historical mainstream of Orthodoxy(4). Until today, Orthodoxy claims, the oral tradition has been passed down intact, parent-to-child and teacher-to-student(5). Theoretically, the Orthodox could possess the original oral tradition.


The second-oldest extant Jewish movement is Reform. The grandfather of Reform was Moses Mendelssohn (1729 — 1786). Although Mendelssohn never publicly rejected the oral tradition’s Divine origin, perhaps portentously, four out of six of Mendelssohn’s surviving children converted to Christianity(6).

In a parallel event, one of Mendelssohn’s greatest students, David Friedlander (1765-1834), wrote to Pastor Teller, Counsellor of the Prussian Ministry of Religion, on behalf of himself and several other Jewish householders, offering to join the Lutheran Church. Only after Pastor Teller rejected Friedlander’s request for conversion did this student of Mendelssohn set himself to reforming his own religion(7).

What Mendelssohn hesitated to say publicly about mesorah [the Divinely revealed oral
traditions of the Jewish People], Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), the most influential of
Reform’s second generation, boldly proclaimed. In 1837, Geiger called the first Reform
rabbinical conference in Weisbaden, Germany, and declared:

«The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted HUMAN books, as a divine work must also go.(8)«

With this declaration, Reform became the first known group in 3,100 years of Jewish history to deny the Torah’s Divine origin(9). The Reform [also] rejected the mesorah.

Shortly after Geiger organized German Reform, his American counterpart, Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900) launched the movement in the New World. In an 1850 debate at the Charleston synagogue, he declared that he didn’t believe in a personal messiah or in bodily resurrection(10), both of which were pillars of the Jewish oral tradition(11).

In 1857, Wise published a new prayer book which omitted the traditional prayers for a return to [the land of] Zion, the rebuilding of the temple, etc., paving the way for Reform’s official declaration of anti-Zionism at the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885(12). Wise went on to found the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College, and at their first graduation ceremony in 1883, Wise served «Little Neck Clams, Filler de Boef, Salade de Shrimps, Grenoiles (frogs legs) a la Creme, and Ice Cream.(13)«

In mid-November 1885, Dr. Kaufman Kohler convened the Pittsburgh conference of Reform leaders, hoping to formally establish official Reform positions on a range of subjects. Kohler attempted to set the conference’s tone with statements like,

«We consider [the Holy Scriptures] composition, their arrangements and their entire contents as the work of men, betraying in their conceptions the shortcomings of their age;(14)» and «We must discard the idea as altogether foreign to us, that marriage with a Gentile is not legal.(15)«

In his opening statement to the conference, Kohler told the assembly:

«I do not for a moment hesitate to say it right here and in the face of the entire Jewish world that… circumcision is a barbarous cruelty which disfigures and disgraces our ancestral heirloom and our holy mission as priests among mankind. The rite is a remnant of African life… Nor should children born of intermarriage be viewed any longer exclusively by the primitive national standard which determines the racial character of the child only by the blood of the mother… I can no longer accept the fanciful and twisted syllogisms of Talmudic law as binding for us… I think, if anywhere, we ought to have the courage to emancipate ourselves from the thralldom of Rabbinical legality(16).

With few modifications, the conference unanimously adopted Dr. Kohler’s proposed
Pittsburgh Platform. The Reform movement thus accepted «as binding only the moral laws» of Judaism, rejecting, «all such as not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.» The platform swept away Jewish dietary laws because «they fail to impress the modern Jew.» Kohler was then selected to be president of the Hebrew Union College, and a year later he declared,

«There is no justification whatsoever for… the most precious time of the student to be spent upon halachic discussions… [and] the inane discussions that fill so many pages of the Babylonian Gemara.(17)«

Under Kohler, the HUC preparatory department required no Talmud study, although students were asked to take courses in New Testament and Koran(18). Kohler referred to Reform Jewry as, «We who are no longer bound to the Shulhan Aruk.(19)» Within Reform circles, the mesorah was then not only lost; it was anathema.

By 1972, Reform had drifted to the extreme. A survey commissioned that year by the Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis, reported that «Only one in ten [Reform] *RABBIS* states that he believes in G-d in the more or less traditional Jewish sense.(20)«

The remaining 90% [of Reform *RABBIS*] classified their faith with terms like: «Agnostic», «Atheist», «Bahai in spirit, Judaic in practice», «Polyoxist», «Religious Existentialist» and «Theological Humanist»(21).

During the 1990 Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis’ debate on the ordination of professed homosexuals, an HUC professor reminded the committee that Leviticus 18 calls homosexual acts an abomination; but a member of the majority easily disposed of his objection, saying,

«It’s pretty late in the day for scripture to be invoked at CCAR debates.(22)«

The same year, about 25% of Reform leaders under age 40 had married gentiles(23). By 1991, the overall intermarriage rate among Reform Jews had topped 60%(24).


A debate had long raged among Reform activists over the pace at which Judaism should
evolve. While Abraham Geiger felt that reformers should ACTIVELY lead the community
away from «outdated» beliefs and practices, his colleague Zacharias Frankel, whom many cite as the Conservative movement’s intellectual ancestor, felt that progressive leadership would build resentment and stimulate rebellion, and therefore:

«the reformer’s task was simply to confirm the abandonment of those ideas and practices which the community set aside.(25)«

Thus Frankel wrote(26):

«The means [of transformation] must be grasped with such care, thought through with such discretion, created always with such awareness of the moment in time, that the goal will be reached unnoticed, that the forward progress will seem inconsequential to the average eye.»

This in-house debate continued through the period of the Hebrew Union College banquet and the publication of the Pittsburgh Platform. Reform’s accelerating leaps away from Jewish tradition jarred those who preferred Frankel’s more subtle approach, and these conservatives branched off to form a new movement — Conservative Judaism. In 1886, they founded the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, named for Frankel’s Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau(27). An article printed in the new institution’s magazine declared that JTS would steer a course between «stupid Orthodoxy and insane Reform.(28)«

As a branch off of Reform, then new Conservative group possessed no more affinity to
mesorah than their parent movement. Solomon Schechter (1849-1915), who took over JTS in 1902, violated the Sabbath publicly(29) and wrote that «the three Rs» stood for «rotten ranting rabbis.(30)» Conservative historians say that Schechter’s successor, Cyrus Adler (1863-1940) «shared the anti-clerical bias.(31)«

Reform scholars laud the next head of the Conservative seminary, Louis Finkelstein
(1895-1991), for creating «a new willingness on the [Jewish Theological] Seminary’s part to apply [secular] critical method to the study of [C]Humash.(32)» Under Finkelstein’s guidance, JTS organized an essay competition in 1959 on the theme «The Traditions in Genesis 1:1 — 25:17 — Resemblances to, Dependancies Upon, and Contrasts With Traditions of Other People(33)» and by 1970 Finkelstein had introduced an advanced Bible seminar whose course description promised «an analysis of the various sources of the Pentateuch.(34)«

Finkelstein’s progressive approach had instant practical consequences: Despite the Biblical prohibition on lighting fires on the Sabbath,(35) the Rabbinical Assembly issued a paper permitting driving automobiles to Sabbath [prayer] services(36). Just as its Reform ancestor had, Conservative «Judaism,» was unraveling.

Finkelstein’s wife entirely repudiated her faith and dropped all Jewish observances(37).
Finkelstein’s attitude toward halachah might best be illustrated by his approach to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh [saving human lives] during World War II. In the period beginning 1938, when many young German Jews applied to JTS to get visas to America, Finkelstein refused to issue letters of acceptance(38). According to history, published by JTS itself:

«The plight of ordinary Jews in Eastern Europe did not occupy Finkelstein’s attention… There is no doubt that Seminary leaders, faculty and students knew of Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II. As a member of the American Jewish Committee and the Joint Distribution Committee, Finkelstein regularly received reports about Nazi atrocities… Although moved by the plight of European Jewry, he nevertheless neither responded to direct appeals to participate in protest actions on their behalf nor involved the Seminary in any public activity about the Holocaust.»(39)

The JTS document states, «There is no evidence that the Seminary tried to raise money in order to rescue German Jews by admitting them as students.(40)» Indeed, money was not the obstacle: In 1938 Finkelstein found all the funds necessary to launch the Seminary’s Institute for Inter-denominational Studies, which «brought together Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy and scholars for courses on the various religious traditions,(41)» and «during the war Finkelstein sought to expand the Institute, raising money from Littauer, the Warburgs, and other Seminary contributors, and obtaining a $20,000 grant from the New York Foundation.(42)«

In 1943, when asked why he was diverting critical resources to interfaith dialogue while
European Jewry was being exterminated, Finkelstein explained that the Interfaith Institute «has evoked such high praise in many quarters, and has done such effective work, that I am sure all of us agree it must be kept open and expanded at all costs.(43)«

