The Rabbi Writes – The Religious Right

The Jewish Humanist, October 1994, Vol. XXXI, Number 3 

A doctor performing abortions is killed in Florida. A full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times accuses Bill Clinton of arranging the murder of his good friend and assistant Vincent Foster. Irangate villain Oliver North wins the Republican primary for the United States Senate seat from Virginia and proposes to restore Christian values in America.      

Together with thousands of other events these three provocations are evidence of the continuing presence and power of the Religious Right. Emerging in 1980 during the first Reagan campaign, as a major political force, the Religious Right is still alive and well and determined to win the victory that has so far eluded them. Their leaders are by now familiar – Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildman, Paul Wyrich. The Moral Majority may have yielded to the Christian Coalition. But the agenda remains the same. 

The agenda is very clear and very frightening. It is the use of government power to impose a Christian fundamentalist moral code of behavior on all the American people. Before 1980 the fundamentalists shunned national politics. Now they are the masters of it. Although they represent only 15-20% of the American public they act as though they are the voice of America and of American values. 

The Religious Right has its roots in the traditional conservative movement. Traditional conservatives are different from economic conservatives. Economic conservatives liked to be called liberals in the nineteenth century. They opposed the government control of private life and championed the right of individuals to personal and economic freedom. When they first emerged they were on the Left. Only the movement of many classical liberals to egalitarian and socialist ideas turned them into “conservatives.” Economic conservatives do not want to use the government. They want to avoid the government. 

Traditional conservatives are the real conservatives. They come out of the agricultural world that preceded capitalism. Their role model for the organization of society is the authoritarian family. The government is like a good father, guiding and protecting his children. Good fathers make demands, impose discipline and control behavior. Religion features an authoritarian God who behaves in the same way and who is a reflection of what good fathers and good governments do. The primary role of society is reproduction. Therefore abortion and homosexuality are forbidden. And the basic role of women is to have babies and to serve their husbands. 

Although capitalism and personal freedom have been around for a long time in America, there are many Americans who still belong to or yearn to return to this old conservative world. Their numbers have increased in recent years because American life has been traumatized by family decline, lifestyle change, economic uncertainty and crime. Traditional conservatives have placed the responsibility for these changes on the doorstep of unbridled freedom and its ally secular humanism. 

If the Religious Right were to achieve political power in America, they would put prayers, Bible readings and Bible theology into the public schools. They would use tax money to pay for private religious education. They would censor books and newspapers. They would outlaw abortion and homosexuality. They would pass laws to encourage women to bear children and to stay at home. 

For many years traditional conservatives were too divided to be effective. White fundamentalists hated Black fundamentalists. Charismatics hated fundamentalists. Protestants hated Catholics. All of them hated Jews. Many conservative Protestants were in favor of the separation of religion and government because they did not want state money going to Catholic parochial schools. But all of that has changed. The civil rights movement has ironically brought White and Black fundamentalists together. Communism and abortion have sealed the union between conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics. And the growing number of Jewish fundamentalists has bizarrely recruited Jewish allies for a Christian America. What was divided is now united against their shared enemy – a free society. 

The strategy of the Religious Right is to take over the Republican Party. Since they are a distinct minority, they cannot win power unless they hang onto the coattails of a major political institution. Unfortunately, they have been very successful in their campaign. Hundreds of Republican precincts have fallen under their control. Hundreds of their devotees have been nominated as Republican candidates. The 1992 Republican Convention was dominated by their agenda and by their ideology. Most Republican leaders are afraid of them and seek their approval and support. 

The consequence is the vicious assault on Bill Clinton. Clinton has many faults. But he is not a sex maniac and murderer. But hundreds of thousands of Americans now believe that he is. They do not read the liberal press. They listen to the tapes circulated by Robertson and Falwell which give credibility to these accusations. 

The campaign by the Religious Right ought to frighten us into action. We, as humanists, are, in their eyes, the ultimate enemy. But, in offering resistance, we need to keep in mind certain basic realities. 

The first basic reality is that most Republicans are economic conservatives, not traditional conservatives. The only way to fight the Religious Right is to mobilize the Republican (sic) who also hate them. Economic freedom goes together with personal freedom and with the separation of religion from government. Rational Republicans know that. 

The second basic reality is that morality is a stronger argument than a peevish defense of personal choice. The Religious Right derives its power from its presentation of itself as the defender of ethics and morality. If, indeed, their point of view is the moral one, they have the moral authority to impose their will on us. The way to fight the Religious Right is to take the moral monopoly away from the (sic). Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice. It is the moral choice in an overcrowded world as Society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice.It is the moral choice. In an overcrowded world a society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not simply an individual right. It is, above all, a social and ethical necessity.  

The Religious Right will be a chronic and continuous political force in American life. We have to be on the alert to resist them. When we offer our resistance, we must remember that many people who call themselves conservatives are our national allies – and that the defense of individual freedom is also the defense of social morality.  

The Rabbi Writes: Shula is Coming

The Jewish Humanist, November 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 4

Shula is coming. 

Shula is the famous Shulamit Aloni, the fiery Shulamit Aloni, who transformed the politics of Israel. Founder of the Ratz party, she was the first champion of individual freedom and women’s rights in the Knesset arena. Her courageous voice rallied thousands of Israelis to push for separation of religion and government and to demand the civil liberties that we as Americans take for granted. 

