What Is Jewish Unity?
Assumptions About Liberal Jews
By Simone Ellin
All liberal Jews believe that the practice of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is all it takes to be a “good” Jew
“Liberal Jews believe that tikkun olam is a central part of our Jewishness,” said Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom. “We have an obligation to heal the world’s hurts and repair its brokenness. We do not live in isolation but are part of a greater community. While our first obligation is to our fellow Jews, we do have a responsibility to care for all human beings.”
However, the rabbi noted: “Without God, Torah and Israel, one’s Jewish life is incomplete.”
Rabbi John Franken of Bolton Street Synagogue said Jews should express their Judaism in as many ways as possible, but he also acknowledged that human beings can’t do everything with equal passion.
“Theoretically, there are Jews whose main connection to Judaism is social justice, just as there are Jews who express their Judaism by keeping kashrut and the Sabbath,” Rabbi Franken said. “We [Bolton Street Synagogue’s congregation] have members whose life’s work is disability rights, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come to services. Some congregants prefer study to prayer. We’ll be stronger as a people when we can appreciate individuals for their unique contributions and for who they are.”
All liberal Jews are Democrats
Rabbi Franken noted that statistically most Jews are Democrats. This has been so, he noted, since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal and is probably due to the fact that liberal Jews tend to support issues such as tolerance, religious freedom, pluralism, social and economic justice and caring for the vulnerable.
“That is not to say that Orthodox Jews are not concerned with social justice,” Rabbi Franken stressed. “But I have the sense that Republican policies like school vouchers and school prayer are more sympathetic to their agendas. Liberal Jews tend to believe in a greater separation between church and state, are more likely pro-choice and generally don’t support school vouchers.”
Rabbi Fink pointed out that while most Jews are Democrats, Jews representing all denominations are becoming more politically conservative.
“Many Jews are now voting according to their class and economic interests, just as other Americans do,” he said.
Liberal Jews don’t believe in God or Torah
“Liberal Jews do believe in God and Torah; Torah is the record of God in ancient times,” said Rabbi Fink. “We believe that Torah is Divinely inspired but authored by human beings. We cherish Torah, study it and build our lives around it. While Jews have much freedom to construct our own theological concepts, God is at the center of our lives.”
“I think that when Orthodox people say that we don’t believe in God or Torah, they mean that liberal Jews aren’t ‘Torah-true,’” said Rabbi Franken. “Liberal Jews believe in God and Torah, but our understanding and interpretation of the text may be different than those of Orthodox Jews.”
Liberal Jews support the Palestinians over the Israelis
“My community and I hold Israel very dear, and I am deeply Zionist. But there’s a sense [among some Jews] that we don’t have to worry about the Palestinians at all and that our only charge is to care for our own. I think that is misguided and shortsighted,” said Rabbi Franken.
Rabbi Franken said the mitzvah of pursuing peace is a “self-interested mitzvah,” and added that many liberal Jews believe it is the Jewish people’s best interest to attend to the Palestinians while
“of course supporting Israel.”
Rabbi Fink also vehemently disputed this stereotype.
“The liberal movements — Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist — overwhelmingly support Israel. All seminary students spend at least a year there. Each movement has its own Zionist party in North America and supports its own synagogues, schools and camps there,”
Liberal Jews are immoral and accept homosexuality
and premarital sex “Liberal Jews believe that God created all human beings, gay and straight, and that God loves each of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, which is something over which we have no control,” said Rabbi Fink. “We support full equality for LGBTQs.”
Rabbi Franken agreed.
“God created Eve because it was not good for man to be alone. To expect that someone born with same-sex orientation is not deserving of that same love and companionship is to say that God made a mistake, that they were created in vain,” he said.
As for premarital sex, Rabbi Fink said that liberal Jews encourage young adults to wait until they are old enough to take responsibility — emotionally and physically — for their sexual behavior.
“They must be in a loving and committed relationship before engaging in sex,” he said. “Since our young adults go on to college and often to graduate school before getting married, it is unreasonable to expect them to wait until they are over 30 years old to have sexual relationships.”
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