When the Holocaust ended, Finkelstein’s interest in international affairs was suddenly
kindled. Citing a letter he wrote to the New York Times on 11 August 1945, the Seminary
history boasts that Finkelstein’s concern for brotherhood and democracy prompted him to extend sympathy also to the Germans, and he urged the Allied occupation forces to treat them benignly.»(44)

Gerson Cohen (1924-1991), Finkelstein’s successor, spent most of his career fighting for the ordination of women rabbis. Cohen was initially opposed to such a radical departure from tradition(45); but when a JTS-commissioned survey found that synagogue members favored women’s ordination, Cohen did an immediate about face(46). Cohen was initially stymied by the opposition of the entire JTS Talmud staff; but he dealt with this problem by creating an independent commission to decide the issue and awarding only one (of 14) commission seats to a JTS Talmud staff member(47). Half the commission seats were given to laypeople(48). Cohen confided to his friends that he would «try to ram the commission’s report down the faculty’s throats.(49)» HUC’s Ellenson and Bycel observed that:

«The [Jewish Theological] Seminary — in deciding to ordain women as rabbis — broke
dramatically with whatever remained of its Orthodox roots.(50)«

Ismar Schorsch, JTS’ current Chancellor, admitted in 1986 that all of the Conservative
clergy’s ties to the past, to the mesorah, have been broken:

«There is almost no common denominator between the profession of the modern
[Conservative] Rabbi… and the [Jewish] religious leadership of the Middle Ages.(51)«

David Lieber, once president-emeritus of the JTS branch in Los Angeles and president of the International Association of Conservative Rabbis, offers these (by now trite) confessions:

«I do not believe in the literal divine authorship of the Torah(52),» and «I do not believe The Law in its details to be of divine origin.(53)«

JTS Professor of Jewish Philosophy Neil Gillman describes the [Conservative] movement’s position more eloquently:

«The biblical account of the revelation is classic myth… Torah then represents the canonical statement of our myth.(54)«

And again, disconnection from the mesorah has practical consequences. At the 1980
convention of Conservative rabbis, Harold Kushner, one of the movement’s most influential leaders, offered these sober observations:(55)

Is the Conservative movement halachic? Not «Should it be halachic?,» not «Would the world be better, would my job be easier, more gratifying if it were?» But «Is it?» And the answer is that it is obviously not. Conservative Judaism is not halachic because Conservative Jews are not halachic, and increasingly even Conservative rabbis are not halachic.

Although it takes time, lack of mesorah eventually corrupts observance; and lax observance stimulates spiraling assimilation. In the Conservative movement today, we see the beginnings of the spiritual and demographic unraveling that rips apart any Jewish movement disconnected from mesorah: One study found that 4% of Conservative Jews rediscover Orthodoxy each year, 13% move into Reform, and 35% drop all Jewish affiliation; another [study] found that 37% intermarry(56).


The Conservative movement splintered twice, spinning off the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary in 1968 and the Institute for Traditional Judaism in 1985.

Reconstructionists, led by JTS professor Mordechai Kaplan, broke off to the left, jettisoning belief in the supernatural altogether(57).

The Institute for Traditional Judaism, led by JTS Professor David Weiss Halivni, broke off to the right, arguing that G-d had given something to Moses at Sinai, but that the original revelation had been corrupted and lost during the Babylonian exile(58).

According to Weiss Halivni, the Torah represents only a sixth-century B.C.E. man-made
guess as to the original materiel’s form and content. According to both groups, we do not possess a G-d given Torah, let alone a Divine oral tradition explaining the Pentateuch.


Analysis complete, I stepped back to witness Orthodoxy flowing straight through history, reiterating in each generation its ancient claim to a Divine [Divinely-Revealed] Torah and oral tradition. Reform branched off two centuries and immediately confessed that it had no mesorah. Indeed, it intended to reform what it had received. Reform passed its lack of mesorah to Conservative, who bequeathed the same to its left-wing and right-wing splinter groups.

Today, not only does Orthodoxy claim to possess the G-d given solution, their demographic performance attests to it. Even in the midst of the worst assimilation in recorded Jewish history, today’s Orthodoxy produces the lowest intermarriage rate (2%) and boasts not only the largest day-school enrollment rate, but also the largest adult enrollment in rabbinical seminaries (over 10,000)(59).

Moreover, I saw that even Orthopraxy-without-mesorah — Jewish learning and mitzvah
observance conducted without intimate connections to the previous generations’s sages (Mendelssohn-style) — eventually decays, producing increasingly assimilated «movements,» until nothing is left physically and spiritually of Judaism and its carriers.

Today, I realized, there are only two groups: Orthodox who possess mesorah, and everyone else who doesn’t(60).

Finally, perhaps crucially, I permitted myself a personal immersion in the world of mesorah. I entered a community of sages and detected what thousands before me found: a profound sincerity that even the leaders among the non-Orthodox admit they can not replicate. HUC Professor of Jewish Religious Thought, Eugene Borowitz, thus offers this confession(61):

«When the Bible was G-d’s book and the Oral Torah had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai, there was no question why we should give them reverent attention.

They were G-d’s own communications and, in a time when there no longer was prophecy, the best way one could be in touch with the Divine. When Reform Judaism insisted that the various books of the Torah tradition were largely human creations, that had the advantage of allowing unprecedented innovation. It also devalued the old texts and made them less sacred.

A simple experience brought the point home to me tellingly. I was teaching in a group
together with… an Orthodox scholar. After reading a rabbinic passage to the group he put his book down on a desk, but so near the edge that it became unbalanced and fell off . He quickly retrieved it, kissed it, and put it more carefully on the desk, not stopping the development of the theme he was presenting. Kissing books, particularly when they have fallen, is a nice old Jewish custom which reflects very much more than respect for authors and publishers. It is related to our belief that our books derive ultimately from G-d — that in loving G-d one must love G-d’s words, the Oral and Written Torah.

I wonder if Liberal Jews with their sense of the humanity of our sacred literature could ever come to such regard for Torah that — leaving aside their sense of propriety — they could ever think of kissing one of its volumes.»

I cried the first time I saw a yeshiva daven [pray] — ordinary, but sincere people pouring forth their hearts in whispered praise and pleas, the way their teachers and teachers’ teachers had for centuries.

I was dumbfounded watching Orthodox businessmen arrive in the beis medrash [study room] at 5:00 A.M. to pore over daf hayomi [daily page of Talmud] — a feat that many
non-Orthodox rabbis are incompetent to perform — and touched when I found that they also returned after work each evening to prepare with their rebbe [teacher] for the next morning’s class.

I remember vividly the first time I accompanied Tomche Shabbat — an unlikely conspiracy of teenagers, young professionals and elderly sages — on their way to furtively deliver crates of challahs, grape juice and chicken to the community’s needy every erev Shabbat; and I recall trembling when I discovered that such an organization exists (and has always existed) in Orthodox communities around the world.

I will never forget the intense concern that filled my teacher’s bright eyes when, stroking his white beard, he read me the Talmudic passage, «If a man masters the entire Bible and Talmud, but fails to make intimate connections with the previous generation’s sages, he forever remains an ignoramus.(62) I will never forget how he held my hand and whispered, «You must always have a rebbe.»

It was with this portrait before me that I returned to Orthodoxy, to mesorah, and to a world of promise and awe — a world in which my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will touch Divinity and, with reverence and passion, lovingly kiss their sefarim [holy books].


1. For example, see Pirke Avot 1:1-2.

2. For example, see Talmud, Tractate Berachot 5A, Shabbat 31A, Megillah 19B and Gittin

3. Maimonides’ Introduction To Seder Zeraim.

4. See Josephus, Antiquities XIII:7, Hyam Macoby, Revolution In Judaea (New York;
Taplinger Publishing Company, 1973) pp 55-74; Leon Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (New
Haven; Yale Univ. Press, 1952).

5. For example, see Rabbi D. Z. Hoffman, Die Erste Mischna (Berlin, 1882), p 3, and H.
Chaim Schimmel, The Oral Law (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1987) pp 19-35.

6. Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University of Alabama Press: 1973) pp 4-5, 98.

7. David Rudavsky, Modern Jewish Religious Movements: A History of Emancipation and
Adjustment (New York: Behrman House, 1967) pp 156-7.

8. Michael A. Meyer, Response To Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in
Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) p 91.

9. Even the Sadducees, Karaites and Christians professed belief in the Torah’s Divine origin; they only rejected the Orthodox oral tradition.

10. David Rudavsky, Modern Jewish Religious Movements: A History of Emancipation and Adjustment (New York: Behrman House, 1967) pp 288.