When the Labor government under Yitshak Rabin took power in Israel four years ago, she was appointed Minister of Education. Her predecessors for fifteen years had been the tools of Ultra- Orthodox Rabbis and the “yeshiva” lobby, funneling millions of shekels into the hands of religious fanatics. Her attempt to reverse the process was met with fierce opposition. Her bold articulation of a secular vision for Israel was labeled ” blasphemous”. In the end, Rabin was forced by panicky Laborites to shift her to the less controversial Ministry of culture. Even members of her own party turned on her for her “indiscretions” island sought to find more timid leadership. But the nature of Shula is to speak honestly and never to be intimidated. 

With the arrival of Netanyahu, Shula became part of the opposition.  She understands that there are two urgent causes for those who are concerned about the survival of Israel.  The first is the development of a strong secular humanistic movement in Israel, which will offer effective resistance to Orthodox demands and which will provide a positive Jewish alternative.  Shula was instrumental in helping to launch Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel after her 1979 visit to the Birmingham Temple.  The second is the defense of the peace process which Rabin and Peres initiated and which Netanyahu is in the process of destroying. 

The threat to the security and survival of Israel provided by the intransigence of Netanyahu is enormous. Bibi talks peace but he is unwilling to make any concessions which will make peace between Jew and Arab possible. This inflexibility flows both from personal conviction and political necessity. He is totally dependent on the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset to guarantee the viability of his government. 

The consequences of his intransigence are frightening. Credibility and authority of the government will collapse. Chaos among the Palestinians will ensue. Some Palestinians will renew the Intifada. Many Palestinians will turn to the fundamentalist Hamas as an alternative leadership. The moderate Arab regimes of Mubarak in Egypt and Hussein in Jordan, which committed their prestige to the peace process, will be in danger. The Israeli army, prodded by the insecurities of Orthodox settlers, will engage in a campaign of repression which will alienate American and world opinion. Israel will be isolated, surrounded by fierce and fanatic enemies, fighting a war that cannot be won. The conflict will stimulate fear and chauvinism in the Israeli public and make them prone to increasing Orthodox control. The vision of a free secular democratic Jewish state will die. 

The peace process was intended to initiate a different scenario. The Israelis would evacuate Gaza and the West Bank, including Hebron. A Palestinian state would emerge next to the Jewish state. Peace would strengthen Mubarak and Hussein in Egypt and Jordan, who would offer their support to guarantee that Arafat behaved and that the fundamentalist were restrained. The reality of Peace would persuade other Arab and Muslim states to abandon their hostility and to enter into a friendly relationship with Israel. The intransigent government of Gadhafi in Libya, Bashir in the Sudan (sic) and Assad in Syria would be isolated. In time the Arab and Muslim worlds would open up to Israeli know how and technological skills. Israel would function as a high-tech Hong Kong or Singapore in a Middle Eastern Muslim sea. The secular forces in the Arab world would be encouraged by these transformations to resist their fundamentalist enemies. Israel would be smaller but safer, a partner in projects of economic cooperation. Hate and distrust would continue. But they would be controlled by the growing possibility of mutual respect and mutual dependence.  

The dream of this second scenario cannot be allowed to die.  Israelis who supported the peace process and who suffered the cruel disappointment of losing the May election need to know that there are thousands of Jews in the Diaspora who support their cause and who are prepared to act on behalf of the vision of Rabin and Peres.  Many of these Jews are in America the nation that has the power and vested interest to pressure the Israeli government to change its course. 

On Monday evening November 18 at 8:30PM Shula will be in the Birmingham Temple to speak to us about Israel and peace.  This meeting will be a Rally for Peace.  All members of the Birmingham Temple-all members of the Jewish community-all concerned citizens who believe that the peace process must not be allowed to die and that Netanyahu must be persuaded to reverse his course of self-destruction are urged to attend. 

We must join Shula in offering resistance to this act of national suicide.  Those in power, in both Israel and the United States must hear our voice.  Silence and resignation are ethically unacceptable. 

Rabin died because he would not surrender to the demands of inflexible nationalism.  Today his assassin, Yigal Amir, is being honored by Orthodox fan clubs who celebrate his act of “patriotism”.  If we are appalled by this indecency, if we do not believe that these demonstrators speak on behalf of most of the Jewish people.  If we are passionate about the long-run survival of the Jewish people, then we will make it our business to attend the rally on November 18 to hear Shula and to offer our support to the struggle for peace. 

The Rabbi Writes – My Trip to South America, Part II

The Jewish Humanist, November 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 4

My Trip to South America, Part II 

Humanistic Judaism is now part of the South American Jewish scene.  Two small national organizations exist-one in Argentina and one in Uruguay. Both of them sent representatives to the first meeting of the International Federation in Detroit. 

Although the Argentine and Uruguayan associations did not appear until 1986, a secular approach to Jewish identity has deep roots in Latin America. The first immigration to Argentina in the early part of the twentieth century included many radical idealists who had rebelled against orthodox dictation and who sought to transform Jewish life by returning to the land and creating secular Jewish communes. The children of these pioneers ultimately ended up in Buenos Aires and the other big cities of Argentina.  For many of these radicals their Jewishness was expressed in a passionate commitment to Yiddish as the language of the Jewish working class. 

