Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman is the rabbi of Kehillat Kol HaNeshama, a Reform congregation in Jerusalem. He teaches prayer and liturgy at the Hebrew Union College and at the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies.
Send us your questions for the Rabbi.
Q: Your answer about homosexual marriages is somewhat ambiguous.
Condoning homosexuality has nothing to do with protecting the weak amongst us. My question is like this: How does the Reform movement condone homosexuality and gay marriage when it is specifically called an abomination in the Bible? It is not merely prohibited is looked down upon in the strongest possible terms.
A: The Bible makes no reference whatsoever to homosexual marriage. Lesbian relations are not referred to at all in the Bible. The term "abomination" is used
regarding the act of anal intercourse. Be that as it may, Judaism in general and the Reform in particular have never understood the Bible literally.
Reform Judaism is especially committed to constant reinterpretation of the Bible based on contemporary circumstances. In some cases the biblical injuctions override contemporary practice. In other cases we accept the fact
that human society has changed since biblical days and that some prohibitions no longer apply. The two most dramatic example of this are the role of women and acceptance of gay and lesbian relations.
Q: You said "We believe people should be free to make their own choices while we urge committment to our tradition and its values."
The Torah does not give us choices of whether or not we want to follow the mitzvot and does not tell us we are free to choose which mitzvot to observe. With that being said, what is Reform Judaism's source for the idea "that people should be free to make their own choices"? It's not the Torah or Mishna or Gemara or any of the Rishonim or Acharonim etc.
Also you say "...while we urge committment to our tradition and its values," your values are constantly changing with the latest political fad. In the 1800s, there were no female Reform rabbis, only once it became popular in Western society to include women in society, did women become ordained as rabbis, as well, homosexual marriages have only been approved by the Reform movement once it has become politically correct to do so.
Judaism is by definition based on the Torah, a Judaism therefore not firmly rooted in the Torah, changing with every latest politically correct idea is not by defintion Judaism. (Of course, you're Jewish, if your mother is
Jewish or had a halachic conversion).
My question is, how can you possibly say it is okay to choose to keep Shabbat, to choose to keep kosher, to choose to wear tefillin or tzizit etc., and say it is obligatory to do all the mitzvot that relate to people such as tzedaka and hesed etc? The Torah tells us "and you should do all my mitzvot and be kadosh to your God, ani Hashem elokehem who took you out of Egypt to be a God to you, ani Hashem elokehem nowhere does it say "choose which mitzvot" it says "do them all," how do you possibly reconcile the Torah's obligating us to do all mitzvot, with Reform Judaism's "make free choices."
A: Reform Judaism's source for the idea "that people should be free to make
their own choices" is not the Torah or
Mishna or Gemara or any of the Rishonim or Achronim etc. It is based on our understanding of how Judaism must adapt to modern life. The Orthodox world view articulated in this letter rejects the idea that Judaism should adapt because the Torah is the absolute immutable revealed will of God.
Most Orthodox Jews sincerely believe that the minute you say any that any part of the Torah is not divinely revealed you might as well say that none of it is divinely revealed.
Reform Judaism does not make these claims. We believe that the Torah and traditional Judaism reflect an interaction between the Divine and the human. We believe it is possible to be committed to Judaism, Jewish practice and the Jewish people without having to accept everything in the Torah or Jewish law as divinely revealed.
I confess, I envy the absolute claims of Orthodox Judaism. Serious Reform Jews must constantly reflect on the choices we make.
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Q: Is the Reform movement in Israel as liberal as it is in the US? I have a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Can I get married in a Reform synagogue in Israel?
A: The Reform Movement in Israel is not as liberal as the movement in the
United States. People with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother (patrilineal Jews) are welcomed in our communities and schools. However, when it comes to marriage, we require conversion. A patrilineal Jew is
considered zera Yisrael, of Jewish lineage. Therefore the conversion process for a patrilineal Jew is shorter that the regular conversion process.
Q: We are a family with 12 children, with karaite beliefs. We cannot prove our Jewish origins. Neither my husband nor myself have a Jewish grandmother (rabbinical
exigence). But, the family of my mother and my husband's mother (who are cousins) was a Levy family that abandoned The Truth and changed the family name. We cannot convert, because we believe that the spiritual descent is defined by the father's origins and ahav'tem et ha'ger, ki gerim hayiten
be'eretz mitzraim must be respected: no deformation into "You should love
converts, for you were converts in Egypt.
Moses' Torah must be respected and not Maimonides' selective choice of 613 commandments where Lev.25,35 and Lev.19,34 are missing! Also, we cannot add Hannuka to Moses mitzvot!
Additionally, Exodus 12:48 is a conversion. If ha'ger in this verse would be a convert
(like the rabbis say) so the convert must be circumcised every year again and again (just for to bring an offering)? So, you see! No rabbi can accept such convictions. And we believe that only the Levys should guide spiritually the people! Loving Hashem, doing Shabbat
and keeping kosher we will continue to dream to live in Israel in one of the cities that Hashem gives in the book of Joshua to the Levy's family. But, is there any real possibility for us?