11. Maimonides’ Introduction To Perek Chelek (Tractate Sanhedrin), Foundations # 12 and # 13.

12. While the historical mainstream clung tightly to the dream of a return to Zion for
[approximately] 2,000 years of exile, the fifth item in the [Reform] Pittsburgh Platform
declares, «We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.»

The [Reform] movement softened its position in the 1937 Columbus Platform, but still feared offering enthusiastic encouragement through the return from the Diaspora: «In all lands where our people live, they assume and seek to share loyally the full duties and responsibilities of citizenship… [yet] in the rehabilitation of Palestine we behold the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren.» In its 1976 San Francisco Platform, the Reform movement echoed this limited Zionism, «We encourage aliyah for those who with to find maximum personal fulfillment in the cause of Zion,» immediately adding, «We demand that Reform Judaism be unconditionally legitimized in the State of Israel.»

13. See John J. Appel, «The Trefa Banquet,» Commentary, February 1966, pp 75-78.

14. Walter Jacob, ed., The Pittsburgh Platform in Retrospect: The Changing World of Reform Judaism, (Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation Press, 1985) p 104.

15. Ibid, p 112.

16. Ibid, p 101.

17. Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Reviewed: A History of the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America, volume 2, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America,
1997) p 550.

18. Tradition Reviewed, volume 2, p 551.

19. Ibid, p 550.

20. Theodore I. Lenin and Associates , Rabbis and Synagogue in Reform Judaism, (West
Hartford: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1972) pp 98-99.

21. Ibid

22. Milton Himmelfarb, «What Do American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary,
August 1996, p 35.

23. Elliot Abrams, Faith or Fear, (New York: Free Press, 1997) p 108.

24. Egon Mayer, «Jewish Continuity in an Age of Intermarriage,» in Symposium on
Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity, vol 1, Council of Jewish Federations General
Assembly, Baltimore, Nov 21, 1991.

25. Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in
Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) p 91.

26. Ibid, p 86.

27. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 57.

28. American Hebrew 57:18 (6 Sepetember 1895), p 426. In the history of Conservative
Judaism published by the Jewish Theological Seminary, American Hebrew is described as
«an unofficial voice for the [Jewish Theological] Seminary, indeed an arm of Seminary
propaganda and publicity» (Tradition Renewed, vol 1, p 38).

29. Ibid, p 60.

30. Ibid, p 68.

31. Ibid, p 56.

32. David Ellenson and Lee Bycel, «A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The JTS Rabbinical
Curriculum in Historical Perspective,» in Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 559. Ellenson is
Professor of Jewish Religious Thought at HUC-Jewish Institute of Religion [Reform] in LA,
where Rycel is Dean.

33. Ibid

34. Ibid

35. Exodus 35:3

36. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 420.

37. Ibid, vol 1, p 530.

38. Marsha L. Rozenblit, «The Seminary During the Holocaust Years,» in Tradition
Renewed, vol 2, p 278-9. Rozenblit is Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland, College Park.

39. Ibid, p 282-289.

40. Ibid, p 279.

41. Ibid, p 286.

42. Ibid, p 287.

43. Ibid

44. Ibid, pp 295-6.

45. Ibid, p 489.

46. Ibid, p 497-9.

47. Ibid, p 492-5.

48. Commission members included: Victor Goodhill (Professor of Otoloic Research, UCLA); Marion Siner Gordon (Attorney); Rivkah Harris (Assyriologist); Milton Himmelfarb
(American Jewish Committee); Francine Klagsbrun (Author); Harry Plotkin (Attorney); and Norman Redlich (Dean, NYU Law School).

49. Tradition Renewed, vol 2, p 502.

50. Ibid, p 574.

51. Ibid, p 575.

52. David Lieber, «What American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1996, p 53.

53. David Lieber, «The State of Jewish Belief» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1966, p 116.

54. Neil Gillman, «What American Jews Believe» symposium, Commentary, Aug 1996, p 23.

55. Harold Kushner, «Is the Conservative Movement Halachic?» in Proceedings Of The 1980
Convention (Rabbinical Assembly, 1980).

56. North American Jewish Data Bank data extrapolated from the 1990 National Jewish
Population Survey. See also Chaim I. Waxman, American Jews in Transition (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1983), p 186.

57. Mordecai Kaplan, Judaism As A Civilization (New York: The Macmillian Co, 1934) pp

58. David Weiss Halivni, Revelation Restored (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997) pp 1-10.

59. Elliot Abrams, Faith or Fear (New York: The Free Press, 1997) pp 166-197. See also M.
Herbert Danzger, Returning To Tradition: The Contemporary Revival of Orthodox Judaism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983).

60. The non-Orthodox editors of Commentary made the same observation in the introduction to their 1996 symposium The State Of Jewish Belief: «Reading the responses, one sees that the true division is between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Cover the identifications of the non-Orthodox and what they write will not usually give you a clue to a Reform or a Conservative affiliation.»

61. Eugene Borowitz, Reform Judaism Today (New York: Behrman House, 1977) p 133.

62. Talmud, Tractate Brachot 47B.

Are Non-Orthodox Jews Still Jews? Part Four

Part Four

Q. If Reform Jews have no interest in Judaism, why do any of them care
whether or not a Gentile spouse converted to Judaism?

A. The fact is, most of them don’t. It is primarily the leaders of their communities that wish to keep the numbers high enough to maintain a viable community. They want to turn back the tide, to stop their communities from disappearing altogether.

However, it is not working. The younger generation is leaving as fast as they can, often
marrying Gentiles and not converting them. Sometimes they «convert» the spouses to please their parents, who had slightly more of a Traditional upbringing. But for the most part, the vast majority of the younger generation outside of Orthodox Jewry does not care at all.

Q. Rabbis have contended points of Law for centuries. In Talmudic
discussions, Laws have been changed countless times. Why can’t we do the

Your question brings up two issues: the nature of the Rabbinical debates, and our authority to decide Jewish Law.

Yes, the Rabbis have contended points of Law, but always on minor details of Laws, never on major issues. Nowhere in the Talmud will you find differences on core matters. If you think you know of any, please cite them to me.

Secondly, each and every disagreement in the Talmud is based on strict and unalterable rules and parameters. Each and every point of view is based on the application of specific established relevant and correct rules in each case.

Thirdly, no one voiced personal opinions based on their emotions and «what feels right.» They based everything on established Halachic precedent.

When, for example, Bais Shammai (the School of Shammai) and Bais Hillel (the School of Hillel) disagree about the lighting of Chanukah lights, it is never about the basic, major concepts of Chanukah that they disagree.

All agree that each household is required to light one light per night for eight nights.

All agree that a higher level is to light one light per person each night.

All agree that the highest level — admirable, but not obligatory — is to vary the number of lights each night.

The problem was that in those days no one could afford to light more than one light per night, so the practice of multiple lights had fallen into disuse. What then was the original Law ordained by the Rabbis two centuries earlier?

Thus, what they differ on is whether to increase the lights or to decrease the lights. Each has a logical theory based on established Talmudic concepts that were applied to other Laws.

Bais Shammai says it should resemble the Biblical Commandments of the Sacrificial
offerings of the Succos Holiday, since the Rabbis usually instituted details of Laws in forms that resembled Biblical Law. Since those sacrifices decreased in number, so should the Chanukah lights. We should therefore start with eight and decrease until one.

On the other hand, says Bais Hillel, we have a rule that in holy matters we increase, not
decrease. In keeping with this standard, we should start with one light and increase each day.

That is how a disagreement takes place in the Talmud: only on a minor matter, and only
between learned scholars who had good Talmudic reasons for expounding a theory.

The fact that such people can disagree does not give license for the likes of us to abrogate any Law of the Torah because we feel we have the right to disagree.

Q. If a pair of pants no longer fits, one may lose weight or alter the pants or
replace them. Similarly, wouldn’t it make sense to change the Laws, and
begin accepting non-Jews as Jews, if they are married to Jews?

A. Someone actually wrote that question to me. Really. So I answered him:

You maintain that losing weight is impractical? That’s not a very intelligent conclusion.
Losing weight might be very difficult to do, but it is unquestionably the correct solution.

You see, you have mis-diagnosed the problem. The problem is not that his pants don’t fit. If that were the only problem, they could be altered. The problem is that the pants have always fit until he began to gain unreasonable amounts of weight.

To be sure, one may continue to alter or purchase pants. That might solve a short-term or temporary problem. But if one is continually gaining weight, one is likely to get very sick and die. The problem will not be satisfactorily solved, if you consider that solved at all. The correct solution is obvious; just difficult to face.

And the answer is not to stop wearing pants entirely.

Another way that pants stop fitting is when you wash them too often and they shrink. But as long as you don’t change the pants, and you don’t gain unhealthy amounts of weight, the pants will continue to fit. Once you have changed any of those, you have to keep changing things until they fit, and sooner or later, you wind up with a completely different pair of pants.