In Uruguay the very nature of the country encouraged secularism.  Little Uruguay was the first Latin American country to establish a radical separation of church and state.  Strongly influenced by European liberal ideals, the ruling elite of Uruguay developed one of the most secular countries in the world.  Only in Uruguay could an avowed atheist become the president of the nation.  Today almost half the population declares itself to be “non-believers”.  Even Scandinavia and Holland can hardly match that percentage. 

In such an environment the Jewish milieu mirrored the Gentile precedent.  Reinforced by some of the same radicals who made their way to Argentina, the Montevideo community initially featured a Jewishness that was more cultural than religious. 

Ultimately Jewish organizational identity in both Argentina and Uruguay was chiefly expressed in institutions other than synagogues.  Jewish schools (both part-time and full-time), Jewish community centers Yiddishist cultural associations and Zionist societies became the foundatons of Jewish communal life.  Jews were secular without being fully aware that secularism or humanism were alternatives to the old religious ideology. 

Ever since the 1950’s important changes have occurred in both communities.  The continuous political and economic turmoil-especially in Argentina-stimulated emigration to either Israel or North America.  (Argentina’s Jewish population declined from 400,000 to 300,000; Uruguay’s from 50,000 to 30,000).  The attempt by the American Conservative movement to establish a sister movement in Latin America proved very successful.  A Conservative seminary was created in Buenos Aires; and its graduates have become religious pioneers in a secular world.  The success of the Conservatives is due to their ability to mix Zionism and bourgeois respectability in a nice delicate balance-and, above all, to the quality of their trained leaders.  Disorganized secularism could not compete against such competence. 

Also the emergence of the ultra-Orthodox missionaries and zealots has made an important impact.  Posing as the defenders of Jewish identity in a world of assimilation, they have invaded Jewish communal structures, demanding subsidies and offering their services for Jewish education.  Many secularists are bewildered about how to confront such passionate determination. 

Today the Jewish communities of Argentina and Uruguay remain different from those in North America in very distinct ways.  Although many Jewish families go back through four generations of local residence, most Jews are of more recent vintage-post World War I and World War II.  Being newer they are less assimilated than their American counterparts. 

Religious organizations, while stronger than they were before, are still weaker than their secular counterparts-schools, clubs and centers.  And the intensity of Zionism is far stronger than its American counterpart.  In the states, Zionism is primarily a financial commitment.  In Buenos Aires and Uruguay it is a cultural, linguistic and aliya commitment.  In fact, many of the educational institutions receive financial support from the Jewish Agency in Israel. 

The new secular humanistic Jewish associations that have emerged are a reflection of this nationalistic commitment.  In the face of growing Orthodoxy and Conservatism, many secularists now want to develop a much more self-aware ideology, with the ceremonial and communal supports that make it real.  Their humanistic Judaism is cosmopolitan, but it is also very Zionistic-with many of its members speaking Hebrew.  Some remnants of anti-Zionist Yiddishist socialist nationalism survive.  But they are dying out. 

Stimulated by their awareness of the establishment of Humanist (sic) Judaism in North America and Israel local leaders organized communities in Montevideo and Buenos Aires three years ago.  The leadership in Argentina consisted of academicians like Gregorio Klimovsky, Yiddishists like Gregorio Lerner and Eliyahu Toker, and Zionists like Paul Warshawsky and Daniel Colodenco.  The leadership in Uruguay featured two devoted and talented men-psychoanalyst Leopoldo Mueller and the journalist Egon Friedler. 

Both associations are in early stages of development.  And, like all other Jews, they are contending with the recurring political and economic woes that plague the area. But there is a strong determination to reach out to the largely secularized Jewish communities to mobilize more people. 

Right now their strategy for survival and growth include four priorities: 

1.The publication of a semi-annual or quarterly journal called Judaismo Laico, which can be used to diffuse humanistic Jewish ideas through Latin America. 

2. The development of ceremonial materials in Spanish and Hebrew to provide for personal and communal celebrations of holidays and life-cycle events in a secular way. 

3. Recruiting one or two qualified people who can be trained as madrikhim (teacher leaders) by the International Institute in Jerusalem to serve the education, counseling and ceremonial needs of the members of the associations. 

4. Organizing a Latin American regional association-including the two communities of Argentina and Uruguay-which could reach out to sympathetic people in other Latin American countries. Initially the journal would serve as its major vehicle for outreach. 

The future of Humanistic Judaism in Latin America will depend on many factors, some unpredictable. But if the enthusiasm of its founders is significant, its survival and growth are off to a good start.  

The Rabbi Writes – Book Fair 1997

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1997, Vol. XXXIII, Number 10

Andre Aciman.  Norman Cantor.  Sonya Friedman. 

Three good reasons for coming to the first Birmingham Temple Book Fair.  They will be speaking.   

A new special weekend experience is on the Temple and community calendar.  A spring book fair will debut in the very same place where our quite wonderful autumn art show takes place. 

Why a book fair? 

Why not?  Celebrating Jewish literature and humanistic literature is a natural for Humanistic Jews, especially in the spring when we honor all forms of creativity. Our book fair will have a unique edge.  It will feature new books on Jewish themes.  But it will also display books on ethical, social and philosophic (sic) issues that make our Jewish connection more open and more connected to the outside world.  In the broader sense, health (ˆsicˆ) happiness and social justice are also Jewish themes  We want a Jewish book fair that speaks to the world. 

