A Jew is a Jew is a Jew…: You contradict yourself

by Maskil on June 24, 2008

The SA Jewish Report for 9 May 2008 (.PDF) carried a piece by (Lubavitch) Rabbi Yossy Goldman entitled “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew…” The piece dealt with the growing trend within SA Judaism’s religious right to delegitimize and denigrate Jews who don’t meet the required standard of Orthodoxy, observance, frumkeit, or whatever the measure is. Anyone not meeting the required standard is simply dismissed as “not a real Jew” or not a Jew at all.

Despite what Rabbi Goldman says, this attitude is far, far more widespread than he acknowledges, not just in SA. It has now also become common currency with Israel’s political right, even where it does not overlap with the religious right. Anyone who breaks ranks with entrenched positions runs the risk of having his or her Jewish bona-fides called into question.

Leaving aside Rabbi Goldman’s spirited defense of “the spiritual nature of every Jewish soul”, I found one the Rabbi’s concluding paragraphs to be quite enlightening. He says:

On the other hand, we mustn’t confuse issues. While a Reform Jew is fully Jewish, no Orthodox rabbi will agree that a Reform convert is authentically Jewish. It’s not only Chief Rabbi (Warren) Goldstein or the Beth Din but Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (of Great Britain) as well.

So, while a Reform Jew is fully Jewish (gee, thanks Yossy, that makes me feel so much better), Reform Judaism is presumably not even close to being “fully Jewish”. Rabbi Goldman scrupulously avoids using “Reform Judaism”, preferring the term “Reform”. (As a member of Chabad, perhaps Rabbi Goldman should recall the history of his movement and how early Hasidism were persecuted by the Mitnagdim for many of the same reasons as he now uses to deny Reform its authenticity. They only managed to achieve eventual acceptance by becoming “more Catholic than the Pope” in terms of observance. The erstwhile revolutionaries are now the establishment.)

So, if Reform is not Kosher, and Reform converts are not authentically Jewish, I guess a less than welcoming attitude towards Reform Jews in general is understandable. Who knows, the Reform Jew standing in front of you may well be a Reform convert, or the offspring of a Reform convert.

Your age-old definition of a Jew is “one born of a Jewish mother”. In an era where we are all “Jews by Choice” it will no longer suffice. My definition of a Jew is one with a longer and even more distinguished pedigree, “all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people”.

As the old saying goes, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

Perhaps the Reform and unaffiliated Jews (particularly in the US) who contribute to the outreach efforts of Chabad need to be made aware of attitudes like this before reaching for their wallets.

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