The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rabbi E. Yoffie - Have You Anything New To Say?

Taken by the Warsaw Heroes of the Ghetto monument.
A Note on this Picture: I was recently able to recover all of my missing photos from my first to months in the land of the
Warrior Saws (For those who do not know, after Chanukah of that year, my laptop crashed and then the first few months of this blog were deleted) I hope to post these (almost) never before seen set of photos in the weekly Picture of the Week series.

Over the summer Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism offered a letter on the Jerusalem Post blog in praise of Chabad. Though overwhelmingly positive, he gave two points of criticism.
Fair Enough.
For those who haven't seen it yet, it can be read here.
Today, it seems, that in light of the praise he has given to Chabad, Yoffie must now balance the scales with a measure of criticism -hence an article in the Reform Judaism Magazine (Self titled as the 'world's largest circulated Jewish Magazine') 'The Good and Bad of Chabad'
Ironically, this article - a verbatim quote of his previous article - does not speak of the Good of Chabad, but merely the bad.
I'm not sure what is odder -to call an article on someone's flaws 'the Good and Bad', or when actually writing the bad, to merely rehash the same tired arguments?
I quote Rabbi Yoffie . . . as he quotes himself:
Unfortunately, other Chabad practices are less admirable. Here are two examples.

In Russia, Chabad leaders have established an alliance with the increasingly autocratic President Vladimir Putin. Such alliances have their purposes, but not when they are used to deny recognition and funding to other Jewish groups. Looking back at the history of eastern European Jewry, we all view with distaste those chapters that involve Jewish groups drawing close to ruling despots so that they can work against other Jews with whom they disagree. We do not need a modern version of that history in the Russian Federation today.

In North America, the issues are very different. Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues routinely require families that want their child to have a bar/bat mitzvah to meet certain requirements—the son or daughter must attend religious school for a year or more, and the parents must commit themselves to study and congregational worship. The reason is clear: absent Torah learning and familial involvement, the bar mitzvah will be without meaning, an excuse for a party. Chabad centers, however, generally provide a bar mitzah service with few, if any, requirements. Chabad says that no child should be denied a bar mitzvah, and the family—which is usually unaffiliated—may be drawn later into Jewish life. Perhaps. More likely, the lesson is that Judaism is not a serious endeavor and that even the most significant milestones require only a modicum of commitment.

Surely no family should ever be denied membership in a synagogue because of inability to pay. But we should protest when Chabad, or anyone else, becomes a purveyor of Jewish minimalism, lowering educational standards for our children and community.

Chabad's alliance with Putin may not find favor in the eyes of the URJ, but I do not think their worries are as altruistic as they. In truth it is their desire to mold their own empire in the FSU; pulling upon historical symbolism is only to hide their own latent jingoistic ideals . . . One need only look at the actions of the Federations and the Joint to see where Reform pluralism truly lies (Though the Joint and UJC (federations) are not actual branches of the official reform movement, their beliefs -both religious and political -are one).
In Russia the Joint will not help Chabad humanitarian projects out of enmity for Chabad's strength in other matters . . . In other places around Eastern Europe, the coals have been flamed into a fire -one need only look to the perverse bedfellows of the Joint and others that made trouble in Vilna and Prague.

Even more ironic, though, is the accusation that Chabad is 'a purveyor of Jewish minimalism, [that] lower[s] educational standards of our children and community.'

Is not the act of the Reform to minimize? For an organization that recommends sacrificing the limb to save the body, but has in effect severed the head, heart and lungs of our holy Torah, to claim that we lower educational standards is both pretentious and, if I dare say, pathetic.
Who has disavowed the divinity and sanctity of the Torah? Who has allowed mixed marriages performed with clergy members of an opposite religion in churches? Who removed Hebrew as the language of the Judaism -only to reinstate it once the winds of popularity moved from local nationalism to secular Zionism? Who educates Jewish children in an atmosphere devoid of meaning -a Judaism exorcised of its soul?
Rabbi Yoffie -the list goes on.

(Hat Tip:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,


tikkunger said...

I agree wholeheartedly that Rabbi Yoffie's post is the pits. He comes off as arrogant and in my opinion unfair. However having said that in my opinion your post is no better. Reading your post it seems that you're willing to fall back on the same type of mudslinging you accuse him of. I believe Yoffie's assessment is inaccurate and politically motivated but so is yours. I think you can deal with the man without slandering (all of )Reform. Even if you adamantly disagree with their theology and practice. Where's your spiritual higher ground my friend? Where is your sense of Klal Yisrael? Is it dependent upon dares (a group you obviously feel are less spiritually enlightened than yourself)? I'm certainly not going to argue who is right theologically with you because it's besides the point. If Chabad is truly serious about outreach that is nondenominational and ,meant for all jews, then you surely can do better than this post.

