If there's one thing Conservatives and Reformers don't like, it's not being taken seriously by their Torah observant counterparts. Never mind their dismissal of the Torah, both written and oral. Never mind their refusal to adhere to the traditional authority structure of our people. Never mind they spend more time worrying about secular liberal mores than Torah observant traditions. How dare you call them non-religious?
The latest affront to their sensitivities came this week in Israel:
The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) hosted a Roundtable Forum on Sunday to discuss issues of religion and state in Israel, focusing on the Shabbat, conversions and marriage.
Although the institute maintains that it 'seeks to involve all sectors within Israeli society in dialogue concerning these all-important national dilemmas," the Masorti movement in Israel, which is affiliated with Conservative Judaism, claims that the institute systematically excludes representatives of the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel from such forums.
The movement's Executive Director Yizhar Hess and its president, Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, sent a letter to IDI's president Dr. Arye Carmon on Sunday in which they strongly protested the institute's failure to invite Masorti and Reform representatives to the meeting.
"Is it even conceivable that on such matters as conversions or civil marriages the opinion of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism will not be heard?," they asked in the letter, stating that the two movements "have converted and married off thousands of people in Israel, they deal with the complex reality of the relations between state and religion on a daily basis, and represent a wide public in Israel and a huge public across the world."
Let's dispel some misconceptions. The first is that the Conservatives and Reformers are a strong feature in Israeli religious life. They're not. They're a small minority that even the vast majority of secular Israelis don't take seriously. In North America, surrounding by denominational Chrisianity, these two groups have created the impression that Judaism is also a denominational religion and therefore they have as much authenticity as observant Jews as Prostestants calling themselves observant Chrisians. In Israel, surrounding by far more religious certainty: Islam, Chrisianity, Judaism, the idea of denominationalism is far more obscure.
The second is that they have anything to say at a conference on Jewish law and tradition. I mean really, what could they contribute The Reformer would say that everything is permitted as long as it doesn't offend any politically correct principles, the Conservative would talk about some vote their rabbinical assembly had on the subject, and they would both wax poetically about how religion is supposed to be this happy, no-obligation feel-good experience and how dare those Orthodox go about excluding everybody.
The letter also noted that the IDI did not invite the two movements to a conference on "Zionist Halacha" held earlier this year, to which politicians, Orthodox rabbis and non-religious academics had been invited. "This is proof of systematic exclusion as a worldview," the letter asserted.
These two groups don't know what halacha is. So why invite them?