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The Conflict Between Orthodoxy and Reform

John D. Rayner
Summer 2000

Judaism has never been monolithic. There have always been varieties of Judaism, sometimes in sharp conflict with one another, and today, for a reason we shall discuss presently, the variety is greater than ever. The two variants which concern us are Orthodoxy and Reform. Neither of these is monolithic either. The Orthodox camp includes Sefardim and Ashkenazim, the 'Far-Right' Orthodox or Charedim and the Modern Orthodox, as well as the various Chasidic sects. The Reform camp comprises all the communities affiliated to the World Union for Progressive Judaism, whether they call themselves Reform, Liberal, Progressive, Reconstructionist or by some other name. But for our purpose these distinctions are unimportant. We must think of them as two broad streams, Orthodox and Reform, or Orthodox and Progressive-the adjective chosen by the World Union when it was founded in 1926 as an umbrella term to cover all its constituents. I shall be using the two terms, Reform and Progressive, interchangeably, whichever seems the more appropriate in the immediate context.  


The first and most important point to be made about these two streams is that, like all other modern Jewish movements, they are responses to the Emancipation. By 'Emancipation' we mean the process which began in Europe in the l8th century and continued at different rates of progress in different countries all through the 19th and into the 2Oth. It was a political process which liberated the Jewish populations of Europe and beyond from the medieval restrictions under which they had lived ever since the Roman Empire had become the Holy Roman Empire. All the freedoms we take for granted-to live where we like, to travel where we like, to mingle with whom we like, to send our children to any school, to go to any university, to enter any trade or profession, to form and express our own opinions, and to participate on equal terms with others in the processes of democracy: all these we owe to the Emancipation.  

Consequences of Emancipation  

Most Jews saw this revolutionary change in their political situation as highly desirable-almost a fulfillment of their messianic dreams-and eagerly took advantage of the new liberties and opportunities it opened up. But to the extent to which they did so, the process was no longer merely political. It had other consequences. Economic and social consequences, for they entered many trades and professions previously closed to them; they lived in much closer contact with their Christian fellow citizens, and they experienced the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Cultural consequences, for their schooling was no longer, as it had been in the Ghetto, purely Jewish but embraced the whole syllabus of modern education; they dropped Yiddish, which had been so long their mother tongue, in favor of German, French or whatever was the vernacular of the country in which they lived; and they became familiar with European art, music, literature and thought, transformed as these had been since the Middle Ages by the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the rise of modem philosophy and science. These political, economic, social and cultural changes, in so far as Jews took advantage of them and entered into the spirit of them, were bound to make a big impact, among other things, on their religious life. Let us analyze that impact a little.  

Impact on Judaism  

Because they were no longer under the jurisdiction of the rabbinic courts of their former, self -governing Ghetto communities, but subject only to the civil law, therefore they were legally free to distance themselves from the Jewish community as far as they liked, or even completely. They were, in fact, for the first time ever, free to cease to be Jewish. The term 'Jews by choice' is used in America to refer to converts to Judaism, but it describes us all. Being Jewish in the modern world is voluntary. We are all Jews by choice. Because emancipated Jews were no longer under any great social pressure to conform to Jewish ways but came increasingly under the opposite social pressure, to conform to Gentile ways; therefore they were not only free but actually tempted to distance themselves from the Jewish community. Because their knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish declined, therefore they were no longer so easily able to participate in the synagogue services, which were conducted entirely in Hebrew, or to follow the sermons and talmudic discourses, which were delivered in Yiddish. Because the services were conducted in a language they no longer readily understood, therefore they tended to get bored with them, and to talk to each other, which led to indecorum. Because they became aware, by contrast, of the decorum characteristic of the churches attended by their Christian neighbors, therefore they felt ashamed of the lack of it in their synagogues.  

Because they experienced the glories of European music, therefore they regretted the lack of instrumental music or even disciplined choral singing in Jewish 'worship. Because they wished to identify themselves with the society in which they lived, therefore those traditional prayers which implied that they did not feel at home there in any permanent sense but, on the contrary, longed for the day when they would be able to return to their ancient homeland and live under their own sovereignty, were a particular embarrassment to them. Because of the spirit of free inquiry which was of the essence of modern European philosophy, going back to Descartes, and which under girded and permeated the whole scientific enterprise, therefore Jews began to feel inwardly free to question traditional Jewish beliefs and practices. Because this spirit of free inquiry expressed itself not only in the natural sciences, which seemed to contradict the biblical accounts of creation and miracles, but also in the historical sciences, which cast doubt on the traditional teaching as to how the Bible had come to be written, therefore the crucial issue of the authority behind Jewish tradition became an open question.  