Are you unable to make your point without finger-pointing? It shouldn't matter that Rabbi Yoffie has (in my opinion) taken the lower ground on this one. Every time you or another chabadnik posts something like this you turn off non-Orthodox Jews who are otherwise open to listening to what you have to say.

All you've done is respond to inappropriate arrogance with inappropriate arrogance of your own!

Seriously sometimes I just don't get you!

And just in case you missed this! I agree with you that Rabbi Yoffie's article is way out of line!

But bad behavior is bad behavior and I don't think your post takes the high road at all.

Be well

Mottel said...

I actually wrote a much longer comment -but due to technical difficulties, it was lost. So though you deserve more -I don't have time now for it.
In short.
I admit that I can get excited and rather intense at times.
Every Jew is a Jew, no matter what, and we must love him as such. I have no problem with any Reform Jew, Rabbi Yoffie amongst them.
I do not retract from what I said though. Chabad has its problems, and Rabbi Yoffie touches upon them, but his reasoning for what he says is wrong -and to that I responded.
What is more, I grew up with reform. I went to their schools, their synagogues, and classes. I also went to conservative . . . My bar-mitzvah was done by Renewal (student of Zalman Shachters). Because I came from there, I feel justified to criticize the way they conduct things. I am not a born Orthodox Rabbi fighting Reform ideology because I disavow their right to Judaism (Though I do feel that since the Torah was given from G-d, though it is for all of us, we have no right to change it . . . but that's for another time), or compete for membership. I lived with it, grew up in it, and found what I wrote to trouble me personally.
Keep the peace, and spread the love. . . but above all else, love the Truth.

I hope you no longer think too poorly of me.

tikkunger said...

First it's not about thinking poorly of you, rather than I'm just not impressed with your approach.

Now as far as you're being justified because of your " upbringing" whatever floats your boat. I'm sure that your personal history (and Chabad learning) allows you to feal justified in your current feelings towards non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Who am I to say anything different and to be honest I wasn't trying to.

The bottom line as far as I'm concerned is that (if I understand your personal goals correctly) if you want to be a rabbi who's going to do outreach, which I can only assume is aimed at non-Orthodox Jews. You might not want a slam movements as a whole. I think it's reasonable to call Yoffie on his BS and I even support you in it. However (and I'm positive I'm not alone on this) when you bash movements by implying that they have "cut the head off of Judaism" you're probably going to drive away a lot of the people you are seeking to engage with. Sure love the truth and promote your understanding of the truth but no need to be a dick about it.

I've got to admit I find it funny that many chabadnik's talk about inclusiveness and kiruv (as in we welcome Reform, conservative and Reconstructionist Jews to our shul's and centers) but then jump at any chance to engage in tabloid style bashing. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that approach of yours works real well with other chabadnik's! But is that really your target group?

So go ahead and be justified in whatever you fill justified with but it seems pretty "dumb" to do so at the expense of alienating the very people whom you want to encourage to "raise sparks".

Take my advice or don't take it that's up to you.

Ashirah said...

first of all - read the same article (on and was quite confused by the repetition! and the excision of the paragraphs that expressed a more positive approach to Chabad.
second of all - and this is in response to tikkunger - yes, Chabad loves all Jews, and doesn't judge, and accepts etc etc.
But there is a line drawn when it comes to Torah! You can't deny what mottel wrote about the educational standards of Reform. its true.
Chabad loves every Jew, no matter what. Doesnt mean we cant disagree with their policies or beliefs.
mottel, am I right?

tikkunger said...


It is fine to disagree but personal attacks (from either side) goes beyond disagreeing! It's IMO a mistake and does more damage to mottels points than good!

Be well!

Yankel said...

Educational standards, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

Reform, for all their faults and they are legion, uses a range of authorities in educating their students. They use science, and archeology, and history, to guide the lives of young Jews who want the truth. They don't make up buba meissers about the inaccuracy of carbon dating, and how, yes, there were dinosaurs, but they all died sometime soon after the flood.

I like Chabad and I respect it. But I respect the truth more. It is ridiculous for you to accuse Reform for not respecting truth when for the most part, Chabad feels it's sinful even engage with it.

