06
Oct

Wondering About Wolpe

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gggggThis week, in the context of our Fundamentals of Judaism class, we engaged in a lively discussion about the Pew Forum Report. To read a full version of the report click here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

Nationally-renowned Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe responded to the report in a recent blog entry in the Washington Post. Wolpe correctly notes that Judaism “is a behavior-centered tradition.  It is primarily enacted in a language strange to most American Jews (Hebrew) and requires an extensive education to understand its fundamentals. Americans are not distinguished by diligence in acquiring cultural literacy.  That which is continually diluted will eventually disappear. ‘Being an ethical person’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish.  ’Fighting for social justice’ while central to Judaism, is not uniquely Jewish.  Wearing Tefillin, praying in Hebrew, Torah study, Kashrut, Jewish communal adherence and activities —….are activities that keep the core of the tradition alive. As Jews have left the latter and profess the former, adherence weakens.” You can see the whole blog post here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/03/can-liberal-judaism-survive/ 

There is much that needs to be examined in light of the Pew survey, and it’s not a time for halachically-observant Jews to pat themselves on the back; more than any other sector of American Jewry, we should internalize this crisis and work tirelessly to respond to the challenges it raises.

That said, I cannot help but comment on the irony of Rabbi Wolpe calling for a return to traditional Jewish values and practices.  More than any high-profile Jewish religious leader in recent memory, Wolpe has gone out of his way to erode key foundations of our tradition.  Without entering the dilemma of how Orthodox congregations should respond to openly-homosexual members of the Jewish community (a topic that is of great interest to the Modern Orthodox rabbinate) I refer you Wolpe’s recent policy-change.  The July 5th edition of the New York Times speaks for itself: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/06/us/rabbi-takes-a-stand-for-gay-marriage-and-a-segment-of-the-congregation-rebels.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I asked those who attended to today’s class if there was one recurring theme central to Jewish identity and practice, and several quickly responded, “Yetziat Mizraim” – the Exodus from Egypt.  It concludes the Shema, Shabbat, Passover and the other two Torah festivals.  The Seder night is the “educable moment” of the Jewish year! Yet it’s the same Rabbi Wolpe,  calling on Jews to embrace Torah study and traditional Jewish practice - who has declared the Exodus a sham!  

Blogger Mark Nigro writes Wolpe:”Rabbi, how can you simultaneously accept the falsity of the exodus account while holding onto the 'deeper meaning' of its truths? Either the event happened as Moses declared, and we stand on its historicity with the authority of its teachings, or it did not happen, in which case the integrity of the Pentateuch is lost and the rest of the teaching should be rejected. For if it didn't happen, the best we could say was that someone made a mistake, and the worst, that someone intentionally deceived the masses. And neither of these options offers a very stable ground for the feet of faith or the authority of YHWH.”  I think this response would typify the kind of reaction that a young Jew would have to Wolpe’s theories, which pull the rug out from under the potential for inspired, dedicated commitment to a religious Jewish life.

To see the original LA Times report of Wolpe’s 2001 sermon, click here: http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/13/news/mn-50481; to see Wolpe’s 2004 article trying to explain himself anew click here: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx?p=1

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