The Temple Book Fair will coincide with the climax of the Humanist Forum, three Mondays in May devoted to the discussion of important personal and ethical issues confronting our present society.  On May 5, John O’Hair, the courageous prosecuting attorney of Wayne County, will openly discuss his support for assisted suicide.  On May 12, Irving Bluestone, a former vice-president of the UAW, and Robert Hunter, a conservative Reagan appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, will debate the future of the labor movement.  On May 19 the Book Fair will present Sony Friedman, nationally famous psychologist and television commentator, who will discuss the impact of stress on health. 

One of our Book Fair speakers has been made possible by generous grants from generous patrons.  The Sonya Friedman talk will be the first Esther and Harol Luria Lecture.  Esther Luria died recently.  Both Harol and she devoted a large part of their time and energy to the promotion of holistic health. 

You will find many wonderful things when you come to the Fair. 

You will find books on Jewish history that will introduce you to the discoveries of archaeology and scientific criticism.  Jewish history is more fascinating and more intriguing when the fictions of the past are corrected by the research of the present.   

You will find the books on Jewish culture that will take you beyond the narrow confines of Ashekznazic culture to the beautiful creations of the Sephardic and Oriental Jewish world.  There will be Yiddish writers.  But there will also be Ladino poets. 

You will find books for children – books which celebrate Jewish identity – books which embody humanistic Jewish values.  All of them will make superb gifts for the Jewish holidays and life-cycle ceremonies. 

You will find books on secular humanism.  Most of the great thinkers and philosophers in the last two centuries were secular humanists.  Many of their important writings will be there for you to buy and enjoy. 

You will find books on important ethical and social issues.  From aobrtion and assisted suicide to environmental protection and the fight against the Religious Right, famous writers and writers who deserve to be famous will intrigue you with new information and new ways to confront the enemies of liberty. 

All of this intellectual and emotional feast of books will be the setting for a spectacular array of prominent writers with provocative books. 

Norman Cantor will speak.  His new anthology, with commentary of the best Jewish writers and thinkers has some wonderful surprises.  A leading historian of the medieval experience, he launched his career as a Jewish historian with the provocative The Sacred Chain.  His most recent book The American Century is an exciting new way of looking at the incredible victory of American culture.  As we know from Colloquium ‘95 there is never a dull moment with Norman Cantor. 

Andre Aciman will speak.  His memoir Out of Egypt about the Jewish experience in Alexandria, the city of his youth continues to win prizes and praise throughout the world.  No better and more intimate introduction into the upper-crust society of the Near East has been written.  Aciman will continue to explore the question which obsesses him.  Does Jewish identity always imply some level of alienation and separation from the world around?  Is to be a Jew always to be in exile? 

Sonya Friedman will speak.  Author of many books on feminism and a rational approach to living, Friedman continues to inspire audiences with the freshness of her ideas and the charisma of her personality.  She is very much concerned with the destructive effects of stress in our modern society and with the most effective ways to make life less stressful. 

Three other writers will speak.  Barry Rudner, well known composer of books for Jewish children – Audrey Kron, member of the Birmingham Temple and nationally recognized counselor to the chronically ill and yours truly, Sherwin Wine. 

Do four things right now: 

  1. Mark your calendar.  The Book Fair begins Friday evening, May 16, and continues through Monday evening, May 19. 
  1. Save your money to buy books. 
  1. Begin to draft your gift list for Jewish holidays and special celebrations of family and friends. 
  1. Start thinking – with great anticipation – of the first Birmingham Temple Book Fair. 

The Rabbi Writes – Construction of The Center for Humanistic Judaism

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1992, Vol. XXVIII, Number 6

A wonderful thing has happened on the way to our thirtieth Temple anniversary. A member of our congregation has offered $250,000 for the construction of an educational Center for Humanistic Judaism in Michigan. This Center would be an extension of our present Temple building. And this gift would be contingent on our raising matching funds. 

For the past twenty years we have dreamed of building our own school. Ever since the first part of the present Temple was completed in 1971, it was clear that our home was incomplete. We needed a family room for social events, and we needed classrooms for our children and adults. Ten years ago we celebrated the construction of our family room. The addition gave us the opportunity to expand our activities and serve many of the social and cultural needs we never were able to serve before. It is hard to imagine how we would cope with our present Temple schedule without this extension. From the mundane requirement of kitchen, storage and offices to the more romantic celebrations of weddings and holidays, the “new room” has made an enormous difference. 

An educational wing would have the same impact on the congregation. It would rescue us from the high rentals and reluctant hospitality of the public schools. It would give our children and our Sunday School parents an appropriate setting for a Humanistic Jewish education experience. It would provide the possibility of nursery school, through which young children and their parents could be recruited for Temple membership. It would offer an adequate space and intimate ambience for the teaching of our midweek programs and for the activities of our high school and youth group. In an age of life after retirement, it would provide a wonderful environment to run adult education classes during the day and in the evening. Above all it could serve as an educational and cultural center for an expanding presence of Humanistic Judaism in our community.  

The Center for Humanistic Judaism would also be more than the educational wing of the Temple.  It would be the home of the national office of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, which represents our special outreach to the Jews of North America.  It would also be the home to the growing educational programs of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism which now trains future leaders for our movement through intensive weekend seminars.  The Center would function to enrich our fruitful connection to Humanistic Jews in other communities and in other places. 

The benefits of such a Center are clear.  But how we would raise the matching funds and maintain the building may not be so clear.  Especially in a time of economic recession and Temple deficits and especially when we are concerned with the arrangements for my successor. 