Mottel said...

The truth is that by the pulpit, or when doing 'active' outreach I would not have said what I wrote . . . If not pressed to. I once ran a shiva house for someone who went to both Chabad and a certain extremely liberal synagogue, and despite the insults and needles sent to me by the other Rabbi, I remained nothing but civil -taking the higher path and responding with love. Perhaps it is due to the apparent anonymity (or heimishkiet as it were) of the internet that prompted me to let down my guard.
Your advice is taken, and you are correct that one can only draw people in with love.
That being said, I love every Jew and respect their right to their beliefs, even if I disagree with them, but I stay by my own.

Mottel said...

On the plus side . . . I wanted to draw up some reader response -and this seems to be working better then pictures of my shoes. :-)

The Brain said...

Ah the shoes!
It always boils down to the shoes
I once read that you could tell a lot about a person just from the status of his shoes
But thats neither here nor there.
If you'll excuse me I'll start from "ol hoachron rishon" and see how far I get.
I believe Mottel has a right and obligation to voice his opinion.
Many times it happens that its only the people on the offensive that are heard and the people who are on the other side lack the star power, so to speak, and get ignored. Mostly because they have nothing novel to say for themselves they are left to repeat their original reterict which is as bland as toast. Therefore many resort to the age old option of silence which us Jews have turned into an art. I find it refreshing to finally see someone speak their mind, isn't that enough to garner respect. Only in the Messianic era will the lamb lie with the wolf, till then...
Now onto "yankel said..." [what a great name].
Please don't mind if I'm a bit blunt.
Yours is the case of selective reasoning
I don't see educational standards being any more subjective then science, archeology, and history. All of the aforementioned may well be described as relative to time and place. There are very few constants in life, most things being as fleeting as equal opportunity. It says "Al ta,amin b'atzmacha ad yom moischa" dont be sure of yourself till the day you die. As far as my understanding goes carbon dating is only one form of dating, there are many more all coming up with large differences of millions of years. The truth is something that will never change, if it changes it isn't the truth.
A person in life has to always search for the truth and if something doesn't fit keep looking. You've locked yourself in with the G-Ds of science, and in doing so have compromised you're life long goal. I'll leave it up to you to discern the truth, but i believe if you open yourself a little bit more you'll find it. To deny, ignore, avoid, and say no is easy to give it a second chance takes courage. It says in the Talmud to be strict all the time is easy to be lenient is hard. Don't grab life by the horns and do away with the ox, you have to push through to the end.

Yankel said...

Mr. Brain:

Yes, it is true, there are other measures of dating, and they do, sometimes, show differences between them. But even with these differences, they are closer to each other than the differences between them and the 5768 year age of the entire universe and everything in it, posited by Genesis and the Jewish calendar.

Perhaps I am captive to the gods of science. But at least those beliefs are based on a rational treatment of the evidence of our senses. All the explanations from the religious that I've heard, refuting the most basic tenets of science, sound like "just so" stories to me, fables and pretty tales and wishful thinking.

Gandhi said this, "God isn't truth, truth is God, and wherever that truth leads there you must go."

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with today's Jews?
A perspective of a moderate Muslim.

When Muslims criticize Jews chances are it's Islamists. You rarely see moderate (an I do mean real moderate, not Islamists like CAIR who claim to be moderate) Muslims saying unflattering things about the Jews. So, normally, when I see the Jews do dumb things i.e., supporting an Islamist congressional candidate because of partisanship (American Jewish World's support for Keith Ellison) or providing utilities to a terrorist enclave (Gaza), I try to keep my mouth shut. For obvious reasons. But not this time.

I thought I've seen everything: Cuban missile crisis, fall of Berlin wall, 9/11. Until recently, I thought that the father of modern terrorism getting awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was the most peculiar event in my lifetime. But a recent, largely unnoticed event, could take the cake in peculiarity contest.

On December 15, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism (one of the largest Jewish organizations in America), gave a sermon in San Diego in front 5,000 Jews in which he announced URJ's alliance with Islamic Society of North America (ISNA - one of the largest Muslim organizations in America).

As a part of the sermon, Rabbi Yoffie stated that "[ISNA] has issued a strong and unequivocal condemnation of terror, including a specific condemnation of Hizbollah and Hamas terror against Jews and Israelis. It has also recognized Israel as a Jewish state and supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." But has it really?

Read more: