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Concern Over ‘Divisiveness’ : Rabbis Call for Intra-Jewish Dialogue

Sixty rabbis and Jewish scholars from diverse organizations closed a national meeting this week in Simi Valley by collectively urging more intra-Jewish conversations in order to overcome widely acknowledged antagonism between traditional and innovative branches of Judaism.

About 20 Orthodox rabbis joined those from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism in calling on Jewish communities to give high priority to dialogues over the perennial problems of assimilation, mixed marriages, divorce, conversion and Jewish identity, and the steps some rabbinical groups have taken to solve them.

‘Time of Disharmony’

“At a time of divisiveness and growing disharmony in Jewish life,” said the statement from those meeting at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, “internal policy formation in each group should give the greatest possible consideration to the concerns of C’lal Yisrael (Jewish people collectively) and the impact of its decisions on other groups and their ability to relate to each other.”

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The gathering, which included role-playing exercises in an attempt to break down stereotypes, was the second national meeting organized by Chevra, a program of the National Jewish Resource Center, based in New York City.

Participants included a couple of rabbis from Hasidic groups, which rarely show interest in pan-rabbinic activities, and some female rabbis. (The Conservative movement this year joined the Reform and Reconstructionist bodies in ordaining women.)

Contesting Status as Jews

Orthodox Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, president of the National Jewish Resource Center, has predicted that almost a fifth of American Jewry might have their status as Jews contested by more traditional Jews by the year 2000.

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Greenberg said such a schism results from developments like the periodic crises raised by the Orthodox majority in Israel over conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis, and the relatively recent patrilineal decision by Reform rabbis to recognize the Jewish heritage of fathers as well as mothers bestowing Jewish status on offspring.

Greater personal contact is needed between Jews of differing opinions, Greenberg said.

“The fact is, if we had Jewish-Jewish dialogue the way we’ve been able to have Jewish-Christian dialogues, we would not be faced with some of the realities we’ve had to deal with here,” he told the Simi Valley meeting.


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