Response to Modernity  

To be a more specific, the age of scholasticism was over. Here let me explain that by 'scholasticism' I mean the typically medieval world-view according to which Holy Scripture-Jewish, Christian or Muslim, as the case might be---was totally unlike any other literature, in that it was a transcript of divine revelation, and that it therefore contained the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so that all other alleged sources of knowledge were to be judged by it. If cosmology or biology contradicted the biblical Creation Story, then cosmology or biology was, to that extent, wrong. If biblical scholarship contradicted the historical narratives of the Bible, then biblical scholarship was to that extent wrong. If psychology contradicted biblical ideas concerning human sexuality, then psychology was to that extent wrong. And so forth. All this may also be expressed by saying that the Emancipation, in so far as Jews took advantage of the opportunities it offered, brought them face to face with modernity.  

We said before that Orthodoxy and Reform, like all other movements in contemporary Judaism, are essentially responses to the Emancipation. We may now rephrase that and say that they are essentially responses to modernity. Reform is a positive response. It embraces modernity-perhaps too uncritically, as its opponents allege. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is a negative response. Not altogether, of course. In so far as modernity does not challenge Jewish tradition, the Modern Orthodox at least are happy enough to go along with it. But in so far as it runs counter to Jewish tradition, it must be rejected. Then the motto applies that Judaism is not to be judged by modernity, but modernity is to be judged by Judaism. Precisely that was the stance of Samson Raphael Hirsch, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy. His motto, you may recall, was 'both Torah and European culture,' but with the implicit proviso: as long as Derech Eretz doesn't get in the way of Torah. As for the Charedim, the ultra-Orthodox, their motto might be said to be 'Torah without Derech Eretz' -except in so far as Derech Eretz provides the technology, such as electric time-switches, which facilitates the observance of Torah.  

Tension and Conflict  

This then is the essence of the difference between Orthodoxy and Reform. It is rooted in a different appraisal of modernity. The difference could not but produce tension: a tension we have lived with for 200 years and shall have to go on living with in the foreseeable future. From time to time the tension has erupted into open conflict. Happily, the conflict has rarely taken the form of physical violence, though that too has happened, especially in Israel. But there has been a great deal of verbal violence-a war of words-and sometimes political oppression. That is to say, Orthodoxy has on occasion used its political power to maintain communal structures which disadvantage Progressive Judaism, and even appealed to Gentile governments to suppress it.  

In the Diaspora, the power of the Orthodox to harm Progressive Judaism is fairly slight; but in the State of Israel it is considerable because there the religious parties have always been either coalition partners or otherwise in a position to blackmail the Government into allocating funds and enacting legislation hugely to the advantage of the Orthodox and the disadvantage of the Progressives. Furthermore, if the Orthodox in Israel were ever to gain sufficient power, it is hard to believe that they would not use it to promote legislation prohibiting non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism altogether. There is of course no likelihood of that ever happening, but the thought that in certain unlikely circumstances it would, or could, is an indication of the seriousness of the conflict.  

An Uneven Conflict  

In particular, it shows that it is an uneven conflict. For though spokespersons of Progressive Judaism have sometimes made unwise, unkind, unjust and intolerant public statements about Orthodoxy, they have never questioned its right to exist. On the contrary, they accept the principle of pluralism, of the legitimacy of diversity in Judaism. Some of us would go even further and say that, since the Emancipation has created a new situation in which it is difficult to be sure how best to perpetuate Judaism into the future, and also because of differences in taste and temperament, and the need to respect individual autonomy-that for all these reasons it is positively desirable that there should be different options on offer.  

At any rate, we are fully reconciled to pluralism. But the Orthodox are not. From their point of view Progressive Judaism is not only mistaken but illegitimate. That is why, for instance. Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks is willing to say to non-Jews, 'you don't have to be Jewish,' but unwilling to say to Jews, you don't have to be Orthodox.' Where that leaves any hope for the future, is a question to which we shall return. Meanwhile we must simply note that the relationship between Orthodoxy and Reform is an asymmetrical one.  

Worship Reform  

Let me recount briefly some of the major flare-ups of the conflict-not in any great detail, since they can be read up in the history books, but sufficiently to bring out what has been fundamentally at issue. As we all know, the Reform movement began in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century and in its first phase, which lasted a whole generation, was initiated and led by learned laymen, not rabbis. who were almost exclusively concerned with one thing: worship reform.  

