Reform Judaism is Not a Religious Denomination

A group that does not accept the fundamentals of Israel’s faith is not considered a stream of Judaism * As in academia and medicine, unauthorized titles and procedures should be fought * The Reform community in the United States is strong, but is less encouraging of Aliyah to Israel than the Orthodox, and mainly supports the position of the Israeli left * Alongside opposing the recognition of Reform Judaism as a religious stream, their welcome and important work for the people and the country should be acknowledged * Compliments to the Chief Rabbinate following the imposition of alimony obligations on both parents

Recently, the question concerning the Reform movement and its demand for full religious recognition, e.g., the Western Wall, conversions in all public mikva’s, and in the army, has once again resurfaced.

According to the claims of the Reform movement, they consider themselves as one of the religious denominations among the people of Israel, and consequently, their position should be equal to that of the status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Just as the state assists the appointment of rabbis to cities and neighborhoods, and provides legal validity to rabbinical courts in matters of marriage, divorce and conversions, so too, they also should have the right to appoint rabbis to cities and neighborhoods, and maintain courts for marriage and conversion. And just as the IDF has its’ Military Rabbinate which invites rabbis to give talks and classes on Torah and Jewish values, the army must also invite representatives of the Reform movement as legitimate representatives of the Torah and Judaism (unfortunately, it seems the IDF high command has complied with this objective).

To strengthen their demands, the Reform movement argues that in the United States they are the largest faction, and discrimination in Israel against them offends all Reform Jews abroad. To this argument they add the threat that if they are not granted equality, the Reform community will stop supporting the State of Israel, a situation which may adversely affect Israel’s status in the United States – seeing as America is the strongest country in the world whose support of the State of Israel is important, if not critical.

Principles of Jewish Faith

Two fundamental principles underlie the Jewish faith: one is the divine source of Torah – ‘Torah min ha’Shamayim’ (Torah from Heaven). The second is the absolute validity of the mitzvot and halakha, a validity which, at times, obligates a Jew to sacrifice his life or wealth in sanctification of God.

This is not the place to expound on the importance and depth of these principles, but we shall touch only on their formal framework. Upon examining the position of the Reform movement, we find that they deny these principles. While there are various streams in Judaism, emphasizing different aspects of worshiping God, such as the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, members of the Mussar movement, the Torah and Derech Eretz movement, and even an ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist stream, nevertheless, the common denominator of all of these groups is their loyalty to these principles, and their functioning solely within its framework. All of the fierce debates between the different factions are conducted precisely on the basis of these principles. But the Reform movement, who do not accept these principles, cannot be considered a religious stream of Judaism, just as the Karaites are not considered a stream of Judaism, or a legitimate Jewish community.

Preventing the Distortion

Since the impression the Reform movement presents as being a Jewish, religious movement is a distortion and misrepresentation of Israel’s sacred Torah, we must oppose any granting of religious authority to their representatives, as has been the custom of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel since its founding until today.

It appears that we can learn from academia how to deal with those who purport to confer academic degrees counter to the orderly and established academic process, as well as the medical establishment’s attitude toward those who profess to be considered as doctors without passing the accepted course of studies. Even when it comes to the broad movement of alternative medicine, which many people believe in, and have been helped by way of its recommendations, the medical establishment is vehemently opposed to granting the official status of doctor to someone who has not gone through the accepted course of studies in academia. And anyone declaring himself to be a doctor, is liable to be sued in a court of law.

The Damage to Jewish Identity

It should be noted that the Reform movement has existed for only about two hundred years, and historically speaking, was one of the causes of the disintegration of the Jewish communities in Europe and later in America, and caused damage to the national identity, both in respect to the Torah and halakha, and in respect to Israel’s uniqueness and the importance of the Land of Israel. In all generations there was never a group (if we don’t take into account the first Christians) that deleted from prayer books the mention of Jerusalem, Eretz Yisrael, and the Jewish nation’s hope of Redemption, aside from the Reform movement. By doing so, this movement undermined the very foundations of Jewish existence national uniqueness.

It’s no wonder that only in the framework of this movement are intermarriages between Jews and Gentiles performed, with a “rabbi” and a priest standing shoulder-to-shoulder under the canopy. Such a reality gives legitimacy to assimilation, which is the most dangerous threat to the existence of the Jewish people.

While today’s leaders of the Reform movement boast of their Zionist viewpoints, if we examine immigration from Western countries since the establishment of the State of Israel, we find that the vast majority of immigrants came from Orthodox communities. This is particularly evident among immigrants from the United States, where despite the claim of the Reform movement of representing the majority of Jews in America, close to 90% of the immigrants come from the ranks of Orthodox communities.

