Rabbi Riskin urges Israelis: End the ‘war’ on Reform Jews

June 14, 2016  

As the controversy over the so-called “Mikveh Law” rages on, prominent Modern-Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has weighed in, urging Israelis not to view non-Orthodox Jews – such as the Reform and Conservative movements – as their enemies.

Instead of attempting to legislate against them, the Orthodox establishment needs to find a way to work with them, despite their seemingly unbridgeable theological differences.

Whereas in the United States the vast majority of Jews do not align with Orthodox Judaism, and the single largest denomination is Reform, in Israel the situation is the reverse: Israeli Jews are largely traditional, and the vast majority – even those who aren’t strictly religious – define themselves as Orthodox. The Reform and Conservative movements, in contrast, have only a tiny presence in the Jewish state, and are often eyed with suspicion for reinterpreting or even doing away completely with many Jewish laws and traditions – in many cases denying the very divinity of the Torah.

But Rabbi Riskin – the popular Chief Rabbi of the town of Efrat in Judea – is calling on Israeli Jews to rethink their “war against the Reform and Conservative movements.”

“I think is tragic,” Rabbi Riskin told Arutz Sheva.

“I think you win over Jews, and people in general, through love – not throiugh legal means forbidding this way of praying or that way of praying.”

Most Israelis, he noted, have probably never even come into contact with a Reform or Conservative rabbi, and so have an inaccurate perception of what drives them.

Preempting his critics, Rabbi Riskin, emphasized that he is a “proud Orthodox rabbi” and believes “with all my heart and soul in halakhic, Orthodox Judaism.”

He even recounted how, prior to his aliyah to Israel, he succeeded in turning a Conservative synagogue into an Orthodox one.

“However, I teach my students… look, you can’t pray in a Conservative or Reform synagogue because it’s mixed seating – but they’re not our enemies, they’re our partners!”

“I know that sounds strange to many in Israel, but anyone who’s trying to bring Jews closer to Judaism is my partner and not my enemy.”

While early Reform leaders actively encouraged Jews to abandon traditional Jewish practices, today’s picture is very different, he noted.

“They’re not tearing Jews away but bringing them closer,” Rabbi Riskin insisted.

“That may have been true at the beginning of the Reform Movement, but it’s very different now – they’re trying to bring Jews closer. Not to the wholeness, the fullness of Orthodox Judaism that I love and that I know, but nevertheless they’re trying to bring Jews closer.

“What’s the downside if they use the mikvaot? They’ll have a little tahara (purity)?”

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