They noticed with alarm that more and more of their fellow emancipated Jews were staying away from the Synagogue, if not deserting Judaism altogether, and thought that if synagogue worship were made more intelligible, more dignified and more appealing, that might stem if not reverse the drift. To that end they made the kinds of changes with which we are so familiar: shortened services; elimination of repetition; prayers and hymns in the vernacular, though not to the exclusion of Hebrew; regular sermons, likewise in the vernacular; choral singing with organ accompaniment; and mixed seating.  

At first the leading figure was Israel Jacobson, a wealthy banker, a learned Jew and President of the consistory of Westphalia. He it was who, in the little town of Seesen near Hanover, at his own expense, established first (in 1801) a Jewish school and later (in 1810) a synagogue, where the kinds of reforms I have described were carried out. A few years later, when Jacobson moved to Berlin, similar services were held there in the spacious home of Jacob Herz Beer (father of Meyerbeer the composer) with the co-operation of such luminaries as Leopold Zunz and Heinrich Heine. But much more important than these initial skirmishes was the foundation in 1818 of the so-called Hamburg Temple. Again the prime movers were learned laymen such as Eduard Kley. The event elicited a storm of protest which broke out again, even more fiercely, in the following year, when the Reformers published their own prayerbooks.  

For this time they went a little further than merely cosmetic improvements, they felt compelled to confront doctrinal issues, for instance, what to do with prayers expressing the traditional hope for the Ingathering of the Exiles, the Return to Zion, the restoration of the Davidic monarchy, the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of the ancient sacrificial cult. As one would expect, they omitted or toned down such prayers and, in doing so, made a theological statement.  

In response, the Orthodox published a little volume consisting of 22 responsa, roundly condemning the Hamburg reforms, under the title. 'These are the Words of the Covenant'. Rabbi Moses Sofer of Pressburg set the tone in the first of the responsa by arguing that three things are completely forbidden: (I) to abbreviate or modify the principal prayers in any way; (2) to recite them in any other language than Hebrew: and (3) to play any musical instrument in the synagogue on Shabbat or Yom Tov. The Reformers replied, in Hebrew, with pamphlets of their own, such as one entitled. 'The Sword That Avenges the Covenant , (Lev. 26:25) by M.J. Bresselau, one of the founders of the Hamburg Temple, attempting to prove from rabbinic sources that the reforms were justified.  

Orthodox Judaism  

It doesn't matter for our purpose who was right. My own view is that Rabbinic Law is a great deal more permissive than the Orthodox protesters allowed but not as permissive as the Reform defenders tried to argue. What matters is that the war of words had begun, and it has continued in much the same vein ever since. And what also matters for our purpose is that Orthodoxy was born. For Orthodoxy is not to be equated with the Rabbinic Judaism, pioneered by the Pharisees, which had dominated Jewish life since the destruction of the Jewish State and Temple in 70 CE. Rabbinic Judaism had a large measure of flexibility, though by no means complete flexibility. Orthodoxy is an attempt to preserve Rabbinic Judaism in conditions no longer conducive to it, to preserve pre-Emancipation - Judaism in post-Emancipation times as if nothing significant had changed, and to defend it against all attempts to modify it in any way.  

It is marked by a rigidity, an intransigence, a back-to-the-wall defensiveness and sometimes aggressiveness, that sets it sharply apart-in general tone and mood rather than specific beliefs and practices-from pre-Emancipation Judaism. And Moses Sofer may be said to have become the Father of Orthodoxy (or at any rate of extremist Orthodoxy, to distinguish it from the Modern Orthodoxy, founded, as we have already seen, later in the century by Samson Raphael Hirsch). In that sense Orthodoxy was born in 1819, in opposition to Reform and, more generally, in opposition to modernity.  

