In an interview with Haaretz, Edgar Bronfman, former president of the World Jewish Congress, said: “Judaism must open up and fully accept families where one of the parents is not Jewish. If a revolutionary change is not made in the present rejectionist attitude toward mixed couples, the Jewish community in America will shrink and lose its influence, and American support for Israel will be in danger.”
In the midst of the financial crisis, Bronfman, 79, who is considered a symbol of capitalism, says he is more worried about the future of Judaism and what the Jewish community may have to face because of what he defines as “narrow-mindedness and clinging to archaic Jewish values that are not in keeping with the needs and goals of the community in the 21st century.”
In a written response to COLlive, outspoken British Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet says: “Mr Bronfman is more concerned with the future of the Jewish people than he is about the current economic climate. How admirable. If only more Jews would share his passion. However while some look to sell the market short in order to benefit from its decline, he’s looking to do the same with Judaism.
“His whole definition of Judaism is founded on the principle that no one has the authority to legislate for or against different forms of Judaism. Obviously Mr. Bronfman does not realize the inherent contradiction of his words. With one sweep he legislates the invalidity of religious Judaism to preserve his own view. His statement is a reformulation of the classical “freedom of speech for everyone except for those who disagree with me.” The definition of Judaism as essentially a religious creed stands in direct contradiction to his would-be secular Judaism. If the one is true, the other must be false. The two cannot co-exist.
“Just who or what constitutes a Jew or Jewishness? As odious as this may sound, there are only two alternatives: (a) the religious criterion of birth to a Jewish mother or legitimate conversion, or (b) to adopt something like the Nazi-model of having a certain percentage of “Jewish blood.” Mr. Bronfman, however, clearly rejects both. What is he left with? An individual’s choice to identify as a Jew, whether he is or is not? In that case, he must accept the so-called “Hebrew-Christians,” for that matter all of Christianity which defines itself as the “New Israel.”
“Bronfman’s definition of Judaism is more like a “civilization,” a “cultural identity”-thing. I assume his prayers are directed “to whom it may concern,” even while hypocritically using traditional terms of the Deity.
“Religion by its very definition necessitates it to be theocratic and not democratic. It means that G-d, and He alone, initiates and defines religion and revelation. G-d, and He alone, says what is acceptable to Him and what is not. Only G-d Himself can state and define what conforms to His will. There has to be some mandate, something that helps us define our roll and there has to be objective criteria – be it historical or philosophical to establish the authenticity of that mandate.
“In short, Bronfman’s whole brand of Judaism is a prime model for an oxymoron. As Saadiah Gaon said already more than 1000 years ago, Judaism is identified solely by Torah. Without Torah as Divine revelation there are no such things as Jewish values or Jewish morality. Indeed, without religion there are no real values or morals altogether. Without religion you have nothing but situational ethics, relative morality, the transient fads that happen to be popular at the time. At best you can talk about pragmatic utilitarianism, here today and gone tomorrow. It may be democratic, it may be practical and popular, but Judaism it is not.”