‘We cannot afford to refuse an offer so generous that it may never be repeated again in Temple history.  But we cannot afford to impose burdens that will be unsustainable and counterproductive.  The initial proposal of the Temple Board to the membership is simply to approve the idea of such a Center and to authorize the Executive Committee to go ahead with the task of coming up with a workable plan. It is very clear that such a plan would have to include the following “ingredients”: 

There would be no general assessment on the membership.  All matching funds would be solicited from voluntary donors. 

Donations and support would be solicited from friends and supporters of Humanistic Judaism throughout North America. 

A separate maintenance fund would have to be established for the Center.  The principal would have to be sufficiently large so that the interest on the principal would cover the costs of maintenance. 

I believe that a workable plan can be devised.  I believe that this proposed Center, if constructed, will make an enormous positive difference for the future of the Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism.  I believe that the Center will consolidate the gains we have already made and will help us attract and sustain the kind of rabbinic leadership we need for the future. 

We are being challenged to enter a new exciting chapter of our history.  We cannot refuse the challenge. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Relationship between Israel and American Jewry

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 10

Israel will be 41 years old this month. As the Jewishs state it has served the Jewish people well. The Diaspora has acquired both pride, culture and identity from its achievements. 

But all is not well.  Enormous problems confront Israel that often seem insoluble (sic).  The intifada, the Palestinian rebellions int eh West Bank and Gaza, is still strong after seventeen months.  Although its fury has somewhat abated, the Israeli reserves are still mobilized to suppress the uprising.  The cost of coping is high.  Military deficits, the wear and tear of unpopular police duty and the frustration with adverse world public opinion have taken their toll. 

The confrontation between the religious and the secular continues.  While the Who is a Jew? Issue has been temporarily defused, the fanaticism of the fundamentalists fuels new incidents.  Secularists are beginning to despair that they will ever be able to regain their primacy.  The new immigrants are mainly orthodox and their birth rate is high. 

Economic difficulties are everywhere.  Tourism has slumped because of the intifada.  Unemployment is on the rise.  There are insufficient funds to support the health and education programs that Israel needs.  In fact, the underfinanced school system is a disgrace to a Jewish state. 

The surge of Zionist idealism that gave Israel its special moral character at its inception has waned.  Old people have become cynical.  Young people have joined the ranks of the consumer culture.  Zionism has “normalized” the Jewish people to its disadvantaged (sic). 

One of the mor4e serious problems is the disintegration of the special relationship with American Jewry., the most powerful of Diaspora communities.  In the past American Jewish leaders were content to defer to the will of the Israeli government as an expression of Jewish solidarity.  The prestige of Israel was so high in Jewish eyes that this deference seemed natural.  Today rebellion is in the wings.  The connection is more abrasive. 

There are many signs of this new abrasiveness. 

American Jewish leaders have publicly expressed their reservations about Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.  Newspapers and the other media regularly report these disagreements.  In the past any conflict would have been kept secret.  The facade of unity would have been maintained. 

Advertisements by Jewish dissidents denouncing Israeli policy appear in major newspapers.  The signers are often leading intellectual and philanthropists who would formerly have never given their names or their money to such as assaultive exposure. 

Conferences of dissidents now attract thousands of participants.  Just recently, Michael Lerner, the found and the editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun (who will be speaking for us on May 22) held a major meeting of protest in New York.  He challenged the American Jewish leadership to listen to the dissenting voice in their constituency.  This challenge received wide publicity. 

Delegations of American Jewish leaders now travel to Israel to “lobby” the Knesset and the government.  During the Who is a Jew? controversy dozens of organizational heads took the time to go to Israel to express their indignation over proposed legislative changes.  Their protest was effective in undermining the conservative coalition with the orthodox. 

Many local welfare federations hage threatened to withhold their financial support from Israel unless the fundamentalists are restrained. Such threats would have been inconceivable in the past and would have been regarded as “betrayal”. 

American Jewish philanthropy has decided, independent of Israeli counsel and in direct opposition to Israeli policy, to raise millions of dollars for the absorption of thousands of ew Soviet Jewish immigrants by the United State.  The world Zionist Organization ad the Jewish Agency are fit to be tied.  They simply assumed that Israel would have prior claim to special funds raised for immigrant absorption. 

The recent unity conference called by Prime Minister Shamir in Jerusalem was less an expression of solidarity with the policies of the present administration than a show attempt to cover up the differences that everybody knows exist.  The drama of unity lacks the substance of agreement that would make it effective. 

Many factors have contributed to this new abrasiveness. 

Ever since the Lebanon War American Jews no longer see Israel through the reverential glasses of earlier years.  The “moral intimidation” power of Israel has seriously declined.  Israelis no longer appear, in American Jewish eyes to (sic) be as noble as they once were. 

 A modicum of disillusionment has set in. 

The growing power of the orthodox and their strident bid for political control have frightened many American Jews, most of whom are not orthodox.  It was easier for liberal and secular Jews to identify with the “old” Israel than with the present one. 

Adverse publicity concerning the Israeli handling of the intifada fills the American media and embarrasses American Jews.  Accustomed to seeing themselves as victims of oppression the Jews of the United States are very uncomfortable in the role of military repressor.  They are ambivalent.  While they are concerned about the future security of Israel, they want the bad publicity to stop. 

