4 Orthodox groups join against pluralism

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

NEW YORK — In their strongest and most unified public stance to date on pluralism and Jewish unity, four major American Orthodox groups have issued a joint High Holy Day statement condemning those who have challenged Israel's religious status quo.

In the statement titled "A heartfelt message to our fellow Jews," the four groups — Agudath Israel of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union — confirm their commitment to a single standard of Jewish law in Israel and implore all Jews "to shun unworthy political posturing, as well as political, economic and social pressure."

This is the first time in memory that they have issued this type of joint public declaration.

The statement blamed non-Orthodox activists for creating "a climate of ill-will and anger." It also asserts that for American Jewish leaders to "attempt to impose their own parochial wishes on an Israeli public that has expressed its stance clearly and democratically is both divisive and wrong."

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in America reacted harshly.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the message "is out of touch with the realities both in Israel and here." Calling the Orthodox-controlled Israel "a spiritual wasteland," Yoffie said the new statement was "not about preserving the integrity of Jewish peoplehood, but about preserving control of the Orthodox monopoly over religious life in Israel."

Added Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary: "Religious pluralism works for Jews in America; why should it be denied to Jews in Israel?"

The statement makes numerous references to Reform and Conservative Jews who have placed pressure on Israeli government officials. Referring obliquely to lawsuits brought by Reform and Conservative Jews who want to have non-Orthodox conversions and marriages legally recognized by Israel, the statement blames those who have attacked the Orthodox-controlled religious establishment for having "created a climate of ill-will and anger."

"All Jews, regardless of level of religious observance or affiliation, should recognize that there must be uniformly acceptable Jewish standards for religious marriage, divorce and conversion if the integrity of our peoplehood is to be preserved," the statement says.

Referring directly to Israel's local religious councils in which Reform and Conservative Jews have sought the legal right to participate, the statement calls it "only reasonable" that all members of municipal religious councils in Israel "subscribe to the religious precepts that they are charged to oversee."

The statement also says that it is "a matter of historical fact" that the Western Wall "has been a sacred place of traditional Jewish prayer…since time immemorial."

On Shavuot and again on Tisha B'Av this year, Conservative and Reform men and women attempting to pray together at the Wall were chased away from the site — the first time by a mob of angry ultra-religious Jews, and the second time by Jerusalem police.