Friday, July 14, 2006

I know some people say, "Better to stay home on Yom Kippur than drive to shul..."

But they can go jump in a lake.
one of two progressive congregations in the Czech Republic, 120-member Bejt Simcha, was tentatively recognized as a legitimate organization by that country’s Jewish umbrella group, the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.

That watershed decision, to be finalized in September, followed an even more significant development — the wholesale legitimization of Reform Judaism in Germany, where the movement originated in the 19th century. The Czech ruling effectively ends a decade of contention during which Prague-based Bejt Simcha, because of its non-Orthodox orientation, was denied the political and financial advantages that are critical to the long-term survival of some European congregations.

In contrast to the United States, where self-funded congregations are the building blocks of Jewish life, European Judaism has for centuries been controlled by government-recognized bodies known as "communities" that determine what form of Jewish practice is considered legitimate. These communities, which attempt to speak on behalf of all Jews in a given country, are often allotted money by the state that helps pay for everything from synagogue construction to care for the elderly.

Bejt Simcha will now have access to that funding and the political clout that comes with it. The ruling, clearing the way for official recognition of the small congregation, is an acknowledgment that some of the Czech Republic’s disaffected Jews might now find non-Orthodoxy a preferable route for embracing their faith, according to Tomas Kraus, the federation’s executive director. "After the end of communism, we needed to get back to basics, and followed the Orthodox model, but we have matured enough to offer something more," he says.

The battle over the status of progressive congregations like Bejt Simcha, according to Kraus, could in fact determine the future of Judaism in Europe.

"The Czech situation is a laboratory," he says. "What we are here dealing with on a very small scale, every community is dealing with on a larger scale. By making the conditions not so strict, more Czech Jews will identify as Jews."

What a concept.

I respect my Orthodox brothers and sisters. I don't agree with them, but I respect them. It is inappropriate to ask them to grant legitmacy to something they feel deviates from Halakha. That's ok, no one's asking them to. But they do not have the right to strong-arm sovereign governments to deny funding and other benefits to other Jewish groups. The other movements should be allowed to sink or swim. If they can prove the need and interest are there, they should have a seat at the table and a piece of the pie.

The frummies don't have to like it, and they do have a right to represent their own position on the issue. But with all apologies to Rav Kaplan, it's "a vote, not a veto".

It's time to face facts. Most of the world's Jews aren't Orthodox, and increasing numbers of them are feeling alienated from any sort of community. Why not give some funding and support to the places more likely to attract Jews who don't swing Orthodox?

Incidentally, Reform and Conservative Jews could learn a lot from the Orthodox- like growing a backbone, standing up for their own leaders, scholarship and traditions, and putting their money where their mouth is. All you 80-year old 4 times a year Reform temple grandmas out there- stop giving money to Chabad, and put some money into "your" own shul. Or at least MATCH your donations.


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