When Jews follow unJewish paths, we eventually lose them or their children. The answer is not to change Judaism. They’ve already done that, and it hasn’t helped at all. The answer is to observe Judaism in the form that has prevented Jews from assimilating for over 3,300 years.

Changing the Law does not result in more Jews, it results in fewer Jews in the long run, as Jews leave Judaism entirely. Minor changes never satisfy people. They always want to
change more and more. You argue that they should keep changing the Laws in the first place, to make them fit better, after they made the first few changes. Where will it end/ When there are no Jews left at all? Will that ultimate change be beneficial?

Do you subscribe to the school of thought that considers the operation a success even if the patient dies? So I reiterate: further eroding of Halachah will only make the problem worse.

The erosion of Halachah is killing Judaism. We see this to be undeniably true. There is only one solution. Stop eroding Halachah! As I have clearly showed in this series of articles, the only thing that works is returning to Torah Judaism.

The problem is not that Judaism is no longer viable. Not only are there many people still
observing Judaism, but those who do not observe Judaism are leaving the Jewish fold

No, the problem is that many people — people who do not know the joys and beauties of Judaism — do not want to keep the disciplines of Judaism. They have been busy altering the pants for each generation. And now they’re changing to some other mode of dress entirely.

The problem is that many find it so difficult to accept the truth that they ignore the obvious and argue against the Orthodox instead. And the sad part is that they will argue themselves right into extinction.

Are Non-Orthodox Jews Still Jews? Part three

Part Three

Q. Is Judaism so loath to accept even individual or preferential differences that any path other than yours is to be considered false or lacking?

Answer: Judaism does indeed accept individual and preferential differences. Judaism does not quail before them. Judaism embraces them. Or at the very least, addresses them.

Judaism is quite expansive. The breadth of Judaism is such that there is a great deal of
leeway within the boundaries of Jewish Law for the expression of personal tendencies and preferences. Look at the many branches of Orthodox Judaism: Hassidim, Misnagdim, etc., each of which appeals to another type of Orthodox Jew.

True, many personal preferences are outside of permissible bounds, giving us such
movements as the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative. But the bounds of proper Jewish Law are not limiting, because they encompass quite a vast area.

The Torah is an unparalleled opportunity for expression. Think of it is a sonnet. There are specific laws of meter and rhyme, but the content within those bounds is still the choice of the poet.

The Torah itself gives us voice for self-expression, as any truly spiritual Orthodox Jew can tell you.

The Torah commands us to keep within the parameters of Halachah, for our own benefit. By doing so, we become even more holy. By stepping off that path we harm ourselves.

Q. In a time of declining Jewish numbers, such as we have now, isn’t it practical to accept people as Jewish, even if they are not Jews according to Halachah or if their conversions are not Orthodox?

A. Is there a decline in Jewish numbers? Why is this occurring only among the
non-Orthodox, and not among the Orthodox? Your question highlights that very point.

The Lincoln Square Synagogue has a poster hanging in their window, on which the following statistics are displayed:

Sample Population Count
Charedi 6.4 3% 100 295 874 2588
3.23 3% 100 151 228 346
Conservative 1.82 37% 100 62 38 24
Reform 1.72 53% 100 51 26 13
Unaffiliated 1.62 72% 100 36 13 5

According to these statistics,(1) the Orthodox population is increasing by something like 300 percent, and the Reform and Conservative communities have a negative population growth. Unaffiliated have an even worse record.

When we examine the simple reason for this, the solution will also become apparent. First let us take a closer look at the disparity in the assimilation rates.

If a Reform or Conservative couple have two children, and one of them leaves the
community, the next generation is automatically halved. Most are not having two children; most are having only one, or none at all. They are breeding themselves out of existence.

Orthodox families, however, are considered small if they have only three or four children, and Charedi-Orthodox families often have upwards of ten children. And almost none are intermarrying. Though the Lincoln Square Synagogue poster lists the combined intermarriage rate from the various Orthodox groups as 3%, they admit that they are a bit fuzzy about the actual amount. I doubt that it is as high as 3%, but I could be wrong.

It is not necessary for you to believe the chart. You can verify these figures yourself. Just
take a look around. Among the non-Orthodox Jews you know, take a count of how many are intermarried or living with non-Jews. The vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews in my acquaintance do not care in the slightest whether or not their mates are Jewish. It is just not a criterion to them.

How many non-Orthodox Jews do you know who used to be Orthodox? I have met three, I think, and I have read of others. It does happen. How many of them have married non-Jews? I know of none offhand, but they probably exist. Still, the rate is infinitesimally small. The fact is that a very small percentage of people are leaving Orthodoxy these days, and a very small percentage of those marry Gentiles.

History has shown that whenever the Jews come into contact with a revolutionary Gentile movement, large numbers of Jews leave Orthodoxy and create deviant movements that bring them closer to the Gentiles. Hellenism brought into being the Sadducees, and eventually Christianity; and so on through the ages, until the Reformation brought the Haskalah Movement of Moses Mendelssohn, which eventually devolved into today’s Reform Movement.

Then one of two things happens: The movement either merges with a Gentile religion, or becomes one itself, as happened with the Christians and the Samaritans (though they did not actually come from Judaism, but rather from Gentiles who adopted some of Judaism); or the movement dies out completely, as happened with the Sadducees, Essenes, and most of the others. This is the way of all movements that deviate from Judaism. They either become Gentile, or they dissipate and eventually disappear. When the latter, some of the members of that movement, or their children, begin to trickle back to Orthodoxy, but most assimilate entirely.

Reform and Conservative are today at that stage. Even now, they find themselves facing
Hobson’s Choice: Return to Judaism, or disappear. There is no endurance to any Jewish
movement outside of Torah Judaism.

Thus we find that among Jews, the movement today is generally towards the right. There are far more Jews becoming Orthodox than leaving Orthodoxy. I have met, in the course of my life thus far, hundreds of Jews who have become Orthodox. I am friends with scores of such people. I am willing to bet that you, dear Reader, especially if you live in New York, know more Jews who have joined Orthodoxy than who have left Orthodoxy.

So this is what we find: The non-Orthodox movements are dissipating through intermarriage and assimilation. The Orthodox do not have those problems, and in fact are repairing such breeches elsewhere, where they can. We are reaching out to prevent the non-Orthodox from intermarrying. There is an outreach organization called Aish HaTorah that focuses on preventing intermarriage. Of polls taken among non-Orthodox Jews who have experienced their wonderful seminar, perhaps 6% became Orthodox. But over 90% said they would no longer date non-Jews.

Orthodox Judaism has many such organizations; there is no Reform organization
accomplishing anything like that. Quite the contrary, they are declaring Gentiles to be Jews, just so they can marry Jews.

Why is it that so many non-Orthodox Jews intermarry and assimilate? The answer is simple: Why not? What is it that could possibly convince a Reform Jew not to intermarry?

A friend of mine from a Reform family was interested in a non-Jewish girl. He was
concerned about this, because his parents had always told him that Jews may not marry
non-Jews. Yet they had taught him nothing else, and he did not know any logical reason to refrain from marrying a non-Jew.

He had no context in which to place such a directive. An Orthodox Jew might be content to simply say, «The Torah forbids it,» even if s/he does not know the reason — which the Torah explicitly explains. A simple «the Torah says so,» would suffice for many Orthodox Jews.

But even knowing the Torah’s reason could not suffice for a Reform Jew, whose parents
taught him that he need not keep the Torah, who indeed themselves do not keep the Torah, and who never taught him to respect the words of the Torah.

There really is not much of a structure to the «religion» of Reform Jews. They have little
more than community to keep them together, and that community is not necessarily the Jewish community.

There is little to keep a Reform Jew from assimilating, since there is little to keep a Reform Jew interested in Judaism. There are very few people of the Thirty-Something generation who have remained in the Reform communities by following in their parents’ footsteps, and the numbers are steadily decreasing, as we see by the chart. This is because Reform has nothing of spiritual value to offer anyone.

If a Reform Jew wants religious inspiration, he must look outside of the Reform community. And many of them become convinced that Judaism has nothing to offer them, based solely on their Reform upbringing, and minimal exposure to out-of-context Orthodox teachings that they did not understand. This is why most of their children leave, and why so many of them intermarry.

And this is why the Reform Jew has trouble understanding why Orthodox Jews refuse to
accept Reform converts. If the Reform Jew can be a Jew (which we all say they are) without fulfilling the Commandments, why shouldn’t a Gentile be allowed the same privilege? And if neither need to observe the Torah, what could be wrong with them intermarrying?

The Orthodox Jew knows that being a Jew is not merely a «privilege.» Being a Jew is a
responsibility. Some are born to it, yet it is one that may be assumed by anyone — but only in its entirety.

