There is an old cynical joke about the fellow who asks the rabbi if he is thinking of having his sermons published. “No,” the cleric replies. “I have decided they should be published posthumously.”
The congregant approves: “Great idea, and I say the sooner the better.”
It isn’t often I endorse a sentiment like that, but I confess the latest offering by America’s Reform rabbis has me wading through an acid bath of asperity. These luminaries have signed on to an open letter, published in Roll Call and the Politico, urging Congress to act against global warming. The other signatories of this apostolic epistle are the usual suspects of left-wing church groups, most prominently and recidivously the National Council of Churches.
As it happens, today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Pentecost in English, which traditionally (although the Bible is not explicit on this score) celebrates the anniversary of the Ten Commandments being delivered by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Reform movement of today has long since abandoned belief in the occurrence of such a divine event. Those of their rabbis who believe anything happened at Sinai assume it was a national gathering along the lines of a constitutional convention and that Moses, either alone or in concert with associates, convinced the populace to accept a virtuous program of obligations.
Silly as that contention is from a religious standpoint, there is usually little point in taking up the cudgel. Most of their constituents are nice people who would otherwise have no Jewish affiliation. So they get the better-than-nothing shrug without too close an examination of the premise. In my role as a public commentator, I try to avoid speaking for or against any particular denomination.
All this breaks down when they take positions considerably worse than nothing. The most notable example is their pro-abortion stance. Early in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the leadership of Reform Jewry asked for a meeting to discuss their advocacy of “a woman’s right to choose.” When Reagan refused, they grumbled he was an anti-Semite. But they were not quick to disclose the reason he gave, a reason eminently well-founded. What he told them was this: your view does not represent authentic Judaism.
Not only is abortion forbidden according to Jewish law, it is considered part of the category of murder (there is some debate if it is full murder or a sort of second-degree infraction) which requires a person to give up life rather than take the life of another. Only three obligations in Judaism must be kept up even at the point of a gun: do not murder, commit adultery or worship idols. Abortion is allowed to save the life of the mother, based on the self-defense principle: the baby is threatening the mother, albeit unconsciously. (This analysis is based on Maimonides, Laws of Murder and Protection of Life.)
For a movement to claim to espouse the moral wisdom and sensitivity of Moses and then to fight in the public arena for the moral wisdom and sensitivity of Gloria Steinem is an obvious absurdity. Forgetting even the issue of Divine provenance for the Bible, these folks are not portraying a coherent intellectual or moral position.
Fast forward to the latest screechy screed on behalf of global warming. The missive missile they have launched into the fray bases its urgency upon a finding of fact: “Global warming is real, it is human-induced and we have a responsibility to act.” On the eve of Pentecost, this is irony of ironies. The truth of the Commandments being of Divine origin has far greater evidentiary substantiation than the “real” science they have accepted as gospel.
Consider. The entire Jewish nation testified to the revelation at Sinai. In a people known for its orneriness, no one disputed the facts. The Bible itself describes the Jews as stubborn and tells of rebellious activities on their part, yet nary a one challenged the veracity of the scene they witnessed. This was so thoroughly convincing that the vast majority of the non-Jewish world accepted it as well. In fact, Christianity taught this truth at a time when Jewish power was nonexistent, having been crushed under the Roman heel.
The Reform movement disregards the testimony of millions, of their own ancestors, of people who lived and died accordingly, of martyrs who sacrificed their lives, and buys the cynicism of academics in its place. If you live by the sword you die by the sword: now that the same academics have instituted a fire-and-brimstone quasi-scientific movement with a new set of prohibitions, the Reform Jews show up. Think about it: not eating smoked ham was too restrictive, but not smoking is fine; avoiding animals without split hooves was too much, but shrinking their global footprint is fine.
On this Pentecost, let us commit to the truth without fear or favor.