Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Knowing the Real Thing When They See It

Despite many rosy claims to the contrary, Reform and Conservatism have never had much success in Israel. Other than pockets of like-minded olim from North America in large centres like Yerushalayim, they have made almost no inroads into Israeli society despite strong efforts to do so.

A recent conference in Israel looked into this failure and tried to explain why. One of the best reasons, and unfortunately an accurate one despite the ethnic overtones was:

Although he did not say so, Maimaran implied that Reform Judaism in Israel was a decidedly Ashkenazi phenomenon. Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Reform Movement here, said so explicitly. She said that Sephardim who belonged to the Reform Movement tended to come from "certain socioeconomic strata" and from "certain neighborhoods in Israel like Ramat Aviv."

An interesting observation, especially for one like myself who grew up in a Conservative synagogue where 99% of the members were pure white-bread Ashkenazim. On the other hand, I think there is another reason why Reform and Conservatism have not generated any appeal to the non-religious Israeli crowd.

Firstly, even in North America, most Reformers and Conservativists aren't active, ideological members of the movement. In order to be counted in either group, all one really has to do is take out a synagogue membership. One can refuse to keep kosher, purposefully drive on Shabbos and sleep with one's wife and her sister while they're both having their periods and still be a member in good standing of either group. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, isn't quite so open. Membership in the local shul is, in fact, only a small part of the package which demands huge things of personal behaviour in terms of obedience to normative halachah. One cannot behave in certain ways and call oneself's Orthodox and as a result, all Orthodox Jews are ideological members of the faith.

The non-religious Israelis, for the most part, understand this better than the Reformers and Conservativists give them credit for. They know that Torah Judaism, with its demands on the individual, is the "real" deal as opposed to Reform and Conservativism which seem to cater to the lowest common denominator and shirk from making any requests of its members. A non-religious Israeli who doesn't believe in keeping Shabbos and has no trouble with "alternative" lifestyles doesn't need Reform and Conservatism to justify his faith and if he needs to go to shul, he knows the Orthodox shul down the street offers a time-tested minyan instead of a social gathering.

In this light, it's a shame all that money was spent to simply figure out the obvious. Maybe next time they'll live up to their principles and donate it to the poor instead.

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