In the context of that responsibility, the Torah commands us not to marry someone who has failed to honestly and completely assume the responsibility of the Commandments, because s/he will lead you away from the Commandments, and thus away from Hashem. (Deut. 7:4)

But the Reform leaders teach that a Jew — or a convert — has no responsibility to fulfill the Commandments. Reform Jews teach no spirituality, nor even any responsibility towards G-d or one’s own soul. There is only community and family.

Without the context of Judaism, they have no reason to do Jewish things. They have no
reason to refrain from marrying Gentiles.

And this explains why intermarriage and assimilation barely exist among the Orthodox. It is because we have the context, which can be found only in Halachic life, and that is, fulfilling the Commandments of the Torah.

In other words, it is the Reform that are causing the problem in the first place. They have caused this problem by chipping away at Jewish life until their lives no longer simply resemble Gentile lives, they have become Jews living Gentile lives.

And now they propose to do away with one of the few precepts they have until now not
officially abandoned.

Reform Judaism came to this pass by abrogating Halachah, Jewish Law. They caused the
problem of «dwindling Jewish numbers» by eliminating Judaism from their lives. By further eroding Jewish Law, they will not solve the problem, they will only make it worse.

Furthermore, the suggestion is a futile one. Jewish children are leaving the Reform
communities in droves. Most have little interest in staying there. What will happen to the children of these intermarried couples? Even if they consider themselves Jewish, what will compel them to remain in the Reform-Jewish community? They are no more likely to stay than any other Reform Jew. And likewise for the Conservative.

Even if some small number remain in the Reform community, most will marry Gentiles,
which is to be expected among the non-Orthodox.

So what numbers will be added to the Jewish People?


There is an old story about the two people who got frostbitten ears. They tried the old folk remedy of rubbing ice on their ears. The friction warmed their ears. (Don’t try this at home, folks, I have heard that modern medicine says it’s dangerous.)

Said one to the other, «It’s a lucky thing we got frostbitten when it was cold enough for there to be ice with which to help us.»

Responded the other, «Are you nuts? If not for the cold we would never have gotten
frostbitten at all!»

If not for the Reform Jews, we would have very little intermarriage in the first place. It is
very unlikely that they, who caused the problem, are going to solve the problem — by
increasing the root cause!

How so like the parable is our situation. They confuse the cause with the cure, and the cure doesn’t work anyway!

All Jews should be concerned about the problem. Yes, the problems exists only among the non-Orthodox, but they are also Jews, and that makes it a Jewish problem. The Orthodox, however, already know how to solve the problem.

The problem is not with «Jewish numbers.» The Orthodox are not concerned with «numbers.» The Torah tells us «For you are the smallest of all nations» (Deut. 7:7). We are not concerned with relative population counts. We are concerned about Jewish people.

We are not interested in creating ersatz Jews. We are interested in keeping Jews in the Jewish community. We have never had a drive to raise our numbers. We don’t care about that. We care only that Jews observe the Torah. Part of that Torah, one of the many beautiful and inspiring Commandments, is not to marry a Gentile, as beautiful and noble as he or she may be.

The Torah assures us that the Jewish People will always exist. The Orthodox have no fear on that score. «Declining Jewish numbers» is not something we will ever fear. And as I showed above, we are doing our part to ensure the continuation of the Jewish People. We are fulfilling the Torah, and teaching our children to do the same.

Marrying Gentiles will not increase the «Jewish numbers.» For we must recognize it for what it is. Calling Gentiles «converts» is simply another way of allowing Jews to marry Gentiles. It will merely increase the number of Gentiles married to Jews (and the number of Jews married to Gentiles).

It will in fact further decrease the Jewish numbers.

And calling Gentile children of Jewish fathers Jewish will not increase the Jewish population. You do not in reality increase numbers by changing the definition of a member. Adding non-members to a group does not increase the number of members in the group.

Earlier, I quoted parts of a Torah passage about intermarriage and «Jewish numbers.» They are both part of the same passage. The Torah first tells us in Deuteronomy Chapter 7, Verse 3 not to intermarry, and then in verses 7-8 makes a point of mentioning, «Hashem your G-d chose you to be His special People . . . not because you had greater numbers than all the other nations, for you are the smallest of all the nations.»

These verses are written in one passage, because they are one theme.

It is clear that to Hashem, Who gave us the Commandments, intermarriage is not the solution to «declining Jewish numbers.»

The solution to the problem of «declining Jewish numbers» is obvious. We must return the context so that the specific matter itself can be resolved. Without Halachic life, there is
ultimately no adherence to Jewish life at all. Only when the Reform, Conservative, and
Reconstructionists return to true Judaism will they find their numbers rising again.

To summarize: the numbers of non-Orthodox Jews are decreasing because:

1. They are marrying Gentiles;
2. They have no Torah to guide them;
3. They have little or no spirituality to relate to;
4. They know of no logic to forbid intermarriage;
5. They have, and continue to erode Jewish Law, and therefore Jewish Life.

The only solution is to reverse those factors. If you want the advantages of the Orthodoxy, you must actually be Orthodox: live the life, and accept the responsibilities.

What happened to my friend? I explained all of this to him, and it had a positive effect on him. He became concerned with the future of Jewry and Judaism. But that very same day he met a Reform intermarried couple, and after they talked with him he decided to go ahead and marry his non-Jewish girlfriend.


1. The above statistics are taken from various studies, among them those done by Anthony Gordon & Richard Horowitz, and written about in such places as «Moment,» «The Jewish Spectator,» «The Jewish Observer,» and The Vanishing American Jew, by Alan Dershowitz.

Thanks to Jim Schmeidler for retrieving these figures for me from the sign displayed in the window of the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Are Non-Orthodox Jews Still Jews? Part two

Part Two

Q. Why do the Orthodox kick up such a fuss about the «Who is a Jew»

Answer: Because we do not want do not want divisions in Jewry. Startling answer, isn’t it? Think about it:

The people who stand the most to be affected by the problem are the descendants of today’s non-Orthodox.

In one or two generations, there will be young men and women who wish to become
Orthodox. They will discover that because their parents and/or grandparents were adamant about breaking down the Halachah, these grandchildren will be in many cases Gentiles. Who will be hurt? Not those who are currently Orthodox, or their descendants. Nevertheless, today’s Orthodox are concerned, not only for that reason, but for the sake of Hashem’s Torah.

Here’s another scenario, which has already occurred too often.

A woman did not care about receiving a get, a proper Jewish divorce. She left her husband, got a civil divorce by United States law, and then «married» another Jewish man. By Jewish Law she is still married to the first man; any children she has from any other man (until she gets a get from the first man) will be illegitimate. They will not be allowed to marry a legitimate Jewish child.

The creation of illegitimate Jewish children is of great concern to us. But bear in mind that it is of concern to us because we do not want divisions in Jewry.

And what happens in one or two generations, when an illegitimate Jewish child becomes Orthodox, and wants to marry an Orthodox Jew? Who will suffer then? We all will suffer the pain.

And whatever vestiges will remain of the Reform and Conservative movements will yell and scream that we are being unfair to the descendants of Reform and Conservative Jews, as if somehow we are specifically targeting them. They will insist that the time has come to change the Torah and «abrogate Halachah in face of the growing need.» To be sure, they will not call it «abrogating Halachah,» but rather «changing» or «adapting» Halachah, as if there is any difference.

Rather than have that happen, we wish to prevent it at the root, and not let people trample on Halachah.

Q. Why don’t the Orthodox consider Conservative or Reform rabbis to be

Answer: In order for someone to become a Rabbi he must undergo certain preliminaries. He must take a specific, required course. If you redefine that course, that criterion has not been met.

Secondly, one can receive this course, and the subsequent ordination, only from a qualified Rabbi, i.e., one who has successfully undergone very advanced tests and procedures that gives him the authority to ordain another Rabbi.

Thirdly, he must demonstrate that he assumes the responsibility to fulfill all the Laws to the best of his ability; that he does not repudiate or disagree with any of them, and that he will keep within the clearly mandated bounds of Halachic procedure.

Some of the first early Reform leaders possibly met the first two criteria, but the very
definition and purposes of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements are the negation of that third criterion.

Today’s Conservative and Reform «rabbis» do not study the proper courses; in any case they are given by people who have not themselves fulfilled the criteria; nor do they intend to fulfill the Halachah as mandated. This is not the definition of a Rabbi. And again, this does not mean they are not Jewish. Even an unaffiliated Jew is a Jew. Even a Jew who (G-d forbid) attends a Christian church is a Jew, if his or her mother was Jewish, or if that person properly converted to Judaism.

