Why Reform Jews should (partially) agree with Donald Trump about Pope Francis

Why Reform Jews should (partially) agree with Donald Trump about Pope Francis

At a press conference today Pope Francis, in a clear reference to Donald Trump’s immigration stance, said:

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel.”

Donald Trump responded:

“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,”

Of course, Trump couldn’t leave it at that. According to CNN:

Trump added that the government in Mexico, where Pope spent the past five days, has “made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope.”

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,”

Putting aside the idiocy of Trump’s comments about the Mexican government and ISIS attacking the Vatican, Reform Jews should agree with the Republican front runner when it comes to leaders, religious or otherwise, questioning someone’s faith.

Here are some reminders about what Jewish and Israeli leaders have said about Reform Judaism.

Last July David Azoulay, Israel’s Orthodox minister of religious services, said “The moment a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel, let’s say there’s a problem … I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew.”

In 1989 Reuven Rivlin, currently Israel’s President, attended a Reform Shabbat service and subsequently said:

As a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked without any limit. I discovered what kind of worshiping group was in front of me, such that any connection between it and Judaism didn’t even approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.

I was completely stunned. This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism. Total assimilation. Their prayer is like a completely Protestant ceremony.

In 2007 Rivlin met with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and would not agree to call the leader of Reform Judaism in North American by the title “Rabbi”.

Reform and Conservative Jews continue to fight for religious pluralism in Israel. Most recently progressive Jews scored a victory when agreement was reached for a new egalitarian worship space at the Kotel – although not everyone agrees that we should call it a victory.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, I agree with Donald Trump. At least to the extent he takes offense at being told by the head of the Catholic Church that he is not a Christian. Most everything else that comes out of his mouth is at best ridiculous and at worst offensive or even dangerous.

I’d be more sympathetic to what Pope Francis said if it had been something like, “such a position on immigration is not consistent with Christian teaching”. That would be like Orthodox Jews in Israel saying mixed-gender prayer is not consistent with traditional Jewish practice. And it wouldn’t be questioning someone’s faith identity.

If we define “observant” as following the practices of the most traditional “flavor” of one’s faith, Donald Trump may not be a particularly observant Christian. Similarly, Reform Jews may not, from an Orthodox perspective, be particularly observant Jews.

But saying someone isn’t, in this sense, observant, isn’t the same as saying someone isn’t a Christian … or a Jew.

I won’t question your faith, but hopefully I’ll make you think about matters of faith. Don’t miss anything I post here. Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Filed under: Current Events, Israel, Politics

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