Sunday, February 20, 2011

Elijah Tears Into Reform Judaism


This week's Haftara relates how Eliyahu the prophet, before an assembly of all the Jews, rebukes a segment of them. He says, "How much longer will you straddle the fence? If you want to worship Hashem, then do so; And if you want to worship the foreign god, then do that!"

Pay attention to what Eliyahu is saying, for his precise words may be mistaken for speaking colloquially. Eliyahu is telling these people that even idol worship is better than straddling the fence! He could have attacked the idolators, but instead his anger was directed at the reformers.

This is quite amazing because idolatry and monotheism diametrically oppose each other, so much so that idolatry counters everything Judaism stands for. Why does Eliyahu unleash his contempt against fence straddlers when idolaters you'd think are worse?

We can find a hint from Maimonides who asks this question: How is it, if Hashem despises any other gods before Him, that religions that worship false gods or false prophets are given freedom to do so? Answers Maimonides, because Hashem tolerates them for they at least strive to live by the truth. Yes they follow a path diametrically opposed to the right direction they should be taking, but at least their mindset is anchored in spirituality; Once these people are eventually shown the truth, on a moment's notice they will turn around and align themselves with the correct faith.

Which is untrue of those who straddle the fence. These people dip into the Jewish pool when its suits them, and into the idolatrous terrain when it suits them. Such people seek convenience more than they seek truth. For them spirituality plays second fiddle to self-satisfaction (and self-worship). These people delude themselves into thinking they are "good Jews" because, after all, much of what they do is congruous with Jewish observance, and as for what they do otherwise, their love of self easily rationalizes those annoyances away. These are people, then, whom logic cannot easily budge. Much like a sick person who doesn't recognize he's ill.

If this weren't bad enough, worse still is another effect these people have. They may have influence on others who lack insight, or knowledge. For straddlers cannot be easily identified for who they are, as can idolaters. A Jew knows enough to realize idol worship clashes with Judaism, but he may not detect this hidden agenda in his straddler friend. It is for this reason gentile missionaries, for example, often prey on targets among this group of weak Jews by posing with a Jewish facade.

Who are these straddlers, these "two-partiers" today? For every generation has them, it seems. In the past, they were the Sadducees, the Hellenists, or the Haskalah. Today they are the "reformists". They come in several "schools of thought", like "Conservative", "Reform", or "Reconstructionist". Maybe they even have a homosexual camp. Anyhow, we can easily dump them into one "Reformist" container. It is to these people Eliyahu spoke out against, to either quit their brand of Judaism or adopt the genuine thing without compromise. Either accept Hashem or don't - but don't turn Judaism into a half-donkied religion!

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