Dear Rabbi Broyde

In last week’s Jewish Week, Rabbi Michael Broyde — rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills (Atlanta) and professor of law at Emory — published an opinion piece called “The End of Conservative Judaism.”

Rabbi Broyde’s thesis is that the Conservative movement’s recent decision on homosexuality was a move that demonstrated its break with Jewish law, and that along with ushering in the demise of the Conservative movement, will usher in an age in which American Jewry will have only two movements: Traditional and Liberal.

Rabbi Broyde clearly has a healthy dose of skepticism about liberal Judaism (for example, he takes it for granted that the legal nature of the homosexuality decision is “bogus”), but the tone of the article is descriptive, not ideological. Thus, Rabbi Broyde writes:

So now that American Jewry has outgrown its adolescence, I predict a rosy future of two denominations, with many subcultures within each of these denominations. There will be one denomination (called “Liberal” in most of the world) that denies that Jewish law is binding…There will also be a second denomination (called “Traditional” in most of the world) that observes halacha religiously…

All of this, I think, is a change for the better. The reorganization of American Jewry along the lines of acceptance or rejection of Jewish law will only help people make important choices in their own religious life.

Though I agree with some of what Rabbi Broyde writes, I do think the article is a bit deceptive. For one, Rabbi Broyde defines Liberal Judaism in terms of Orthodox (or Traditional) values. Defining Liberal Judaism as a denomination that “denies that Jewish law is binding” would be like a Liberal Jew defining Traditional Judaism as a denomination that values the fetishization of law more than the dignity of women and non-Jews.

Additionally, Rabbi Broyde’s supposed neutral/descriptive posture must be called into question in light of an article he published in the Jewish Press last month, where he writes:

Orthodox Judaism stakes its existence (in a theological sense) on the proposition that the intentional curtailment of observance of halacha, even when sincerely motivated, is sinful and improper. Denominations predicated on the idea that Jewish law is not binding, or that it can mean something very different from the classical understanding of halacha, are from an Orthodox point of view improper approaches not only to Jewish law but to Judaism generally.

In this article, Rabbi Broyde reaffirms the opinion of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik that Orthodox Jews can participate in programs with non-Orthodox Jews when the programs are social or political in nature.

On the other hand, Orthodoxy would not participate in a religious event such as multi-denominational worship in which Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform services are offered in a spirit of ecumenical validation and people choose where and what type of service to attend or even to attend all of them.

This smorgasbord approach to prayer cannot help but convey to its participants that – just as all the food choices are proper and what one consumes is a matter of personal choice – all the prayer options are valid.

I have a lot respect for much of Rabbi Broyde’s writing (some of which he has graciously let us reprint on MyJewishLearning), and I have friends and family members who have only wonderful things to say about him, but here I need to call it as I see it. Rabbi Broyde has the right to his opinion. He has the right to believe that pluralism or liberal Judaism is a perversion of his faith. But we have the right to ask him to do so in good faith.

Say what you mean, Rabbi Broyde. Don’t say that splitting up American Jewry into Liberal and Traditional is a “change for the better,” when you believe that Liberal Judaism is completely invalid.

Worst of all, perhaps, after presenting his rules against participating in an event that might lend religious credibility to non-Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Broyde concludes his Jewish Press article: “May we be blessed to live in a society where our diversity does not lead to divisiveness, and our unity is not contingent on our uniformity.”

If there’s a way to interpret this as anything but chutzpah, please post it in the comments section.

I’ve heard great things about Rabbi Broyde, but I’m disappointed. Good writing needs to be honest, and this attempt to be both a diplomat and an ideologue seems a bit slippery to me.

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