Apparently, the Reform movement leaders’ support of Israel also conforms to the position of the leftist minority in Israel. In this context, they encourage the U.S. administration to pressure Israel to uproot the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and establish an Arab state in the heart of our country. Had they been successful, everything that has happened close to the Gaza Strip in recent years, would have occurred all over the State of Israel.

The Positive Side

However, we are also compelled to remember that in times when Jewish life was unbearable, because it seemed as if the peoples of Western Europe were developing and advancing towards lives of prosperity and culture, science and freedom, while the Jews remained hated and discriminated against, and lacked the ability to acquire a prestigious profession and earn a decent living, the Reform movement chose not to forsake the Jewish people.

When the nations of Europe began to advance socially, scientifically and economically, gifted Jews had to choose between two options. On the one hand, they could be gabbai’s in the shtiebel (sextons in the synagogue), resolving fights between the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, or between the traditionalists and the modernists. On the other hand, they could have converted to Christianity and been accepted in the prospering society, and possibly even serve as Prime Minister (Benjamin Disraeli), or as an influential thinker (Edmund Husserl), a leading author (Heinrich Heine), or in the world of culture and art (Mendelssohn and Mahler), initiate a social revolution that would change the map of the world (Marx), or in general, participate in the scientific and industrial revolutions (countless Jews).

It seemed to many that Judaism’s hope had vanished; the world was advancing and developing, whereas the Jews who adhered to Torah and mitzvot were left behind, without a way to make a decent living, and with no hope of redemption. It was difficult then to see how the Torah and the mitzvot could benefit an individual Jew, or repair the world. Unfortunately, myriads of Jews chose to convert or assimilate, but the Reform movement sought to pave the way in which people could maintain their Jewish identity and Jewish values, in a way they could fit into the accepted values ​​of enlightened, Western society.

It turned out that for many Jews who wished to assimilate, the Reform movement was able to delay the process of assimilation; but on the other hand, among those lured to see in the Reform movement a worthy alternative to traditional Judaism, it accelerated the process of assimilation.

The Correct Attitude towards the Reform Movement

Thus, the Reform movement should be regarded as a movement whose members are Jewish, that engages in matters relating to education, culture, ceremonies and communal activities with a Jewish message, and feels a bond and responsibility towards all Jews, including the residents of the State of Israel. Such movements have existed for a long time in Israel and abroad, for example the World Maccabi movement, B’nai Brith, the Joint, the Kibbutz Movement, Hashomer Hatzair, and the various Jewish youth organizations. And just as we must appreciate all the positive actions these movements engage in, so too, all the Reform movement’s positive deeds in the fields of goodwill, morality, and strengthening of Jewish solidarity, should also be highly regarded.

Moreover, precisely because we are forced to oppose the Reform movement and prevent them from attaining the religious status they desire, we must find ways to express the basic, positive attitude towards them as our Jewish brothers, and towards all the good virtues in each and every one of them. As we have learned in the Torah, that together with the mitzvah of rebuking a Jew for his sins, comes the mitzvah to love, and not hate him, as it is written: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am God.” (Vayikra 19:17-18). After all, even when forced to admonish a sinner, the mitzvah to love and help him remains in effect. Not only that, but in a case where two people require assistance – one who has not sinned, and another who we were forced to rebuke, it is a mitzvah to first help the person we rebuked, so he realizes that the criticism concerned only that specific issue, but that in general, we are like loving brothers (see, Baba Metzia 32b; Tosephot, Pesachim 113b, Dh”M ‘L’kof yitzro’). The same goes for Reform Jews – after having been forced to quarrel with them, it is a mitzvah to search for ways to express our brotherhood and common destiny.

The Responsibility of Both Parents for Child Support

It is fitting to commend and bless the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, shlita, for the Chief Rabbinate Council’s resolution stating that the economic responsibility for children applies to both parents, and that the income of both parents must be taken into account in determining the obligation of child support.

To date, the prevailing view in the state-run Family Courts was that the economic responsibility for children should be imposed solely on the father, this being his obligation under religious law according to which marriages and divorces in the State of Israel are performed.

While in the past, when women were not accustomed to work and earn a decent living, this was the obvious ruling of all courts. However, when mothers also began to work, some of them earning higher wages than the fathers, the halachic position was that the mother must also take care of the economic needs of the children. Nevertheless, the courts exploited the previous position which was based on a different reality, and almost always obligated the fathers with full responsibility for all child support, ignoring the income of mothers. Unfortunately, there were also some dayanim (religious court judges) who also ruled in this fashion. Hopefully, from now on the courts and those same dayanim will not be able to rest on the halakha in their discrimination against fathers.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, including all his books in Hebrew and some in English, can be found at:

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