Concerned about the future of the Jewish People or more concerned about

placating confused donors and creating a political smokescreen?

The outrage displayed by Jewish Federations in America over the recent decision to halt the so called Kotel Agreement which called for an expanded egalitarian prayer space in the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall – is a classic case of misplaced anger and an inappropriate utilization of the mandate of the Jewish Federations.

The self-defined charge of The Jewish Federations of North America is “meeting the needs of the North American Jewish Community.” While there is no question that the Jewish Federations are involved in many laudable and productive programs in several areas such as community centers, family service agencies, vocational training programs and the like, unfortunately, and sadly, the results of the most recent Pew Report (“A Portrait of Jewish Americans” – October, 2013), which represented the most definitive demographic study of American Jewry for over 10 years, clearly illustrated that the American Jewish Federations have failed in the core area of designing and/or funding programs that are accretive to Jewish continuity as well as having fallen short in increasing the level of their constituents’ Jewish commitment.

Ironically, it was only between the years 2010-2011, a couple of years before the publication of the Pew Report, that solidarity events for Women of the Wall became widespread in Reform and Conservative communities, and in the past few years have become institutionally tied to the Reform movement.  By all accounts, the Reform movement embraced the so-called ‘battle for the Kotel’ at a time when the mandate and claims of the Reform movement in America as illustrated by the findings of the Pew Report were at best questionable.  In fact, it is clearly apparent from citing some of the key findings of the Pew Report enumerated below that save for the Orthodox denomination, the approaches and philosophies of the Reform and Conservative movements in the USA have failed:      

  • 71% of non-Orthodox marriages from 2005-2013 were intermarriages;
  • 62% of American Jews reported that being Jewish was primarily a matter of ancestry and culture;
  • Only 17% of the children of intermarried couples were found to marry Jews themselves;
  • The fertility levels for non-Orthodox Jews were found to be about 1.7 children, well below the national replacement level in America of 2.1 children.

In this weeks’ parsha, parshas, Va’eschanan the prohibition against intermarriage is clearly spelled out:

You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from after Me and they will worship the gods of others; then Hashem’s wrath will turn against you, and He will destroy you quickly.” (Devarim, 7:3-4).

Of note is the fact that this is one of the rare instances in the Torah that Hashem gives us a reason for the prohibition.  Unlike the clearly disingenuous political agenda of various outspoken organizations attempting to disparage the religious community in Israel, these passages teach us that the Torah’s opposition to intermarriage is not based on some blind bias again non-Jews or non-Orthodox denominations, but rather on the simple reality that when intermarriages takes place, the survival of the Jewish people is at risk.

Is there not perhaps a touch of hypocrisy or at least lack of consistency by virtue of the fact that many leading personalities in the American Reform and Conservative movements have been outspoken about the right of religious Muslims to jealously guard who enters the so-called Temple Mount out of respect for the customs and rules of Islam, and yet apparently have no tolerance for their fellow religious Jews who wish to maintain a certain decorum, dress code and/approach to prayer in one of the holiest and most meaningful locations in the world for religious Jews?

In short, maybe the Jewish Federations in America are fighting a battle which is not theirs to fight in trying to sell a product that has only increased assimilation and decreased loyalty to Israel and Jewish unity.

1Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon is a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the Harvard Law School.  Chanan has spent most of his career in the high end of the financial service industry.

Chanan can best be reached at antony.gordon@stealthcm.com.

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