A: The Reform movement respects your right to believe and practice as you believe. However, your rejection of rabbinic interpretation of the Bible separates you from mainstream Jewish belief and
practice, both Orthodox and Liberal. What you believe in may be based on the Bible, but it is not connected to any stream of Judaism.
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Q: Does the Reform movement believe in reincarnation?
A: I have good news and bad news. As opposed to other religious traditions, the Jewish tradition does not possess a dogma about what happens after we die. Almost any idea about life after death has been articulated by one rabbi or another. There is consensus that this life is not the final life. We will be held accountable for our actions in this life, in some world to come.
Q: How exactly?
A: We don't know of anyone who has died and come back to share the details, but there are Jewish traditions that affirm reincarnation especially in the world of kabbalah. The kabbalists believe that great rabbis are the reincarnation of previous great rabbis. The Reform movement has no official position on reincarnation. Most rabbis will tell you that Judaism focuses on life in this world and less on what happens next.
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Q: My brother is married to a non-Jewish woman and his three children are not Jews. He is not interested in organized religion, but has contributed to Jewish charities and feels "Jewish." What can I tell him to make him feel he is not estranged from his people?
A: First of all, it sounds like he already feels a connection, as is evidenced by his charitable contributions. Giving tzedaka is a major mitzva, so he should be encouraged to keep that up. Reform congregations all over the world are committed to welcoming families exactly like your brother's. You might encourage him to seek out such a community where he and his wife and kids could meet others who are looking for a Jewish home where they will be welcomed and cherished.
Q: As Holocaust survivors get older and that whole period in time becomes further removed historically, I feel we are forgetting that, but for the Holocaust, so many Jews would neither live in Israel nor even be Jewish. Do you agree and what can we do to keep the importance of the Holocaust legacy alive?
A: The Holocaust is an area that leaves me struggling for words. I respond with great hesitation and apprehension. The proliferation of Holocaust memorials and commemorations all over the world is a remarkable phenomenon. It reflects the sense that as Holocaust survivors age and die the memory of the Holocaust becomes more fragile. We Jews are, to some degree, victims of our own success in bringing the Holocaust to the world's attention. The spread of Holocaust memorials has also lead to a universalization of the Holocaust. The challenge of the Holocaust is that ultimately everyone learns their own lessons from it. Nobody can own the Holocaust. This year we have all experienced this most dramatically. Israel is attacked from without by critics who compare our treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi-like behavior. At the same time, Israel is attacked from within by critics who compare the disengagement plan to Nazi-like behavior. We also heard Orthodox politicians and rabbis compare recognizing non-Orthodox conversions to the Holocaust.
I believe this trend, of using the Holocaust for narrow political or ideological purposes will increase and not decrease with time. I pray that God will grant all people the wisdom and humilty to avoid any words or actions that would bring dishonor to those who perished. Then, perhaps, the world can commit itself to a policy of "Never Again" will there be a genocidal attack on the Jewish people and "Never" for a genocidal attack on any people.
Q: In view of all the fuss around the expected and now postponed Gay Parade, I was wondering, how does Judaism traditionally view homosexuality?
A: As a Reform rabbi , I have good news and bad news for homosexuals. First the bad news. There is no doubt that the the Jewish tradition sees the ideal married couple as a man and woman. This is clear from the biblical description of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the verse in Leviticus 18.22 - With a[nother] man you should not lie as you would lie with a woman, it is an abomination. It is important to note that this is the only verse in the Torah relating directly to the prohibition of homosexual relations. There are dozens of verses regarding how we should treat the poor and the stranger. I consider it a terrible shame that religious leaders in Israel were able to unite (for the first time!) speak out against the gay and lesbian community but have been unable to find a common voice to condemn harsh treatment of the weak in society.
Q: It appears that the Reform Movement has become almost synonymous with a civil liberties union. Do you think that this type of politicization is detrimental to its growth as a theological movement?
A: From the time of its founding in the 19th century the Reform movement has emphasized the moral commandments of Judaism. The term "Prophetic Judaism"was interchangeable with Reform Judaism. The early reformers focused on the prophetic voices of the Bible and their scathing critique of immoral behavior. In that sense the reform movement emphasizes the traditional Jewish value of defending weak and powerless in society. (These values are also emphasized in other books of the Torah, such as Deuteronomy chapter 10, verse 19 and Psalm 146). American Reform Judaism is identified with the struggle for civil liberties for practical reasons as well. Most American Jews believe that religious freedom (a cornerstone of civil liberties) is the best guarantee of Jewish success and survival. Reform Judiasm's committment to civil liberties (in Israel as well) reflects Reform Judaism
theologically and practically. However, supporting maximum individual freedom in a political sense does not mean that the Reform Movement believes that people should do whatever they please. We believe people should be free to make their own choices while we urge committment to our tradition and its values.
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