Reform movement trying to play baseball with 4 outs

Do you hear that flapping sound in the background? That is the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

Alan Rothenberg and other Jewish leaders are chagrined that the Israeli rabbinate does not accept or endorse their San Francisco version of Jewish law. Halachah, which has been the lifeblood of the Jewish world for the past 2,000 years, and which has evolved — no matter what others would have you believe — does not respond to pressure or outrageous statements. It does respond to logic, research of sources and what is considered as scholarly dissent. It will not abide by those who would change the rules of Jewish living on a whim.

Look at it this way: Tomorrow morning your daily sports section brings you the news that from now on, the San Francisco Giants will play all games with four outs per inning. Yet, the Giants intend to remain in the National League and play ball with all the other teams, except the rules under which they play will be different.

In 1983 the Reform rabbinate adopted — unilaterally — a change in its halachah known as patrilineal descent. It was a straightforward business decision that validated what was happening in Reform temples. Couples had intermarried and under the rules of Jewish law, only those children born of Jewish mothers were considered Jewish. Now, under the new rules, a child with one Jewish parent, regardless of which, would be considered Jewish. Ipso facto, whoever was in the temple now was Jewish and membership could be expanded and marriages performed with no need to feel guilty.

New rules, new score cards, let the rest of the league be damned.

There is a Jewish constitution; it is known as halachah. There is an unwritten Jewish constitution; it is known as Jewish continuity. The new rules of 1983 made Jewish continuity problematic at best. In previous days Reform Judaism made other unilateral decisions that were also irritating to the rest of the Jewish world, but those were personal decisions regarding the Sabbath, diet, holidays. This decision of patrilineal descent was a break in the Jewish chain. From this point on, my grandchildren could no longer date Rothenberg's grandchildren. His team wanted more outs, and my team cannot play by those rules.

It is strange that no one has difficulty understanding the baseball analogy, yet so many are uninformed about basic Jewish law and what we can and cannot abide by. There has been a terrible dearth of information and education. These so-called leaders of today's Jewish community have no shame in mouthing the most absurd remarks when their knowledge of Jewish law is nil. They are uninformed, misinformed, fed a diet of fund-raising phrases and quick trips to Israel; meet a plane from the former Soviet Union, speak to an Ethiopian Jew and presto, right after your check clears you are a newborn Jewish leader.

Leadership requires a tad more. A sense of Jewish education perhaps, at least to know what it is that is being rejected. Tell me, Jewish leader, have you ever sat down and studied the Bible more than casually? Can you assist your child in answering basic questions about Judaism without recourse to your rabbi? Can you tell them about the glory days of the first Temple, the tragedy of its destruction, the hope in its rebuilding, the pain of that loss. Can you tell your children why we are different from those we dwell amongst, and how our covenant imposes upon us responsibility to the past and the future?

These are not trick questions.

No less a figure than David Ben-Gurion, a leader who by no stretch of the imagination was a religious Jew, understood that the cornerstone of Jewish life was having one standard of knowledge of who was in fact Jewish. He knew instinctively, and insisted on it in 1947, that the Jewish world had to have one unifying law when it came to marriage, divorce, children and conversion. He ate what he wanted to eat, celebrated the Sabbath or didn't as he chose, but this he knew.

There has been much written about de-legitimizing. The only thing that so far has been de-legitimized is the status quo and the rules under which Israel has thrived for five decades. It is not the religious parties in Israel who chose to move on this question, it was the Reform in tandem with their allies du jour who went to court.

As a reaction — and only as a natural reaction — the Orthodox in Israel said, in so many words, "We will legislate what you have de-legislated, we will memorialize in law that which you have so nonchalantly cast aside, we will not allow you to import this chaos of who is in fact Jewish to this land. We will play by the old rules, three outs. We will continue to act as Jewish leaders even though this is being abandoned in the diaspora."

This is not a game; this is the future we are talking about. Many have already opted out of that future. This is sad but their choice. We cannot impose so tragic a choice on a country in which we invest nothing more than our dollars.