2 top Jewish denominations declared outside Judaism Orthodox group assails Reform, Conservative Jews

April 01, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK -- Ultra-Orthodox rabbis carried out yesterday their vow to declare the country's two largest Jewish denominations outside of Judaism and said that Israeli politics as much as religious differences were behind the move that has shaken Jews across the country.

But even as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada pronounced that the mainstream Conservative and Reform movements are not Judaism, leaders of the targeted denominations sought to minimize the edict's importance.

And leaders of two larger and more moderate Orthodox groups -- the Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America -- distanced themselves from the pronouncement.

That pronouncement declared, "There is only one Judaism: Torah Judaism. The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all, but another religion."

But Rabbi David Hollander, a member of the ultra-Orthodox union's executive board, said the declaration did not attempt to disenfranchise individual Jews.

"A child born to a Jewish mother is a Jew forever no matter how far they stray from Judaism," he said.

The formal legal finding, known as a "halachic" ruling, prohibits prayer in a non-Orthodox synagogue at any time, even on the High Holy Days, and calls on all to pray at home if they can't walk to an Orthodox synagogue.

The edict also takes the two rival movements to task for condoning interfaith marriages and homosexuality, and asserts that conversions to Judaism within those denominations are null and void.

But non-Orthodox rabbis said most affiliated Jews in the United States -- an estimated 90 percent of whom belong to Conservative or Reform congregations -- simply would ignore the ruling.

"The people who will abide by that ruling are the people who already act that way," said Rabbi Joel Rembaum, of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, a Conservative synagogue.

The issue is at the heart of a volatile controversy within Judaism over "who is a Jew." Others worry that the controversy may divide American Jews at a critical time both for Israel and the Middle East peace process. But some said the controversy may serve to bring the community together.

Even moderate Orthodox leaders, while acknowledging religious differences with the non-Orthodox, said unity must be emphasized. Among others taking that tack was the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch movement, known as the Chabad.

Behind the sharp religious divide, those on both sides agreed, was a debate before Israeli's parliament, the Knesset, over a bill backed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis there to prohibit rabbis in the Reform and Conservative movements from functioning in Israel.

The ultra-Orthodox group in the United States said it hoped to assist its counterpart in Israel win passage for the bill by taking a firm stand in America against all but Orthodox Judaism.

Since Israel's founding, Orthodox rabbis have enjoyed a religious monopoly in Israel. The legislation is intended to maintain the status quo there in the face of the growing presence in Israel of Reform and Conservative denominations.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.