The Geiger- Tiktin Controversy  

A few years after the Hamburg Temple controversy, a new generation of rabbis emerged who favored the cause of the Reformers al1d became its champions. Chief among them was Abraham Geiger, but there was a whole galaxy of them: men of vast Jewish learning as well as intellectual brilliance. They naturally deepened and broadened the program of the Reform movement, which they hammered out in a series of conferences, and raised fundamental questions about the nature and destiny of the Jewish people, and the authority of Scripture and Tradition. And they became involved in fresh controversies. In 1838, for instance, when Abraham Geiger was chosen by the Jewish community of Breslau to become its Associate Rabbi, the Senior Rabbi, Solomon Tiktin, moved heaven and earth to prevent him from taking up the appointment. He accused him of heresy and immorality, and appealed to the Government to refuse him the necessary residence permit on the ground that he did not possess Prussian citizenship. When all that failed, it ~as suggested that Geiger should be hired as a preacher rather than a rabbi, which he declined. After two years of this wrangling the Congregation finally decided to dismiss Tiktin and install Geiger. And so ended what Solomon Schechter once described sarcastically as 'the Passion-Story of the Reform Gospel' (Studies in Judaism, Third Series, p. 53).  

The Lemberg Tragedy  

That remark could have been made with greater and indeed tragic appropriateness about an incident which occurred in 1848 in the Polish city of Lemberg (Lvov) when a synagogue there, on the death of its rabbi, appointed a moderate reformer, Abraham Kohn, as his successor. Soon Orthodox fanatics attacked him not only verbally but physically, and one day an unknown intruder dropped a large dose of arsenic into the family soup kettle. A few days later Abraham Kohn, aged forty-one, and his youngest child were found dead.  

The Albany Riot  

Let us pay a brief visit to the United States before coming, finally, to Britain. Brief, because in America religious freedom was so much part of the constitution and ethos of the country that it was hardly possible to challenge it, and also because there Reform Judaism established its big national institutions, such as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Union College, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis long before Orthodoxy got itself organized in anything like the same way, so that the Orthodox-Reform conflict was never as vehement in the USA as it was in Europe.  

Nevertheless, ugly scenes occurred there as well. For instance, in 1850, when Isaac Meyer Wise, the principal founder of American. Reform Judaism, was Rabbi in Albany, the traditionalists of the community agitated against him, accused him (for instance) of having publicly rejected the belief in a personal Messiah and in bodily resurrection, and, during Wise's temporary absence on a lecturing visit to Charleston, South Carolina, the President of the Congregation convened an irregular General Meeting which carried a motion to dismiss him. On returning to Albany Wise was advised to take no notice of the illegal dismissal, and on Rosh Hashanah, just a few days later, he conducted the service as usual. But when he approached the Ark to take out a Scroll, the President struck him, a riot followed, the police were called in, and the synagogue was closed.  

The West London Synagogue  

Finally, we come to Britain. The West London Synagogue of British Jews goes back to 1840, when some of the leading families of Bevi s Marks, haying pleaded in vain for the most minor reforms over a number of years, finally seceded and established a new congregation in the West End. The reforms they instituted were mild in the extreme compared, for instance, with those of the Hamburg Temple. The services were slightly shortened but still conducted entirely in Hebrew., and the women still sat apart from the men, in the gallery, as they continued to do for nearly another hundred years. However, the West Londoners also abolished the second day of the Festivals. a reform which the rabbi they appointed, David 'Woolf Marks, defended on the ground that the Oral Torah, as distinct from the written Torah, was no longer authoritative.  

The leaders of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy were aghast. No doubt they would have condemned the Reformers no matter how innocuous their innovations might have been. But their rejection of the Oral Torah gave them a ground on which to go beyond condemnation. So it was that in 1841 the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, Solomon Hirschel, jointly with the Presiding Rabbi of the Sephardi community, David Meldola, and some members of the Board of Deputies, issued a cherem (excommunication decree) against the Reformers, to the effect that 'any person or persons publicly declaring that he, or they, reject or do not believe in the authority of the Oral Law, cannot be permitted to have any communion with us Israelites in any religious rites or sacred act' (Anne J. Kershen and Jonathan A. Romain, Tradition and Change, A History of Reform Judaism in Britain 1840-1995, p. 19).  
This extreme measure was much criticized; at least three Orthodox congregations (Liverpool, Plymouth and the Western Synagogue) refused to observe it; and a few years later, in 1847, it was rescinded. Nevertheless, when the West London Synagogue applied to the Board of Deputies for registration as a congregation authorized to conduct Jewish marriages, the President of the Board, on the advise of its 'Ecclesiastical Authorities' , refused, and it was therefore compelled to obtain its own Act of Parliament for the purpose in 1856. After that the conflict died down. The West London Synagogue became unadventurous and 'respectable' , and was no longer perceived as a threat to anybody.  

