Posts Tagged ‘World Union for Progressive Judaism’

Would Jewish Emancipation Activist David Friedlaender Be Considered an Anti-Semite Under the I.H.R.A. Definition

November 23, 2020

David Friedlaender is one of the major figures of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. This was a movement of the 18th and 19th centuries in which Jews strove to reconcile their religion and ethnicity with contemporary western culture in order to take their place alongside their gentile fellow countrymen as full and equal citizens. According to the entry on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) Friedlaender (1750-1834) was

A forerunner of Reform Judaism. Through his marriage he became part of a distinguished Prussian family of Court Jews and he was one of Moses Mendelssohn’s circle. He believed the Jews were ‘destined from time immemorial to guard and teach by example the pure doctrine of unity and sanctity of God, unknown to other people.’ He argued that prayers for friends and country should be substituted for the messianic hope, and that secular law should be studied rather than Talmud. He also was tireless in his efforts for Jewish political and civil rights in Prussia. (p. 359.

Reform Judaism is a particularly radical reformulation of Judaism, which took over some features of Protestant Christian worship. In contrast to more traditional forms of Jewish worship, such as Orthodox Judaism, prayers are held in the vernacular rather than Hebrew and include choirs. The movement originally believed strongly that Jews should work to become full members of the countries in which they lived, and rejected Zionism. Reform Judaism’s essential doctrines in the US were stated in 1885 in Pittsburgh, when the rabbis there declared

We recognise in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approach of the realisation of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men … We recognise in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason … We accept as binding only the moral laws and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilisation.

This suggests that instead of viewing the Messianic hope as the appearance of a Messiah to redeem Israel, they saw it as the inauguration of the new era of peace and justice throughout humanity. Their views on tradition and mdoern culture were modified at a meeting in Columbus and 1937, and the movement has since discarded its anti-Zionism. In Germany the movement accepted changes in the liturgy while remaining theologically conservative.

The article on them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions also says

Reform congregations are united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and rabbis are trained at the Hebrew Union College in the USA and Leo Baeck College in the UK. Reform Judaism has no official status in Israel (though it has a few congregations and kibbutzim), because only Orthodox rabbis are recognised; and the Orthodox repudiate such Reform organisations as the ordination (semikhah) of women as rabbis. (p. 809.

This hostility undoubtedly explains why the late Jonathan Sacks, when he was Chief Rabbi, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This was the language of religious bigotry, the type of statement made by the fanatically intolerant before beginning their persecution and violence against their religious enemies.

As for the ordination of women, one American Jewish community made the news last year through their ground-breaking step of ordaining a Black woman as rabbi. Which should be a riposte to the racists out there who claimed that Jackie Walker, one of the peeps smeared as an anti-Semite by the fanatics in the Israel lobby, couldn’t be a Jew because of her skin colour.

The I.H.R.C. definition of anti-Semitism permits reasonable criticism of Israel, but claims that denying Jews their national right to a homeland is anti-Semitic. This is highly questionable for a number of reasons. There are a number of other nations, who at the moment don’t have their own state despite their aspirations. These include the Basques and Catalans in Spain, and the Scots in Britain. Yet there is no international declaration that states that refusal to recognise their aspirations for a homeland constitutes a form of racism.

There have also been different movements in Judaism, that rejected Zionism. On the one hand there are the ultra-traditional Haredi, who reject Israel on the theological grounds that it can only be founded by divine action through the Messiah. On the other there were Reform Jews and their predecessors, who rejected Zionism because the saw the Jews’ real homelands as the current countries in which the lived. Jewish anti-Zionist bloggers such as David Rosenberg and Tony Greenstein have pointed out that Zionism was very much a minority position amongst European Jewry before the horrors of the Second World War. In America there was little interest in Israel among Jews until the late 1960s and the emergency of Neo-Conservatism. Greenstein and the Israeli historian and critic of his country’s barbarous maltreatment of the Palestinians, Ilan Pappe have shown that rather than being pro-Jewish, Zionism has been itself tinged with anti-Semitism. Many gentile Zionists supported the movement as a way of removing Jews from their countries. It’s why Hitler initially signed the Ha’avara agreement with the Zionist leaders to permit and encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine. Pappe in his book Ten Myths About Israel includes an episode that clearly demonstrates this link between anti-Semitism and Zionism. In the 1920s Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, approached a German nobleman for his support. He noted that the man had taken an interest in it, and asked him why he didn’t support it. The aristo replied that he hadn’t, because he didn’t want people to think he was an anti-Semite.

And many of the opponents of Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, both Torah-observant and secular, are self-respecting Jews. But they’re smeared as self-hating and anti-Semitic by the country’s fiercely intolerant defenders.

But the example of David Friedlaender shows that if denial of Jewish nationalism is defined as anti-Semitic, then some of Jewry’s most ardent and tireless workers for emancipation, dignity and equality, who believed passionately in their religion and their people’s destiny and witness to the God of their ancestors, are Jew-haters. Which is ridiculous and absurd, or so it seems to my non-Jewish eyes.

I’m sure that some criticism of Israel is undoubtedly anti-Semitic. That of real Nazis, for example. Their hatred of Israel is part of a general, virulent, genocidal hatred of Jews. But the rejection or just simple criticism of Zionism by self-respecting Jews and their gentile allies, who genuinely despise anti-Semitism along with other forms of racism and Fascism, is clearly very different.

It strikes me that the inclusion of anti-Zionism in the I.H.R.A.’s definition of anti-Semitism is simply sectarian bigotry. Some Jews are supporters of Israel, others, who may be no less Jewish, aren’t. Just as some of the gentile critics and opponents of Zionism may the Jews’ most committed defenders and supporters.

A far better definition of anti-Semitism, and one that needs no examples to clarify it, is the simplest. It’s hatred of Jews as Jews, regardless of religion or ideology. That was definition used by the man who coined the term ‘anti-Semitism’, Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Bund Antisemiten in 19th century Germany.

The Board of Deputies, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Chief Rabbinate and other Zionist organisations have no business trying to foist such a partisan and highly discriminatory definition on the Labour Party or anyone, whether Jew or gentile.