The Israelis have often behaved arrogantly, counting on American Jewish support without ever consulting with American Jews or eliciting their opinions.  While claiming to be the “voice” of the Jewish people, Israel reflects only its own electorate with no real input from Jewish constituencies in the Diaspora.  The insensitivity to American feeling in the Who is a Jew? issue is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

The responses in the American community to this new dissent have varied. 

Many American Jews view it negatively.  They believe that public arguments give ammunition to our enemies, to all the antisemites who seek our destruction.  Families should not wash their “dirty laundry” in public they say (sic).  Freedom of speech yields to the need for survival. 

Many are enthusiastic.  They feel liberated from the fetters of an irrational control.  They maintain that open discussion will energize the Jewish people and lead to the new and creative solutions to problems.  They also maintain that the old leadership, attached to outmoded responses to problems, will never yield power unless publicly challenged. 

Others are simply ambivalent.  They agree with the protest.  But they are uncomfortable with Jews arguing with Jews in public.  They would prefer a quieter assault, although they are not quite sure how to engineer it. 

Which of these responses is the most valid? 

While many positive thighs can be said for solidarity it is no logger possible-either pragmatically or morally.  But dissent has to be responsible too-not simply a vehicle for a power-hungry new elite to replace a power-hungry old elite.[Text Wrapping Break] 

Four criteria ought to guide the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.                

  1. American Jews are the equals of Israeli Jews.  No special status of nobility attaches to living in the Jewish homeland. 
  1. The voice of the Jewish people is more than the voice of Israel.  When what Israel chooses to do affects the welfare of all Jews the leaders of the Diaspora must be consulted.  A regular forum or “congress” for the formulation of joint policies ought to be established. 
  1. The agenda of American Jews and Israelis are not necessarily identical.  Not every issue in Jewish life, including the disposition of Soviet immigrants, needs central control. 
  1. Publicity is no substitute for dialogue. 

Our relationship to Israel is entering a new phase.  We need guidelines. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Palestinian Uprising

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 10

The state of Israel is 40 years old. 

Normally an anniversary like this would be a time of great rejoicing. But the Palestinian uprising has cast a shadow over the celebration. It is difficult to be euphoric during a Civil War.  

The Palestinian Rebellion is no trivial matter. The future of the state of Israel is at stake. 

At stake are the democratic institutions of Israel. On 40% of your population do not want to be part of your state and are under military occupation, democracy is endangered. 

At stake is the moral image of the Jewish state. Using guns against civilians armed with rocks is not calculated to win word opinion or to reinforce the sense of ethical superiority which has been so much a part of Israeli self-awareness. Suppressing a movement of self-determination seems sadly ironic for an old historic people that demanded its own. 

At stake is the survival of Israel. If no boundary adjustments are made, within a few decades Arabs will constitute a majority of the Israeli population and the Jewishness of the Jewish state will begin to vanish. Time and status quo politics will make Israel another Arab state. 

Israeli Jewish opinion is deeply divided on how to respond to the uprising. Despite the smallness of the Jewish population there is no national consensus. Confrontation politics are as intense as those between the orthodox and secular. 

One segment of the population (maybe a majority) is opposed to any Palestinian State and to giving up any territory. They include both orthodox Jews and secular nationalists. The orthodox maintain that the West Bank and Gaza have been given by God to the Jewish people and that it would be both immoral and sinful to surrender them. The secular nationalists assert that the pre-1967 borders of Israel provide no adequate security for the Jewish state and that the Jordan River boundary is the minimal safety requirement for Israeli survival. 

The other segment of the population is either ambivalently or enthusiastically in favor of giving up land for peace. But they are gravely divided over the issue of how much to give up. Some will return the West Bank to Jordan, but they will not accept a Palestinian state. Some will accept a Palestinian state, provided that is not fully independent and is federated to Jordan. Others will accept an independent demilitarized Palestine so long as there are appropriate boundary adjustments. Still others would be willing to give all the occupied territories to a legitimate Palestinian government for the sake of a guaranteed peace.  

But the arguments of the “peaceniks” do not end there. In the process of negotiating the surrender of territory do you not talk to the PLO? Do you or do you not consent to an International conference to initiate the talks and to guarantee the outcome, especially if that conference includes the Soviet Union?  

The “land of peace” people have not been overwhelmingly successful in recruiting domestic support for their policy.  

Their disagreements hardly inspire confidence. They do not know how to deal with the post-Holocaust mentality that insists that Jews are always victims, never oppressors. They generally avoid the issue of what to do about Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. 

Above all they receive little help from Palestinian and Arab leaders. The PLO covenant, never repudiated, still calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. No PLO spokesperson has ever publicly recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. No PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 which guarantees safe and secure boundaries to Israel as a basis for negotiations, has been given. No Arab movement, of any kind, has emerged in any of the 22 Arab states, to offer encouragement to the Israeli moderates. Terrorism, directed at unarmed civilians, still continues. Extremist propaganda calling for the expulsion of the Jews still flourishes and receives no denunciation from Palestinian moderates. No conciliatory statement recognizing the almost unanimous Israeli desire to retain a united Jerusalem has been made. 

However, the Jews calling for no territorial concessions are having their troubles too, even though defending the status quo is the easiest position to maintain emotionally.  