The Liberal Movement  

But at the turn of the century the conflict flared up again in another context. This time the chief 'culprit' was Claude Goldsmid Montefiore, a member of two of the founding families of the West London Synagogue, the Montefiores and the Goldsmids. He became Britain's greatest-indeed one and only-Jewish Bible scholar in the modern sense of that term, the first Jew to think through the implications of modern Bible scholarship for Judaism, and a bold religious thinker and formulator of what he called 'Liberal Judaism.'  

In 1902, when Lily Montagu founded the Jewish Religious Union (JRU) in the hope of breathing fresh life into Anglo-Jewish religion, it looked to Montefiore for spiritual and intellectual leadership and elected him President, and in the ensuing years added to its name 'for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism', and founded the Liberal Jewish Synagogue. Montefiore combined a love of Jewish tradition and a rare capacity to understand and respect other people's beliefs with an uncompromising intellectual honesty, and this led him to go one step further than his teacher at the West London Synagogue, David Woolf Marks. Marks had questioned the authority of the Oral Torah; Montefiore questioned the authority of the Written Torah itself. It, too, he maintained was human and a product of its time, and therefore not to be uncritically accepted as 'the word of God' throughout.  

As he said in a manifesto he wrote for the Jewish Religious Union in 1909, 'We stand for a fresh and changed attitude to authority-.. We need accept nothing which does not seem to us good- The authority of the Book, so far as it goes, is its worth, and so far as that worth reaches, so far reaches the authority. The Book is not good because it is from God; it is from God so far as it is good.' Unsurprisingly, this new movement in Anglo-Jewry was subjected to indignant attacks by the Orthodox Establishment and produced a controversy as fierce as that which had been triggered by the foundation of the West London Synagogue 60 years earlier.  

Three Orthodox Ministers who had associated themselves with the JRU, including the Reverend Simeon Singer, were persuaded to withdraw. And when Joseph H. Hertz was elected Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in 1913, he began a long and bitter campaign against Liberal Judaism. He was, it should be said, a mail of pugnacious temperament of whom it was said that 'he never despaired of finding a peaceful solution to any problem when all other possibilities had failed' (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 8, p. 398). Oddly enough, Hertz nevertheless acquiesced Vv-hen, in 1934, the Board of Deputies certified the Liberal Jewish Synagogue as authorized to perform Jewish marriages and again five years later, when it did the same for the Liverpool Liberal Synagogue. Subsequently, under his successor Israel Brodie, the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues or ULPS, as the JRU had been renamed, did not fare so well-and had again to resort to its own parliamentary legislation in 1959.  

Recent Controversies in Anglo-Jewry  

The ongoing controversy over Progressive Judaism in both its forms, Reform and Liberal, grew sharper after the Second World War, partly because the influx of uncompromising Orthodox rabbis from the Continent produced a sea-change in the ethos of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy, including even the United Synagogue, to one of intransigence and militancy.  

A sign of the times was the 1962 edition of the United Synagogue's prayerbooks, first published in 1890 with a translation by the Reverend Simeon Singer, who, in his Introduction had paid a handsome tribute to his friend Claude Montefiore for his help with the translation. The new edition was not only more traditional than previous ones: it also omitted from Singer's Introduction the tribute to Montefiore which had appeared in every previous edition. That omission was surely one of the meanest things ever done by a major religious organization.  

Even Orthodox rabbis who dared to think new thoughts came under attack. Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, for example, because he had published a book advocating acceptance of modern Bible scholarship, was declared unfit to become Principal of Jews' College or Chief Rabbi. or even to resume his former position as Minister of the New West End Synagogue, and was effectively hounded out of the United Synagogue. He then founded the New London Synagogue and has since become the spiritual leader of the Masorti movement. He is by far the most learned rabbi, both in the traditional and in the modern sense, Anglo-Jewry has ever had. Yet ever since the 1960s he has been ostracized by the Orthodox community, which has therefore paid a heavy price for its intolerance.  

There have of course been many other eruptions of controversy in Anglo-Jewry, usually sparked by an intemperate attack on Liberal, Reform or Masorti Judaism by a self -appointed spokesman of Orthodoxy-almost invariably one who had never set foot in a Progressive synagogue or taken the trouble to read a single book about Progressive Judaism-followed by an acrimonious correspondence in the Jewish Chronicle. There is no need to give examples: they are too many, too unpleasant and too boring. But perhaps we should briefly remind ourselves of the most recent episode, following the death of Rabbi Hugo Gryn when Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks was conspicuously absent both from the funeral and from the memorial service, then sought to make amends by engineering a memorial meeting under the aegis of the Board of Deputies, at which he paid a glowing tribute to Hugo Gryn but studiously omitted to mention the single most important fact about him, that he was a rabbi. On top of which the Jewish Chronicle published a leaked letter he had written to a nonagenarian ultra-Orthodox rabbi to explain why he had felt compelled to go as far as he had, and to reassure him that really he regarded Hugo Gryn as 'a destroyer of the faith'.  

