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10/30/02

Luke: "I've just read this new book "One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them." It's format is uninspiring, just an exchange of emails. I would've been more interested in reading a journalist's perspective who lived with both men and saw how they conducted themselves and how they influenced others. Words are cheap. Anyone can spout off. Actions are what count. And what I've read so far of this book is not interesting."

Publisher's Weekly says: "From January 21, 2000, to October 1, 2001, two learned and articulate rabbis exchanged 39 lengthy e-mail messages in a spirited but ultimately failed effort to find common ground between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Through the exchange, they became friends who respected each other even though they firmly rejected each other's points of view. Addressing a number of fundamental issues, they eloquently explain and criticize their opinions in a lively and spirited debate. Both erudite rabbis extensively cite the Bible and Talmud as well as the writings of philosophers and rabbis to support their stances, exploring such issues as women's status, Zionism, homosexuality, assimilation and Israel. Neither interlocutor is swayed by the arguments of the other. For example, while Hirsch, the Reform rabbi, says he will not preside at a homosexual wedding, he argues for tolerance. Reinman, the Orthodox rabbi, quotes the biblical condemnation of homosexuality and asserts the necessity of trying to convert gay people to a straight lifestyle. Hirsch contends that Israel needs religious pluralism, while Reinman retorts that "religious struggle in Israel will only roil and muddy the waters." Readers who are privileged to observe this enlightening disputation will be impressed by the outstanding scholarship of these two rabbis and by their superb capacity to express their views with clarity and determination."

Rabbi Gadol: "Rabbi Reinman is superb. He wrote a monster scholarly book on difficult laws of documents of money transactions and halakha [Jewish Law]. It's the most amazing book of any young person in America in the last 30 years. His father is a great scholar.

"Rabbi Reinman has written children's books. How could that be? How could a great scholar write children's books? I guess you can make a lot of money writing children's books.

"Rabbi Reinman has gotten into a lot of trouble in his hometown of Lakewood for writing this book with a Reform rabbi.

"In Israel, they'd look down on a rabbi who caters to baal teshuvas [returners to tradition]. But in America, the people you raise money from are breathing down your back while in Israel, you come to America to get the money and you leave them behind. Israel has a trickle down effect on Judaism around the world. Without Bnai Brak, the modern people wouldn't have much Judaism."

11/11/02

Orthodox rabbi cancels his book tour with a Reform rabbi

Gary Rosenblatt writes: "One People, Two Worlds" (Schocken Books, $26) the title of the current book by a Reform rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi exploring the issues that divide them, proved to be all too accurate this month when the Orthodox author, Yosef Reinman — under pressure from religious leaders in his Charedi community — canceled a 17-day, 17-city book tour that was to begin Sunday with co-author Ammiel Hirsch.

The news is more disappointing than surprising, given the intense resistance in the Charedi world to any hint of legitimizing Reform ideology. It also speaks to the level of fear of ostracism within the Charedi community, where rabbinic hierarchy is strong and widely revered.

Sadly, this is but the latest case of a prominent Orthodox rabbi bending to pressure from the religious right. Just last month, a book by the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, was labeled as heresy by several Orthodox rabbis in Manchester because it espouses the belief that Judaism does not hold the only religious truth. One of the offending passages in "The Dignity of Difference" states that "no one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth."

Indeed, the book, which consists of an 18-month e-mail correspondence between the two men on a range of religious issues — from the authenticity of the Torah to the role of women — offers a refreshingly candid look not only at differing ideologies but the personalities of the authors, who gradually move from suspicion of each other to friendship.

Luke says: Orthodox Judaism by its very nature is exclusivist. If you read the Hebrew Bible, you will see that non-Jews are generally portrayed in a negative light. They are to be avoided. Orthodox Judaism is inherently inward directed. It does not seek dialogue with the world or with heretical streams of Jewish thought. Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews have almost nothing in common. Orthodox Jews have more in common with evangelical Christians than with non-Orthodox Jews.

I read the book. Some parts were interesting, most of it was dull, and none of it was new to anyone well-read in Jewish polemics. I didn't perceive any movement by the authors and I don't see any chance they will become friends. The funniest statement in the Talmud is that Torah scholars increase peace in the world.

Ari Goldman, former religion correspondent for the New York Times, writes: A few weeks before the rabbinic group’s intervention, I heard the two men speak at a board meeting of the Jewish Book Council, the Manhattan-based organization that in all goodwill arranged the ill-fated joint book tour. Rabbi Reinman wore a black caftan, a big black yarmulke and wire-rimmed glasses. Rabbi Hirsch sat next to him in shirtsleeves and without a yarmulke.