The uprising continues and will not go away. Only severe military repression will keep the Palestinians in line, but that repression creates severe emotional strains and economic disruptions. The spirit of rebellion has spread to Israel proper and to the Israeli Arabs who support the Palestinian brothers. So intense is the hatred that is developing between Jews and Arabs that in a few years, any form of negotiations will be impossible 

Moreover, the disturbances are frightening away badly needed tourists and immigrants. They are also souring the relationship between Israel and its chief benefactor America. The American government is losing patience with Israeli intransigence. And the public is losing respect for the morality and wisdom of Israeli leaders. Short of expulsion, which is morally and pragmatically impossible, how does one suppress a native population with military force over an indefinite period of time and in the full view of the world public opinion and still retain some shred of approval from the allies you need? 

As you can see both alternatives prevent their risks. But there is no doubt that the status quo no concessions approach presents the greater risk. 

An enlightened Israeli policy should include the following steps. 

1. An early election should be held. Israeli public needs to replace the present coalition government, with all its paralyzing infighting between Shamir and Perez, with a government that has a consistent policy. Land for peace cannot proceed if it does not receive the support of the  Israeli electorate. If the no concessions people win, then the Israeli public will have voted for its own self-destruction. But if the “compromisers” win, then the road to conciliation and survival may be possible. 

2. The new Israeli government should openly declare its willingness to give land for peace. Even if neither the PLO nor other Arab states respond to that offer the mere declaration of this policy will place the moral onus of rejection on the Palestinian leadership. 

3. The Israelis should postpone the resolution of the recognition issue. The Israelis would be foolish to offer acceptance to a Palestinian state at the outset, without knowing what form this state would take. And the PLO will never offer recognition of the Jewish state until the Israelis, in the spirit of mutuality, extend this recognition to the Palestinians. Mutual acceptance will have to emerge from the negotiations. It cannot precede them. Otherwise they will never start. 

4. It is to the Israelis (sic) advantage to use a moderate state like Jordan as much as possible. Since Israeli public will not endorse direct talks with the PLO without prior recognition (and the PLO is the only credible Palestinian leadership around), the PLO needs to be attached to a Jordanian negotiating team. If enough pressure is applied from moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, Arafat might consent to such an arrangement, despite what he presently says. 

5. The Israeli government should work in cooperation with the United States, its chief ally  to formulate a context for negotiations. It should consent to an International conference if this conference is the only way to bring Jordan (and ultimately the PLO) to the conference table. One of the advantages of such a conference is that it may provide an opportunity to secure Soviet guarantees for the outcome of the negotiations. And Russia is the key to securing restraint from Syria.  

6. The fanatic ultra-orthodox need to be restrained. Armed West Bank Jewish settlers seeking provocations to force the expulsion of their Arab neighbors, are responsible for the Beita incident, where an Israeli girl was killed. 

Jewish children have no business wandering through rebellious Palestinian areas on nature hikes, with gun-happy armed escorts.If hiking is the true agenda, countless opportunities exist in safe areas. Ultra – orthodox fanatics who are civilians should not be armed. They will only create the incidents which will make negotiations impossible. They are as dangerous as Arab extremists. 

Of course, the burden of responsibility for peace is shared by both Israelis and Arabs. Even moderate Israelis can do nothing if they receive no encouragement from the Palestinian side. Without the courage of Palestinian moderates who are willing to defy their own extremists and the courage of Hussein of Jordan who is willing to risk his own life, nothing is possible.  

Time is of the essence. If the intransigents (sic) maintain the status quo, the prospects for Israel at the time of the 50th anniversary will be worse than now. A continuing Palestinian rebellion will radicalize resistance forces in modern states in Egypt and Jordan and will lead to the overthrow of modern Arab governments. Without them no peace will be possible. 

The future of Israel is up to the Israeli public. The government they will elect in the next election will determine their future.  

The Rabbi Writes – The First Meeting of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 10

The 1986 – 1987 season is on its way. 

Here is a preview of a very important coming attraction that you should mark on your calendar right away. 

On the weekend of October 24-26, the first meeting of the new International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews will be held at the Birmingham Temple. This conference will be historic. For the first time in the experience of the Jewish people, humanistic Jews from all over the world will come together to unite their efforts in (sic) behalf of their shared ideology. 

The participants will include our very own Society for Humanistic Judaism, the North American Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, Israel Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism, the European Society for Secular Judaism, the Leadership Conference of Secular Humanistic Jews, and representatives from secular Jewish communities in Latin America. 

The members of these organizations have their roots in different parts of the secular Jewish experience. Some of the nationalist Yiddishist movements of Eastern Europe. Some have arisen out of Zionist ideology and its affirmation that Jewish identity is essentially an ethnic identity. Some have emerged from the kibbutz movement with its seventy-year-old tradition of secular certainty. Some have developed out of the utopian political movements that dominated so much of Jewish life in the early part of the twentieth century. Some, like us, found their origin in the Birmingham Temple experiment, an attempt to turn a secular approach into a philosophic and religious alternative in Jewish life. 

The idea of the Federation evolved over several years. It began with a meeting in Israel at Kibbutz Shefayim in October 1981. This meeting was initiated by the Society for Humanistic Judaism and involved a dialogue between leaders of the Society and sympathetic Israeli academicians, writers, political figures and idealogues. Out of this encounter came a manifest of unity and resolution to continue the dialogue. In July 1983, at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, when the Israel Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism was organized, further plans were developed for international cooperation. These plans culminated in the Jewish Jerusalem Conference of July, 1985, at the Hebrew University, where representatives from all over the secular Jews world established the institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, a school and research facility to serve as the intellectual center of our Jewish alternative. 

