The Ellenson Challenge

In this week’s Forward, David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, recounts two recent events in which Israeli Orthodox rabbis have severely demeaned Reform Judaism.

The first is the well-publicized case of former Sephardic chief rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu who recently joined a long line of Orthodox rabbis blaming the Holocaust on liberal Judaism.

The second is the case of Rabbi Michael Boyden, a Progressive rabbi whose son was killed in southern Lebanon in 1993, who was asked to recite a prayer at a public ceremony on Yom Hazikaron, only to have the invitation rescinded following pressure from a local Orthodox synagogue.

But Ellenson doesn’t only condemn these events. He calls upon Orthodox rabbis of good conscience to condemn them with him. And he gives his Orthodox colleagues a precedent:

In July 1860, a group of zealous Orthodox youth in Amsterdam entered an assembly of the Shochrei Deah, a Reform group, and stoned the liberal rabbi Dr. M. Chronik, almost killing him…

Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer — then head of an Orthodox yeshiva in Eisenstadt, Hungary, and later destined to become founder of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin — did not hesitate to condemn these youth for their actions, and he stated that such a deed constituted an act of hillul hashem, a “profanation of God’s name.â€? …

Hildesheimer circulated among Orthodox rabbis in various lands a petition that stated: “We, the undersigned, have read with great sorrow the announcement about the unrestrained disturbance in the synagogue in Amsterdam. We declare that this sad episode is opposed to the commandments of Judaism.�

Will any Orthodox rabbis take up Ellenson’s challenge?  I know what I think.  And I’d love to be proven wrong.

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