Q. But isn’t the Orthodox attitude exclusionary and divisive?

Answer: That isn’t fair. Look at our history. At first there was one nation, all alike. There was only one kind of Jew. These divisions did not exist until these groups broke off from Orthodox Judaism. In fact, it is the Orthodox who are inclusive of all Jews.

The Reform Movement has very clearly and deliberately excluded many types of Jews. Since 1983, it has denied the Jewish status of any Jew born of a Jewish mother, if the child did not receive a Jewish upbringing. In 1996, Simeon Maslin, then president of Reform’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, said the following at the annual meeting of America’s Reform rabbis: «Let me make it clear that when I say we, as ‘we are the authentic Jews’, I refer to the two great non-Orthodox synagogue movements of America: Reform and Conservative.»

Orthododx Judaism, on the other hand, considers anyone born of a Jewish mother to be Jewish. That is the Law of the Torah, and it has never changed for us. Orthodox Jews do not reject any Jews. on the contrary, we pray and want all Jews to become Orthodox Jews, to serve Hashem as Hashem has taught us all.

We do not want the various factions. We want us all to be one. Those who break apart, as the Reform and Conservative have done, are the ones who are divisive. They have created the
divisions, the rifts in Jewry. We want to bring them back to us.

In the High Holy Days’ prayers, we ask:

And so, too, Hashem our G-d, instill Your awe upon all Your works, and Your fear
upon all that You have created. Let all works revere You, and all creatures bow before
You. Let them all become a single society to do Your will whole-heartedly . . .

A little later we pray that wickedness and sin vanish, but we never pray that erring and lost Jews be hurt, killed, or punished in any way. Nor do we make any reference to Jews being cut off from the fold or from G-d. We pray only that all repent.

But: Halachah forbids us to join with heretics, or to do anything that will support their
activities in any way.(1) This still does not change the fact that they are Jews.

How should we act towards them? A distinction is made between those who simply follow others because they know no better, and those who do indeed know better.(2) Jewish Law teaches that those who do not know better «should be brought back with repentance, and attracted with words of peace, until they return to the power of the Torah».(3)

As for their leaders, it is forbidden to accord any respect whatsoever to anyone who
knowingly teaches anything that contradicts the Torah.(4)

Nevertheless, some of their leaders may indeed not know better. Though they sin by
misleading others, they too, if possible, should be brought to see the truth, with words of peace. But that is a separate issue than that of respect.

Some argue that since they bear the title «Rabbi,» they should be accorded respect. But if we called them «Rabbi,» they would have a greater problem. For Maimonides goes on to say(5) that any Rabbi who rules differently than the Halachah and teaches others to do so has much more culpability, and is liable at a greater level, than anyone else.

It is a far greater mercy not to consider them Rabbis.

We do not consider them Rabbis, but that is not because we hate them.

Q. Why can’t the rules be altered?

Answer: Because they don’t need to be.

There is a very common fallacy argued by many people. They contend that people change, therefore the rules should change. This is a logical argument, and should not be ignored. It deserves discussion.

The truth is that the only major thing that changes about people is their opinions. People do not change, and truth does not change. People are motivated by essentially the same things by which we have always been motivated. People have essentially the same desires we have always had. Human nature has stayed exactly the same, and this is why people say that history repeats itself.

The only thing that really changes from culture to culture and from time to time is what
public opinion holds to be right and wrong. And that is the basic flaw in popular cultural
mores. Malleable moral standards are fallacious and unreal concepts. Anything transitory cannot be fundamentally true.

However, Judaism believes that G-d created the Torah first, and used the Torah as a blueprint from which to design the universe. Thus, the Laws of the Torah are as eternal as the universe.

Throughout all the ages, the Jews have been exiled in many lands. The Egyptians practiced incest. The Jews maintained that incest is wrong. We still do, and we always will.

The French have no qualms about extra-marital affairs. Rabbinical works of long ago
mention this as a problem centuries ago. The Jews maintained it was wrong. We still do.

There were cultures that practiced theft and crookedness to degrees that would put Ferengi to shame. The Jews have always maintained it is wrong. We still do.

I am not claiming that we have never had sinners who practiced these and other immoral acts. But we never changed Judaism to reflect the mores of other cultures, or of the dominating society.

I once met a Jewish woman who insisted that it was time for Orthodox Judaism to modernize, as she had. She couldn’t exactly explain what she meant by «modernize,» but subsequent discussion revealed that she was completely unobservant, and had finally become reconciled with the fact that her daughter had married a gentile.

This was the modernization we should embrace? The loss of our culture through syncretism and assimilation? The following of popular culture and ideals, to the detriment of our own?

The fallacy is in thinking that Judaism actually once fitted into society, but is now outdated. Actually, we have never fit into «society,» nor were we ever supposed to.

When the Jews were in Egypt, we kept ourselves separate. We dressed differently, we did not intermarry with unconverted Egyptians, we spoke our own language, and we kept our own names.

When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, after the Destruction of the First Holy Temple, we still kept ourselves separate from the Gentiles. We dressed differently, we kept only Jewish names, we spoke our own dialect, and we observed the Torah as best we could under the circumstances. This is what we do today, and what we have done in every exile we have endured.

When we were returned to the Holy Land, to rebuild the Second Temple, there eventually arose a group that insisted we «modernize.» We must join the world’s general movement towards enlightenment and acceptance, they said. Yes, that means assimilating; yes, that means watering down the Torah; but the time has come to alter the Torah. We must join the world and be accepted.

They were called Hellenisers, because they imitated the Greeks. Modernize, they said. Don’t be so rigid and different. But we resisted, and we kept the Torah. That’s how Chanukah came to be. The Hellenisers and the ancient Greek culture are all gone today; we still exist.

The Romans came to the foreground of world politics, and similar movements sprung up. Still we resisted. The ancient Roman culture no longer exists; the Jews do.

The American culture will some day go the way of all its predecessors. It, too, with all its
imitators, will dissipate, and be replaced by something even more «modern,» which will in its turn be replaced by something else new.

And we Jews, with our «archaic culture that can never seem to fit in,» will still be here.

Is our culture archaic?

Whatever the society, whatever the abomination, we did not fit in. Judaism never accepted the beliefs and mores or any other culture, thus we were never in step with any other culture.

It would be correct to call us «archaic,» or «outdated,» if there had ever been a time when we were modern and in style. We have always been outside of the dominant style and culture. We have never fit in. We have never fit into society, thus we are not archaic. We are timeless.

And the reason? Because no matter how many times the masses change their attitudes and beliefs, right is still right, wrong is still wrong. To us, it does not matter what popular opinion thinks is right and wrong.

If I feel that something is morally wrong, and the Torah says it is morally right, than I am
mistaken, not the Torah.

Because, you see, Judaism is the word of G-d. The Laws of the Torah make provision for all future contingencies, and thus changes have never been needed. No human being could devise a system so perfect that it never needs to be changed. Thus, it is outside of the experience of most people.

Many people mistakenly think that our life or culture is static and unchanging. To the degree that it is static, that is good. It means that we have been keeping our morals, and have not been assimilating. But even Judaism takes into account the changes and tides of societies and peoples.

It is also a mistake to think that «strict and unalterable» means «inflexible.» Judaism is not inflexible. Judaism takes the perfect balance between firmness and flexibility.

Likewise, Judaism takes into account the fact that people have individualistic minds and free choice. A proper study of Judaism will show you this.

1. See, for example, Babylonian Talmud Bava Basra 10b; Maimonides Laws of Charity,
10:8; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 249:7

2. Maimonides, Laws of Rebels, 3:1-3

3. Ibid

4. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 41a; Shaarai Teshuvah 187-193; see also Rashi, Deut. 13:9

5. Ibid, 3:4

Are Non-Orthodox Jews Still Jews? Part one

Part One

A group of Rabbis known as The Agudas Harabonim of America said that their statement does not suggest that Jews in Reform and Conservative synagogues are any less Jewish than those in Orthodox synagogues. They are, however, being taught things contrary to the Torah. Anything contrary to the Torah is not Judaism. Jews are urged not to attend synagogues affiliated with those movements, but are instead urged to study with the Orthodox.

—The New York Times
Monday, March 24, 1997

It makes one wonder, doesn’t it? Why would everyone read it wrong? The Rabbis very
clearly said that a non-Orthodox Jew is still a Jew. So why did everyone read it as if they had said that the non-Orthodox are not Jews?

I think the answer is that most people these days are more familiar with Christianity than with Judaism. Most people tend to think in Christian terms.

To many Christians, if you don’t keep Christianity, you are not a Christian. They are
unfamiliar with the Jewish concept of inheriting one’s race and religion together. Among
Jews, the two are intertwined. If you are born Jewish or convert to Judaism, you are always Jewish. If you are a Jewish woman, then your children will always be Jewish. That status can never change. Nor is there any other way to be Jewish. This is the Torah’s Law. And the Torah says that Torah Law may never be changed.