The pair seemed very much at ease with one another and spoke with almost giddy satisfaction at pulling off the book project. They called each other “Yosef” and “Ammi” and seemed eager to take their show on the road.

From the Jewishpress.com, an Orthodox Jewish paper:

The Declaration issued last week by the Moetzet Gedolai HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America denouncing "One People, Two Worlds," co-authored by Rabbi Yosef Reinman and Reform Leader Ammiel Hirsch, finally confirms that the book is inconsistent with the long-established Torah view of Orthodox/Reform dialogue on religious matters. Indeed, since the advent of Reform, such transcendent Torah luminaries as the Chasam Sofer, Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveichik have not only declined to themselves engage in such public discourse, but have unequivocally proclaimed its inappropriateness. Public dialogue ineluctably sends the message, accurately or inaccurately, that each side has an open mind and is open to persuasion. Surely Reform`s negation of the Torah as Divinely inspired and the very notion of mitzvot, to say nothing of its embrace of such abominations as intermarriage, homosexuality and same-sex unions, makes the time-honored ban even more understandable.

We also welcome the Declaration`s pointed dismissal of the idea that such interaction may be justified in the interests of kiruv. We have long been troubled by the annual so-called "Shabbat Across America," founded by Orthodox Rabbis on the left of Modern Orthodoxy, which coordinates scripted programs on an equal basis in Orthodox synagogues and non-Orthodox congregations throughout the United States. The avowed purpose is to underscore the marking of the Shabbat as a unifying force. Yet, is the non-Orthodox conception of the Shabbat equally as acceptable as that of the Orthodox? Are not the non-Orthodox really being reenforced in their current beliefs? Thus, it is significant that the Moetzet has seized the unfortunate appearance of "One People, Two Worlds" as an opportunity to formally declare that we do not water down Judaism in order to attract people to it.

Ask Rabbi Gadol

Lukeford.net introduces what's sure to be a popular new feature of this website wherein Hollywood Jews can write in to one of the great sages of our generation and receive answers to their most pressing questions.

Confused in Brentwood writes: "What is the Torah outlook on those lax Orthodox shuls that engage in social activities with Conservative and Reform temples? Lately, they have even been doing this with homosexual temples. Isn't this degrading?"

Rabbi Gadol writes: Let us examine the controversy over the new book "One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them," an exchange of emails between Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch and Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman. Rabbi Reinman recently broke his contract to tour with Rabbi Hirsch to promote the book when a council of Torah sages forbade him from doing so.

The best way to appreciate the terrible damage caused by the book is by the gleeful reviews to it in Conservative and Reform circles and amonst the secular in Israel. The newspaper Ha'aretz gloated over "a breakthrough in the uncompromising wall of Orthodoxy towards Reform."

Even the anti-religious David Ben Gurion, first prime minister of the modern state of Israel, and his followers recognized that religious matters are the exclusive province of Orthodoxy, the genuine carrier of tradition. Ammiel Hirsch is at the forefront of the battle to spread Reform Judaism in Israel.

Hirsch is unquestionably a heretic. His tone throughout the book is strident, defiant and unapologetic. He endlessly quotes pet sections of the Talmud to supposedly prove that the Talmud agrees that its authority is zero. Most honest atheist intellectuals in Irsarel, not to mention all the Sephardim, have contempt for the transparent and self-demeaning phoniness of the Reform and Conservative movements. Friendship and association of an Orthodox Jew with anyone engaged in such work as Hirsch's is absolutely forbidden.

When in Jewish history has a book been co-authored by a Jewish heretic and an Orthodox rabbi? Which great sages could assume the authority to permit such a thing?

What gain was expected from the book's publication? To win the minds of a few Reform Jews at the risk of sowing doubts in weak Orthodox minds?

Because of natural desires, lusts and the quest for freedom from authority, it is obvious to the honest mind that contemplation of heretical ideas soon leads to dispensing with G-d's commandments.

As the great sage Maimonidies wrote in tractate Avodah Zarah 2:2: "Many books were written by the idolaters... Hashem has commanded us not to read those books at all, and not to think about idolatry, or even a single one of its details. Any thought that causes one to uproot one of the principles of the Torah we are warned not to think."

This book is a fraud. Some were led to believe that the idol of Reform had been decisively vanquished before any objective reader. This is not true.

Although Rabbi Reinman is a learned person, his speciality is not the Jewish outlook. He reveals a lack of experience in relating to the irreligious world. These liabilities render him inadequate for th task he undertook. He let himself be used as a tool for Hirsch's own purposes.