It was at this conference that the initial proposals for the Federation were actively discussed and the Detroit meeting scheduled. 

The evolution of the Federation idea included many people of prominence in the Jewish World – Yehuda Bauer, the director of the Center for Holocaust Studies and the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University; Haim Cohen, the former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court and active civil libertarian; and Albert Memmi, world famous French-Tunisian intellectual and writer whose books on Jewish identity are the most powerful evaluations of the Jewish condition in this century. Both Bauer and Memmi will be participating in the conference. 

The October conference and the emerging Federation have great significance for us. 

The Federation is the fulfillment of a dream that began with the Birmingham Temple and spread to other parts of the Jewish world, a dream that a secular approach to Jewish identity can be turned into an organized philosophic alternative in Jewish life. 

The Federation is an affirmation of the fact that Humanistic Judaism is not the bizarrely unique philosophy of a small temple in Farmington Hills. It is part of an important and universal movement in Jewish life, which has deep roots in Jewish life and which enjoys the support and membership of leading writers and intellectuals. 

The Federation will enable us to establish a permanent dialogue among secular and humanistic Jews throughout the Jewish world – a dialogue which will allow the creative efforts of local groups to be shared by communities everywhere. 

The Federation will make it possible for all of us to do together with none of us can do alone – the regular publication of educational and inspirational literature, the training of new leaders, the creation of a significant presence in the Jewish community and in the world at large. 

The Federation will serve as an important vehicle to mobilize resources and support for the new International Institute. The Institute is indispensable to the survival of an intellectually respectable and creative secular Judaism. It will become the focal shared project of the Federation. 

For the Birmingham Temple and for the Detroit Jewish community, the choice of Detroit as the site of the organizing conference is a distinct honor. It will be, as I said, an historic moment. 

I hope that you will choose to attend and participate in this conference. I hope also that you will be willing to help in the preparations for this meeting. 

Please call me at the temple and let me know that you are interested.  

The Rabbi Writes – Colloquium ’97

The Jewish Humanist, March 1997, Vol. XXXIII, Number 8 

A wonderful thing happened on the way to Colloquium ‘97. The Jewish Federation gave us twenty thousand dollars. 

Colloquium ‘97 is a continuation of the ‘tradition’ begun by Colloquium ‘95. That conference was a stunning intellectual and artistic event. Sponsored by The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, it brought together seventeen distinguished scholars, writers and artists from all over the Jewish World, to discuss the pressing issue of the ‘unaffiliatedJew’. Among them were demographer Egon Maywr, sociologist Bernard Reisman, philosopher Joel Feinberg, historians Norman Cantor and Yehuda Bauer, writers Anne Roiphe and Andre Aciman and Israel’s greatest living post (sic) Yehuda Amichai. Ushered in by Shoshana Cardin, a major leader in the American Jewish community, the colloquium featured three days of spirited and memorable dialogue. 

The colloquium was evidence that our movement was ‘real’ – and that it had the power to engage important Jewish thinkers in the discussion of important Jewish issues. The publicity and attention that surrounded the event raised the visibility of Secular Humanistic Judaism and reinforced our resolve to produce another significant colloquium around another significant question.  

The theme of Colloquium ‘97 is reclaiming Jewish History:  Separating fact from fiction. Eleven important Jewish historians have accepted our invitation to participate in the discussion. Each of them will present a paper on one of ten ‘problem’ areas of Jewish history – from the origins of the Jewish people and the Bible to the significance of the Enlightenment and Zionism. They include Steven Zipperstein and Aaron Rodrigue of Stanford University, Carol Meyers and Eric Meyers of Duke University, Norman Cantor of New York University, Derek Penzler of Indiana University, William Propp of the University of California / San Diego, Ada Rapaport – Albert of University College London, Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University and Yaakov Malkin of Tel Aviv University. From October 23 to October 26 they will collectively present a new perspective on the Jewish experience. This colloquium is not only a great event for our movement. Like the last colloquium, it is also an outstanding intellectual happening for the Detroit Jewish community. That is one of the reasons why the Federation has chosen to support it.  

The decision of the Federation to help fund this meeting of scholars is significant for many reasons. 

It is the first major gift of the Federation to the work of Humanistic Judaism in this community. It is recognition of the fact that what we do benefits not only our congregation but also the Jewish community as a whole. 

It is an affirmation of the importance of pluralism in the Jewish community. In modern America diversity is the name of the Jewish reality. As Jews choosing Judaism, we are all committed to the value of Jewish identity, to the preservation and development of Jewish culture and to the survival of the Jewish people. But we share this commitment in the context of lively disagreement. There are many Jewish philosophies of life. There are many different Jewish life styles. There are many ways to interpret the Jewish experience and to celebrate Jewish identity. Pluralism means that the community accepts this diversity and grants respect and legitimacy to every Jewish choice.  Cooperation arises out of both shared commitments and a sympathetic understanding of difference.  

This gift is a resolution of whatever discomfort some of our members had with previous responses of the Federation to requests from the Birmingham Temple. It is clear from the generosity of the grant, that the Federation acknowledges our congregation and our movement as a significant part of the Jewish Community. 

I urge all of our members to respond to this decision with their full financial support for the work of the Federation. I think a milestone has been passed in our history. 

I also urge you to reserve October 23-26 on your busy calendars for the excitement of Colloquium ‘97.