Neither Reform nor Conservative leaders should be confused about this issue. It has been at the heart of a number of vociferous debates in the past few decades or so. They’ve known about this for quite a while.

For example, Conservative and Reform leaders are concerned about their falling population rates due to assimilation. In response to their very high rate of intermarriage, many Conservative congregations take a lax attitude towards interfaith couples (though they don’t generally encourage it), and Reform congregations have begun accepting as Jews people with only a Jewish father or a Jewish spouse.

Orthodox Jewry has always been very clear on the subject. Reform and Conservative Jews involved in these debates know whom Orthodoxy does and does not consider Jews. Why doubt it now, when the Rabbis’ statement was very clear?

The confusion was started by a newspaper in Los Angeles that wrote in their headline that Orthodox Rabbis have declared all other Jews «not Jewish.» Yet the article itself made it clear that this was not the case.

The New York Times reported the matter fairly accurately, I believe, but the New York Daily News actually reported that Orthodox Rabbis declared Orthodox Jews to be the only Jews. Both my letters to their editor were ignored, and they have never printed a retraction, as far as I know.

Some Reform and Conservative spokespeople have recently made the claim that Orthodoxy has never before declared any deviant group or movement to be «not Judaism.» They claim this charge was not made even against the Sadducees.

This is false, and absolute nonsense. The Rabbis of the Talmud very clearly stated that
Sadduceeism is not Judaism. Rabbis said the same about many other deviant groups,
including the Haskalah movement, which eventually deteriorated into today’s Reform
movement. (The Rabbis never said it about Hassidism, incidentally, though many Rabbis
decried the movement when it first arose, misunderstanding its purpose.) Today’s Reform movement is a far cry from its progenitor, and is far less observant of Judaism, as they themselves freely admit.

Recently a number of Conservative Rabbis have agreed that what they teach is not Judaism. And when over 40% of Reform Rabbis state that they do not believe in G-d, that is not Judaism. If it changes the Torah, it cannot be called Judaism.

It is a Principle of Judaism (which I discuss later), that Jewish Law may not be changed.
Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist all assert that Jewish Law not only may be
changed, but that it should be changed. This is one of the primary reasons that those belief systems are not Judaism.

The Agudah’s statement may have been ill-advised, since anyone could have foreseen that it would be misunderstood. No matter how clearly one states something, there is never a shortage of people who will misunderstand and misinterpret it. And then there are people like the staff of the Daily News, who don’t even care.

Below are questions on this matter asked me by friends,
along with the answers I gave them.

Q. If the Orthodox do not accept non-Orthodox conversions (because what the non-Orthodox are practicing is «not Judaism») then a non-Orthodox Jewish convert is not «still a Jew» according to the Orthodox. So you are saying that they are not Jews, aren’t you?

A. I’ll try to take that question point by point.

Non-Orthodox conversions are a matter of contention, this is true. But first, please note that I was not discussing that particular issue. I was addressing the incident in which unscrupulous or negligent, irresponsible journalists «reported» that Orthodox Rabbis had supposedly dismissed all non-Orthodox Jews as not being Jews. It was, of course, untrue. It would in fact have been forbidden by Jewish Law to make any such statement. All Jews are Jews.

But they have to be Jews to be Jews. Funny, how that works, isn’t it?

About non-Orthodox conversions: Orthodox Judaism cannot accept non-Orthodox converts, but not just because «they are not Judaism.» A convert must assume firm resolve to perform all the Commandments that will be relevant to him/her. When converting to Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist, one is ipso facto assuming very few (in some cases none) of the Commandments.

A convert, at the time of conversion, must intend to keep the Commandments. If at the time of conversion s/he has (or had) no intention of keeping the Commandments, the conversion is not valid.

Just a bit of Halachah (Jewish Law) here: It is forbidden to convert someone who has an
ulterior motive for converting. But if it should happen that a person converts and assumes all the Commandments, and we find out afterwards that s/he had an ulterior motive, the conversion is still valid.(1)

However, not assuming the responsibility of observing the Torah is another matter. The
convert must declare before the full Court his intention to fulfill the Commandments. If he failed to do so, the conversion was never valid at all.(2) If, however, he declared his
willingness to perform the Commandments, and he did indeed perform them for a significant time, he is a complete convert.

Even if a convert changes his mind, even if he returns to the church, is still Jewish by Jewish Law. He would still need to give a get (Jewish divorce) to any woman he betroths during that time.(3)

There are yet other issues. The presiding Judges must also act as witnesses to the conversion. A conversion is valid only if the witnesses themselves are valid witnesses in a Jewish Court. This has nothing to do with affiliation. An Orthodox Jew could be an invalid witness as well. Here are some of the disqualifications: someone who eats non-kosher food; one who publicly does not keep Sabbath or the Holidays, even if the infraction is minor; a gambler; a proven defrauder; a usurer; a freethinker; a heretic; or someone who has sworn falsely in court. Anyone who publicly does not fulfill even only one Jewish Law is not valid as a witness. (Past behavior, now corrected, usually does not count.) And not only sinners, but also someone who knows little or no Torah, even if he’s Orthodox, is not acceptable as a Rabbinic Judge.(4)

These are just two of the reasons that make non-Orthodox conversions very problematic.

A friend of mine (an Orthodox Jew) is a convert who was first converted Conservative. He later learned about Orthodox Judaism, and decided this was what he wanted.

There was an interesting wrinkle in his case. The people witnessing his conversion were
actually Orthodox. In the Midwestern town in which they lived there was no Orthodox
synagogue in which to pray, so these aged Orthodox men prayed with the Conservative.
(Younger men would have built their own synagogue, but these elderly people had no such energy.) The key factor here is that even though they were part of a conservative community, and prayed in a Conservative synagogue, they were fully and properly Observant (to the best of their abilities). Thus, it seemed possible that his conversion, though it was done by the Conservative, could have been Halachically valid.

But then the Rabbi handling his Orthodox conversion discovered a very pivotal piece of
information. The conservative official had failed to inform and teach this convert properly. He had refused to teach him the very basic Principle of Jewish Faith that the Torah was given to us by G-d.

According to Maimonides (the classic Jewish legal codifier), one who does not accept and believe this Principle is not a valid convert. Since not all Conservative Jews believe that all of the Torah is from G-d, many of the Conservatives do not teach this to aspiring converts. Thus, this person’s «conversion» was not valid, despite the fact that acceptable witnesses were present at his performance of the conversion rituals.

Let me clarify this point. Today, the official Conservative position asserts that the Torah «is not a human invention.» As explained to me by students at the Jewish Tehological Seminary (the premier Conservative college), back in 1981, Conservative Jews believe (i.e., these students were all taught — I have no idea if all Conservatives assert this, but this is what that class was taught) that the Oral Torah was first composed by Jews centuries after we had the Written Torah. Yes, they were Divinely inspired, but it was their version of how to understand the Torah, these students told me, and it was not the way it was understood by the earlier generations.

I wish to make no bones about this. That is heresy. However, since I first heard about this in 1981, it is possible the Conservative position has changed since then. Nevertheless, the official Conservative position considers the Oral Torah to be more malleable and changeable than Jewish Law actually allows. They speak of «valid adjustment.» The fact is, the Torah needs no «adjustments.» it always boils down to imporper understanding of the Law in the first place.

Interestingly, the Conservative official at my friend’s first performance of the rites advised him to later undergo an Orthodox conversion, so that his conversion would be accepted by all.

So, it’s not as if they don’t know about Orthodoxy’s attitude about this. In this case, the
official was at least honest about it. I have read about people who have not been similarly warned, and later suffered because of it.

The pity of it is that many Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist «converts» are very sincere. (For that matter, so are many of the Jews born into those movements.) It is often no fault of their own that they are not considered Jewish by that conversion. It is only their lack of knowledge, and the misleading assurances of the non-Orthodox leaders that they have «sufficiently» converted.

It must be agreed, however, that in more recent years many of the Rabbis of the Conservative Movement have taken some positive steps towards a firmer acceptance of Jewish Law (which, in truth, was their original intent when they broke off from the Reform way back when). We hope and pray they will return completely, so we can all heal the breaches together, and not compromise Jewish Law in any way in doing so.

Q. How can you say that they have not sufficiently converted? Aren’t they

A. Imagine that there is a member of the Iraqi underground (if there is such a thing). He
resents Saddam Hussein. He considers himself an American. He fights valiantly against the Iraqi army on behalf of the United States. He plants American flags at every place he
conquers. He disperses tracts about the American form of government throughout Iraq.

One day, the war ends, and he takes a boat to America. He arrives triumphantly on the shores of the U.S., and loudly demands to be given a mansion and free room and board, like any good American.

