View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, November 23, 2003

One People, At Least Two Worlds

Welcome back. This is what happens when you try to hold down a full-time job, while blogging, and taking night classes. Something's gotta give during Finals Week, and since blogging represents not the Ghost of Income Past, Income Present, nor Income Future, guess what got The Shaft?

That night, the last night of finals, Wednesday, November 19th, I went to go see a Reform/Orthodox dialogue between two local community rabbis. In the Right Corner, wearing the blue trunks, representing the Orthodox, Rabbi Daniel "The Kid" Alter, and in the Left Corner, wearing the red trunks, representing the Reform, Rabbi Stephen "Don't Call Me Beautiful Dreamer" Foster. It was my first sustained contact with Rabbi Foster, and it's a measure of how charming a speaker he is, that it took me most of the evening, and a sustained post mortem, to realize how thoroughly condescending and arrogant he had been. None of this necessarily had anything to do with his representing points of view with which I completely disagree. No, it had to do with him.

Rabbi Foster wanted you to come away with three ideas: 1) he's been a Rabbi in Denver for 33 years; 2) he's happy to come talk with us Orthodox, who've treated him so badly over the years, and 3) his synagogue can beat up my synagogue, but only if the contest were held on Saturday, since they won't show up any other day.

The biggest mistake Rabbi Foster made, the only one, really, was in bringing up Israel, where he proposed that promoting the Leftist line on the situation there was an obligation of Reform. Most people were willing to give this a pass, until the Q&A, when one questioner rather forcefully suggested that the problem wasn't the rate of Orthodox opposition to a Palestinian state, but the rate of Palestinian murders against Jews. Rabbi Alter let this go, saying it was a debate for another time.

Rabbi Foster was not so mature. He proceeded to accuse many of the Orthodox of opposing a two-state solution, and to accuse Sharon of "causing more terrorism than anyone." He then went on to defend the local imam, who had kindly come to Temple Emanuel to denounce the killing of any innocents, as though the IDF were in that business. Finally, he took great umbrage at having his loyalty to Israel questioned, although nobody had actually done so.

Up until then, things had gone well, but the fact is, this debate had absolutely no place in this forum. This simply isn't a Reform/Orthodox question. There's a whole Orthodox shul (in DC) full of people willing to create a Palestinian state tomorrow. Rabbi Zwerin at Temple Sinai here in Denver has been very much to the right on this question since Arafat's War started in 2000. Rabbi Foster was evidently confusing his own opinions with those of his movement, and continued to do so when things got heated, noting that, "at 9:30, the dialogue finally got started."

No, Rabbi Foster, the dialogue didn't get started. You finally said things that were self-righteous and offensive enough, from a horse high enough to hide Greeks in, on an issue that ought to be non-denominational. We simply don't feel threatened by each other any more, unless one side deliberately goes after the other in a public forum. The Orthodox, by and large, accept that we have nothing to learn religiously from people who can't define what they stand for religiously, and the Reform feel the same way about people they believe are trying to stop time either 300 or 3000 years ago (take your pick).

Israel is different. That's an issue where we are all insecure, where we feel the insecurity of the state, its state of siege, the rising tide of anti-Semitism, deliberately planted by the Arabs, to deligitimize the only Jewish state in the world. To have someone cloak themselves in religion, in my religion, to tell me that my support for a particular government is religiously wrong, is bound to raise a few hackles. Rabbi Foster has a right to his own opinions, but to try to dragoon an entire movement into supporting him, to make that a Reform/Orthodox split where there is none, is both intellectually dishonest, and morally reprehensible.

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