What is at Issue ?  

But the time has come to conclude by returning from the particular to the general, and asking two final questions. First, what fundamentally, is at issue in this ongoing controversy? Clearly, it is about the right to deviate from the tradition as Orthodoxy understands it, Orthodox Judaism denies that right; Progressive Judaism affirms it, and exemplifies it. Or to put it another way, as we have already done, Progressive Judaism affirms pluralism-the possibility, and the legitimacy, and even the desirability, of a multiplicity of expressions of Judaism to satisfy different needs, to suit different individuals, and to engage in an open ended search for the kind of Judaism best able to survive and flourish in the modern, post-medieval, post-Emancipation and now also post-Holocaust world.  

Orthodoxy, as we have seen, rejects such pluralism. But more specifically, the issue is whether it is right that Judaism should make any concessions to modernity, and that in turn involves the question whether modernity comprises any values which are both new and true. Here let me explain that I am alluding to something Claude Montefiore said about a particular, common Jewish attitude to the New Testament, an attitude which he regarded as inadequate, namely that whatever is new in the New Testament is not true, and whatever is true is not - new. We may then adapt that and say that from an Orthodox point of view, whatever is new in modernity is not true, and whatever is true is not new. But Progressive Judaism does not take that view. It believes that the values of modernity -for example, the spirit of free inquiry, individual autonomy, toleration of diversity (in other words, pluralism), democracy, equal rights for men and women, etc.-that these are true values which, even if not entirely new, do represent genuine advances and need to be implemented within Judaism as well as in society at large. To the question, then, whether Judaism has anything to learn from modernity, the Orthodox answer is No, the Progressive answer is Yes.  

Where do we go from here?  

Where then do we go from here? What can we do to avoid the kind of internecine strife between Orthodoxy and Reform which has caused so much disunity and acrimony in recent generations? About that I would like to say four things in conclusion. First, we need to practice the virtues of civil discourse. We Progressives especially, because it is easier for us, should take great care not to provoke the Orthodox, and when we are provoked by them, not to respond in kind, but to defend our cause in a dignified, respectful and immaculately courteous way. Secondly, it is sometimes suggested that we should make concessions to the Orthodox, modify our practices to bring them into closer accord with theirs, in short, become more like them; then, it is alleged, they will dislike us less and we shall get on much better. I reject that view. For one thing, it has been shown again and again to be untrue. From an Orthodox point of view, it doesn't matter whether we deviate from the tradition much or little; the fact that we deviate from it at all is sufficient to damn us. If anything, the more fair-minded among them will respect us more if we stick to our principles.  

This is not to say that we should not always be prepared to reconsider traditional practices which we may have wrongly neglected. Of course we should, and if we find that a particular practice we have discarded is, after all, desirable, then we should reinstate it, but because of its intrinsic value, not because it would narrow the gap between ourselves and the Orthodox. For the argument for concessions rests, above all, on this misconception, that the virtue of tolerance is best learnt by diminishing differences.  

On the contrary, it is the existence of the differences which make tolerance necessary, and to minimize them is only to obscure that fact, to evade the issue, to deflect attention from the essential task. Which brings me to my third and penultimate point. For an indefinite time to come, if not for ever, there will be different kinds of Judaism. Therefore, if we wish to maintain the unity of the Jewish people in spite of that fact, then we have simply got to acknowledge the diversity, if not de jure-we understand that for the Orthodox that may be impossible then at least de facto, and cultivate a spirit of solidarity that transcends the differences, whether large or small. There simply is no other way.  

And now my last point: controversy as such is not necessarily a bad thing, but only if it is conducted adversarially, acrimoniously, aggressively and destructively. If it is conducted courteously, respectfully, charitably, constructively, not to score points but through discussion to grow in understanding of what it is that God requires of us; then it is the kind of controversy of which a famous Mishnah says, 'Any controversy that is conducted for God's sake-that is, for the sake of ascertaining God's will-will in the end produce positive results' (Avot 5: 17). Let us do what we can to ensure that future controversies between Reform and Orthodoxy are of that kind.

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