JewglePerth has received a request to link Temple David to its links of Jewish Perth. The request correctly notes that the Reform community is a vibrant part of Jewish Perth. I do not dispute that. In fact, I have always admired Progressive Judaism as a socially cohesive, caring, and dynamic religious community, which commands respect in many ways. The movement has a proud ideology of social action, and is a most welcoming community. Its alternative interpretation of many traditions and varied terms of observance are also not always necessarily an affront to Orthodox Judaism, nor is the involvement of women in public religious service. Standards of observance vary across all Jewish communities, and some recognition is often (but not always) better than none.
The issue that I have with the Temple is that the rejection of Halacha means that some of their members are not Jewish, and some of their values contradict Judaism itself. Therefore, some of the children of their community are not able to marry my children. Therefore, the unfortunate need to resist any merge of their religious activities with mine.
Jewish identity is a paradox. You can receive Jewish identity as a birthright, through your maternal descent, and choose to do nothing with it. Yet you are still considered Jewish. Conversely, you can be born to a non-Jewish mother and strive towards Jewish observance – yet without the requisite halachic process, you remain excluded from the religious-legal system that accords a Jewish rite of passage. The reason for this paradox is that Jewish identity is not just about ethnicity, and not just about religion. It is about a fusion of the two.
Whether this is fair and virtuous, whether it sits comfortably with contemporary ethnic blending, or whether you consider it self-limiting in a communal sense, does not matter. We were accorded a tradition, with a built in protection mechanism, and it is our mission to preserve that system, not to bastardise it. Within the framework of halacha there is plenty of opportunity to compromise and develop. However beyond that framework, we are no longer dealing with the religious tradition of Judaism.
What is particularly sad about the religious divisions between so-called “streams” of Judaism in Australia, is that the situation did not have to develop the way it has, and could still be repaired to allow for mutual acceptance across every Rabbinic authority. Whereas in places like the USA, the level of assimilation and the sanctioning of halachicly invalid conversions and families is so rampant it is beyond repair, this is not so in Australia. It needs to be recognised that the Orthodox tradition by its nature cannot, and will not ever change, in the sense that halacha itself will not be altered. However the reform movement can adjust its system of conversion to conform with a halachic norm. The components of Milah, Teviallah and being Shomrei Mitzvot, and demonstrating a standard of knowledge that shows the capability to live day to day as a Jew are something that could be achieved, through a Progressive Judaism conversion program that was conducted in cooperation with an Orthodox Beit Din. This idea was at one stage seriously explored. It is a great shame that nothing came of it, and that it is unlikely to resurface as an idea. Had this barrier been overcome, then at least we would all be Jewish enough to be able to discuss our theological differences and sit within the same religious “family”.
It is always important to approach this discussion in an informed manner. I often find that many Orthodox Jews themselves are particular about recognising matrilineal descent without knowing its origin as a Mitzvah of the Torah. In fact, it is something we read at this time of year, in Devarim, 7:3-4. The pasuk makes reference to “your son”. The Rabbinic commentary notes this as the child of an Israelite mother, implying that if the mother is non-Jewish there is no Jewish identity. The conclusion is expounded in the Talmud (Kidd. 65b, 68b). Without the knowledge of, and respect for this halacha, then the debate about “Who is a Jew” cannot even commence.
As this is an Orthodox Jewish blog, I stand against linking Temple David to our links blogroll. Other members of the JewglePerth editorial team may think differently, and so might you. Respectful comments are, as always, welcome. I bear no ill-will or lack of respect for the right for a Progressive Jew to practice as they see fit, or to believe what they wish to believe. However I do not see significant proportions of their religious practice as being legitimate Jewish expressions when they are clearly not.
I write this with trepidation, as we approach the fast of Tisha B’Av. However I also recognise that the destruction that has repeatedly befallen our people has been a result of our abandonment of Jewish tradition. As Temple David is an organisation whose ideology represents the abandonment of the Jewish past and the destruction of the Jewish future, I cannot in all conscience sanction its place amongst the Perth Jewish community as a community body that is compatible with the objectives and values of this blog.
Thank you for the request , however the only Temple I wish to contribute towards building does not happen to be in Perth.