Inclusion or Division?

Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm has created quite a stir over his recent comments in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. He stated that the future of American Jewry is in the “hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox.” But in doing so, he managed to completely disregard the significance of both the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism.

He said the Reform movement “may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews you will do OK.” (By goyim he appears to be suggesting that Jews of patrilineal descent are not Jewish in any way; the derogatory way in which he wields that word serves as yet another example of how it is not “neutral” as some would claim.) He added that the “Reform movement is out of the picture, because they were never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture,” and then implied non-Orthodox Judaism is watered down. What’s interesting though is that amidst Rabbi Lamm’s statements, the Post lets the reader know that according to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey, the Reform movement is still nearly twice as large as the Orthodox.

At the same time, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel was attending a convention of the Rabbinical Council of America in Teaneck, NJ. The headline in the New Jersey Jewish Standard read: “Orthodox rabbis promote ‘inclusiveness’ at Teaneck confab.” Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, co-chair of the conference, was quoted as saying “We want to show that… the Orthodox world is not monolithic,” and that inside Orthodox Judaism’s big tent there is “room for a variety of opinions within halacha, and especially for individual community articulations of that community vision.”

Sounds like two different heads on the same body. One is promoting inclusiveness and a willingness to work with others; the other is using the kind of outdated language that only causes division within Judaism. Let’s hope people choose to listen to the former.


  1. 1/ Lamm’s non-inclusive comments about the shrinkage of conservative Judaism have been echoed in articles here.

    2/ I believe that Lamm also includes 100% gentiles in his comments about ‘adding goyim to Jews’

    3/ Yes Reform Judaism is almost twice as large as Orthodox Judaism. Of course at one time Reform Judaism was more than three times as large as Orthodox Judaism. This is what happens when demographic change comes about.

    4/ As to one comment being outdated and the other one not outdated, we’ll have to wait a few decades to find out which was which.

    Comment by Dave — May 17, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  2. Isn’t Reform Judaism older than Orthodox or Hasidim movements? Just wondering?

    Comment by Aviva — May 18, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  3. Modern Hasidism came about during the 18th century though originated in mysticism of 12th century. In Europe, Reform emerged concurrently with the Enlightenment - also 18th century -which was a time when Jews were able to leave their communities, learn secular subjects, and participate as citizens in the non-Jewish cultures of the countries in which they lived. The Conservative movement was a reaction to the Reform movement, so was Orthodox. Judaism has always been in flux - no one group was here first - there have been many groups in many times and places with their own distinct preferences.

    Comment by Sara — May 19, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  4. In response to the “two different heads on one body” comment, I don’t believe that this is the case. If you look at the quote “…a variety of opinions within halacha…”, that still excludes all of Reform Judaism, which is not halachically-based. And some Orthodox would also exclude the Conservative movement since it modifies halacha (i.e. one can drive on Shabbat if one is driving to shul).

    I think Rabbi Lamm’s statements (reprinted in my local Jewish newspaper in California) are exclusionary, divisive and a “shanda”, a shame on the Jewish people for thinking that way about each other. There are so few of us, yet we can be so influential if we only acknowledge each other and are willing to work together.

    Comment by rifkah — May 19, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

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