Reform Judaism or new religion?

Any Jew born to a Jewish mother is a Jew – period!

At the ceremony marking the 100th ordination of a graduate from Hebrew Union College’s Israeli Reform rabbinical program (photo credit: PR)
At the ceremony marking the 100th ordination of a graduate from Hebrew Union College’s Israeli Reform rabbinical program
(photo credit: PR)
I would like to preface the following discussion of Reform Jewry with the following point: Any Jew born to a Jewish mother is a Jew – period!
As the battle over the acceptance of the Reform movement in Israel intensifies, the discussion must take a theological turn in search of the truth. The primary question is: Can we consider the Reform movement a Jewish sect, within the framework of the “70 faces to the Torah”? Or should we categorize the Reform movement as a distinct religion, separate from Judaism?
I want to stress I am not questioning the “Jewishness” of any Jew who might belong to the Reform movement. However, I would like to cast doubt on the legitimacy of that movement’s theology.
If a Jew were to “convert” to Christianity or Hare Krishna, the Torah would still view him/her as a Jew, albeit a bad one. That Jew is still obligated to keep all the commandments and can never escape his true identity. On the flip side of the coin, the “conversion” does not turn the adopted religion into Judaism by virtue of the “conversion.” The same holds true for the Reform movement.

What is Judaism?

If one were to try to encapsulate Judaism in a single sentence, one could choose the verse: “The Torah Moses commanded to us is the legacy of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). This verse is traditionally sung to children from the youngest of ages, to instill within them that the Torah and all of its laws and ordinances are our sacred and eternal responsibility.
Throughout the ages, Jews have tried their best to uphold the Torah and the divine covenant, as we collectively declared at Mount Sinai: “All that God has spoken, we shall do” (Exodus 19:8). However, as I will document, the Reform movement completely denies both the validity and the divinity of the Torah.
What does Reform believe?
I would like to begin by quoting from the “Principles for Reform Judaism,” as they are stated on the website of the Reform rabbinical body, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
During the 1885 Pittsburgh Conference, the Reform adopted the following stance on Torah observance: “Their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.” Well over 100 years later in 1999, the movement reconvened again in Pittsburgh, but this time adopting a more traditional tone: “[The commandments] demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.”
While the Reform movement has certainly softened its language between 1885 and 1999, its essential message has stayed the same: We will pick the commandments that are relevant to our lives, while discarding those that do not find favor in our eyes.
The Torah’s Position
In stark contrast, however, the Torah states that holiness is derived from the eternal observance of all God’s commandments by the Jewish people.
For instance, the Torah commanded the tying of tzitzit (ritual fringes) “throughout their generations.... so that you shall remember and perform all My commandments, and you shall be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:38-40). The Torah also instituted Shabbat as “a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy” (Ex. 31:13-14).
The Torah constantly reminds us that our status as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” is contingent upon the preceding verse: “if you obey Me and keep My covenant” (Ex. 19:5-6). There is no time limit and the Torah is an eternal truth “throughout their generations.”

Reformism and Judaism – not the same thing

Upon further investigating the Reform belief system, its gap with Judaism grows ever wider. Contained within the “Rabbinic Commentary on the Principles for Reform Judaism” are statements that simply defy the Jewish imagination.
Shockingly, the Reform theologians deny even the first words of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:2, Deut. 5:6) by stating: “Reform Judaism does not command common belief... including individuals who are not sure whether they believe in God or think that they do not believe in God.”
To make matters worse, after providing space for atheism within their belief system, the Reform clergy turn to undermine the authority of the Almighty. God is referred to as an authoritarian whose commands can be ignored because, “in terms of my present moral or communal understanding, it seems meaningless or even wrong.”
There is no doubt that considering these outrageous statements – among many others – the Reform movement cannot be categorized as a Jewish sect. The Reform could be best described as a non-Jewish movement, comprised and officiated by Jews. Just because Jews have banded together to create a new theology does not make that theology a Jewish one.
Reinvigorating a dying movement at Israel’s expense
It is for this reason that the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and the religious parties in the Knesset are fighting tooth and nail to keep the Reform movement away from the Kotel.
If Israel would give formal recognition to the Reform movement, then why couldn’t Jews for Jesus also demand recognition? After all, their members are Jewish as well, so perhaps their theology should also be seen as legitimate?
It would appear that as the Reform pews and coffers empty out due to mass intermarriage – which is also blatantly against the Torah – the Reform need a cause to stimulate their dying movement. Anat Hoffman, a Reform leader of the Women of the Wall group challenging the status at the Kotel, admitted during a BBC interview back in 2013 that the Kotel battle is really about provoking people to question traditional Judaism.
The Reform clergy would do well to find another cause and leave the Kotel and Israel alone. Furthermore, all of our Jewish brothers and sisters who are members of this new religion called Reform should find their way home and proudly declare: “All that God has spoken, we shall do.... The Torah Moses commanded for us is the legacy of the congregation of Jacob.”
The author made aliyah from the United States and today lives in Tel Aviv and serves as deputy-gabbai of the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv.