Anyone reading my postings is aware of my qualified antipathy toward the liberal Jewish denominational movements. On the one hand they have become hollow husks, empty of traditional Jewish value systems, lacking the contextual reference points along the continuum of Jewish history, diluted by the high rate of intermarriage and led by self serving arrogant rabbis lacking standards. Gary Rosenblatt, editor of the Jewish Week wrote an interesting editorial “Where Have All the Rabbis Gone” (Jewish Week, April 27, 2011) in which he points to the growing ranks of unemployed rabbis endemic now in the liberal movements. His description of this state of affairs is impeccable and his analysis poignant, attributing however, much of the shortage of rabbinical positions to the problematic economy that has plagued America for the past five years. Some even say that the convergence of economic factors created the perfect storm, which severely crippled the financial infrastructure of the Jewish community.
While I agree with Mr. Rosenblatt’s that the economic maelstrom, which has no end in sight, continues to play a role in the dearth of liberal rabbinical assignments available that isn’t, by far, the fundamental reason for their growing malaise. To wit, the orthodox community, affected by the same economic downturn is bursting at the seams, with a growing demand for more rabbis. The liberal movements have been in decline for decades, perhaps not in the numbers game but substantively-and that was bound to catch up with them, sooner or later.
Buried deep within the liberal movements were the seeds of their own destruction. The rate of intermarriage is soaring and has past the Rubicon of sustainability. Many temples have more gentiles in attendance than Jews. The Conservative movement has now added a new class within their movement, the K’rov Yisrael (about which I have written in previous posts), gentiles opting not to convert but wish to be active partners in the Jewish community and participate fully in services. There are some rabbis in a quandary as to how to pitch their sermons on the high holidays expecting a high number of gentiles at services and fear being politically incorrect. Heaven forbid that the rabbi might say something offensive resulting in loss of membership. Membership is key, because it generates the income that funds their bloated salaries and high overhead.
The large temples built over the past five decades with their staggering overhead requiring synagogue administrators, a senior rabbi, two and three assistant rabbis, a cantor and music director each receiving attractive compensation packages has effectively stifled the original purpose of the community – spirituality. These temples, as they were conceived never had in them long term sustainability. Intermarriage has been rampant since the 1970’s. New sources of income were needed to replace those that opted out of membership. The need to capture the potential source of income from the intermarried couples fueled the out reach programs. This too has reached its apex and we are witnessing the slow and insidious implosion of liberal Judaism.
The problem is exacerbated by the sentiments of a large and growing number of their membership led by their rabbis who have marginalized Israel, offering her up on the altar of international law and human rights. Rabbi Richard Jacobs was nominated recently to replace Rabbi Eric Yaffe in the top spot in the Reform Movement and this has further accentuated the problem, making it more acute than ever before. Jacobs sits on the rabbinic cabinet of J Street, which is no friend of Israel To add insult to injury he is a proponent supporting in part the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) initiative against Israel.
He isn’t alone in his aspirations to weaken and compromise Israel’s security. Other rabbis in the liberal movements are doing their best to give aid and succor to the Palestinians at the expense of Israelis. There are rabbis who now fast monthly on behalf of the human crises in Gaza, and pummel Israel at every opportunity from the pulpit and in the press. Their rabbinical students will not buy religious articles that are made or produced in Israel. Some of their students (according to face book entries) when on a year study in Israel prefer to spend their free time with Palestinians rather than with Israelis. What a promising picture of the future leadership of the liberal movements!
It would appear that the liberal movements are headed south, but haven’t hit rock bottom yet. It is not a result of the weakened and bland economy, creating in the words of one rabbi, “the perfect storm” that has caused this deep malaise in the liberal movements. Rather the perfect storm has been the confluence of the soaring rate of intermarriage, unsustainable synagogue infrastructures and the embrace of international human rights at the expense of Israel that has wrought havoc on them.