Understandably, he is told that he is not yet a citizen. He must fill out the forms, he must wait on line, he must get approved and accepted, he must swear or affirm an oath, he must actually find a job, and he must — gasp — pay taxes!

«But how can you do this to me?!» he shouts. «I am an American war hero! I am a citizen! It is my right! I have killed and put my life in danger for this country! How dare you tell me I have no right to call myself an American! And pay taxes? It’s an outrage!»

There can be little doubt of his sincerity. There can be no doubt of his desire to be an
American, under his terms. But regardless of his sincerity, he has to follow the rules. If he does not file the forms, or take the oath, he cannot become an American citizen, regardless of his sincerity.

And if he refuses to pay taxes, he just might go to jail, or even get deported, regardless of his heroism.

The American ideal involves all the more difficult aspects of American life as well as the
supposed freedom and liberty it touts. We must pay taxes, to keep the government we
consider the bastion of freedom. We must keep within the speed limits when driving, because that is the price of republican government.

Above all, we must work for a living, because the American dream does not mean being
supported by the government, but striking it rich through hard work and ingenuity.

Judaism has its rules as well. Not everyone who wants to be called Jewish is automatically called Jewish, just because s/he «feels Jewish.» They might even be a true hero — for which they are guaranteed to be rewarded — but they are not Jewish if they do not follow the procedure. And they are not exempt from obeying the Laws, regardless of their war record. They may be righteous Gentiles, and they may even be more righteous than some Jews, but that does not make them Jews.

The degree of sincerity is irrelevant if the actual deed has not been done. If one has not
converted to Judaism, one is not a Jew. If he is sincere, let him convert to Judaism.

There is only one kind of Jew, and every Jew is that kind of Jew. Some simply choose to ignore that, that’s all.


1. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 268:12

2. Ibid, para 2

3. Ibid, para 1, 12

4. Culled from Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Judges, 7-8; Laws of Testimony,

Endless Light: A Book Review

Endless Light by Rabbi David Aaron broaches the lofty topic of Kabbalah, the mystical teachings of the Torah. The concepts of Kabbalah are traditionally cryptic, yet this book is highly accessible and not the least bit pedantic. This is mainly because Rabbi Aaron relates Kabbalastic concepts to every day life experiences.

“What’s It All About?” asks Rabbi Aaron in the title of his first chapter. “No sense starting small,” he says. He then devotes the first few chapters to G-d’s reason for creating humanity.

The most significant Kabbalastic concept in this discussion is tzimtzum, the method that G-d, Who is pure spirituality, used in creating the world. It has always been difficult for me to grasp this concept, but Rabbi Aaron brings me a little closer to understanding it, mostly
from his discussion of love.

Tzimtzum here means withdrawal. G-d created the world by making space in His
Endlessness to include our finitude, and He did this in order to give us His Love. We can
best understand this by analogy to our own experiences of love.

When you love someone, you make space in your life to include that person in it. You give
up some of your privacy, freedom, and time when you are committed to loving another
person. You have to give that person space to be himself, even when he gets on your nerves.
Your personal pursuits are not entirely your own anymore; you are sharing them with the
one you love. Of course, since you love the person, it is well worthwhile, but it is making
space for the other nonetheless.

Rabbi Aaron develops the idea of love between G-d and humanity, man and woman, and
parent and child, for several fascinating chapters. As a wife and mother, I found much that
was relevant to my life. Yet surprisingly, I found the subsequent chapters, which explore
the harmony that exists between fate and choice, even more enlightening.

In one of these chapters, Rabbi Aaron comments on the famous Shakespearian quote, “All
the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players.” His only problem with this,
he says, is “the word ‘merely’…disparages our role. We, as the characters we play, are
facilitating the expression of nothing less than love, oneness, and truth – G-d.” He further
illustrates this point with stories, both about ordinary people and from the Torah.

My favorite on the theme of fate and choice was the explanation of Esther’s role in the
Purim story. Esther became the queen of Persia so that she would have the opportunity to save the Jewish people. She had no choice about this; in fact, she was forced into it. It was
her destiny.

G-d also destined that the Jews would be saved. Did Esther, then, have a choice, about
saving the Jews? Yes, she did. She could have chosen to keep quiet before her husband,
and “the deliverance of the Jews would come from some other place” (Esther 4:14). But
Esther chose to risk her life and made an unprecedented appearance before the king to
request that the Jews be spared. And in so doing, she chose to maximize the potential of her
situation and became a heroic participant in fulfilling destiny.

Rabbi Aaron’s conclusion of this section is truly inspiring: “There is fate – a clear direction,
a goal, a plan. What’s going to be is going to be. But how it’s going to happen is …our choice … It is a very basic Kabbalistic idea: The evolution of the world of love will go on no matter what. But you have a choice. Do you want to have a role in it, or not?…What role do you choose to play? The hero? The villain? The protagonist? The antagonist?…That is your choice.”

Another notable chapter is “Me, Myself, and I.” People involved in creative processes will
especially appreciate it. Many creative people find that their art comes through them, that they are merely the vehicles through which some higher force expresses itself. The soul,
which is part of G-d, operates the same way through a person’s character. We may identify
ourselves by our personalities, accomplishments, and life circumstances, but this is an
illusion. These things are the soul’s implements for radiating spirituality. The extent to
which we realize that our identity comes from the soul, from spirituality, and not our
personalities, is the extent to which we will have inner peace. And for the rest of the book,
Rabbi Aaron explains in practical terms how inner peace can be attained.

This is only a taste of the insights to be found in Endless Light. People with all levels of exposure to traditional Jewish scholarship will appreciate its fresh presentation,
juxtaposing familiar life experiences with Torah wisdom. Like much about Kabbalah, Endless Light embodies a contradiction: it is stimulating and profound while simultaneously a fast and easy read.


To order Endless Light, click here.

Rabbi David Aaron is the Founder and Dean of Isralight Institute, where you can explore Jewish teachings in an integrated and comprehensive way.

Where Will Your Descendants be in Three Generations From Now?


Sample Population Count
Charedi 6.4 3% 100 295 874 2588
3.23 3% 100 151 228 346
Conservative 1.82 37% 100 62 38 24
Reform 1.72 53% 100 51 26 13
Unaffiliated 1.62 72% 100 36 13 5

The above statistics are taken from various studies, among them those done by Anthony
Gordon & Richard Horowitz, and written about in such places as “Moment,” “The Jewish
Spectator,” “The Jewish Observer,” and The Vanishing American Jew, by Alan Dershowitz.

Anti-Missionary Web Sites

(Updated December 21, ’09)

If you are interested in studying more in detail about the differences between Judaism and
Christianity, choose from the lists below. It is not organized in any particular order.

Jews For Judaism an international anti-missionary organization. An extensive website.

Their Hollow Inheritance (A complete book for free). A great book, I recommend it. Among other things, this book offers a great deal of evidence for some rather surprising information about the origins of christianity.

Outreach Judaism bringing back Jews from the Church

Torah Life And Living: The Emergency Room for Jewish Souls.

A site by professionals dedicated to anti-cult work and anti-missionary work. They provide help if a family member has been seduced by a cult, and Exit Counseling for those who themselves are or have been in cults.

Sites I have seen but have looked at only briefly:

(Links verified 12/21/09)

Shomrai HaBrit-Keepers of the Covenant

Project Truth: Response to Christian missionaries.

The Jewish Home: Counter Missionary Articles and Lessons

Some articles at Aish HaTorah about this subject.

Anti-Missionary Study Hall

Why don’t Jews Believe in Jesus? and many other relevant articles. In their own words: “….this site is dedicated to defeating the attempts of missionaries of all types to deceive Jews into converting to another religion.”

Hareshima’s Counter-Missionary Links Page.

If you have a good link to suggest, please email me.

The Supposed Virgin Birth

The Virgin Birth is a fundamental tenet of most forms of Christianity. Yet it is very odd that none of the earlier Christian books mention it. The book of Mark, probably the first written, makes no mention of it at all. One would think that it would be worth at least one sentence, if not the amount spent on it by the book of Matthew. It is evident that Mark had never heard of the Virgin Birth. The book of John does not mention it either.

The reason that the virgin birth concept was added to Christianity was because the first Christians were very unsuccessful at converting Jews. Most Jews knew they had something better, so they would not leave Judaism for Christianity. Remember: at the beginning it was nothing more than a very small messianic movement within Judaism, and after their “messiah” died, it was rather hard to convert Jews to their movement.

So they began to reach out to the pagans, the non-Jews. But those pagans attracted to Judaism had already joined Judaism, and the new ones would not be very likely to join a tiny fringe group that had lost all real meaning since their false messiah-leader had died. Anyone interested in Judaism would more likely be interested in mainstream Judaism. Continue reading