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The Jewish Report Editorial

Jewish Report is a paper for all streams of Judaism

  • Vanessa
The Reform movement had a major victory in Israel after the Israeli Cabinet recently made the decision to allocate a part of the Western Wall for Progressive prayer services. Locally, however, the Reform movement has felt side-lined by the South African Jewish Orthodox community.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Feb 17, 2016

This is magnified by the fact that approximately 90 per cent of South African Jews are affiliated to Orthodox/traditional congregations and the Progressive/Reform movement accounts for the rest. What a stark contrast to other countries like the United States where - according to statistics gathered by the widely accepted Pew Research Centre - a mere 10 per cent are Orthodox (although that refers to those who are strictly Orthodox), while the Reform movement is the largest group at 35 per cent of the Jewish population.

This newspaper experienced the frustration felt by local Reform leaders after we published letters that attacked the Reform movement. One letter writer likened Reform Judaism to a “manmade pond with no depth where the décor could be changed at will - you just need to find a minister and pay him enough to redecorate/justify everything you want to do”.

The letters compared Progressive institutions to churches, the rabbis to ministers, and questioned the rabbinical qualifications of Reform rabbis and the value of their path of study. The letters also blamed Reform Judaism for high rates of assimilation and argued that it was losing steam because its people were marrying out.

 

Progressive communities here were justifiably alarmed by these views and I do not blame them.

After a letter by a vocal Reform member, which would have countered some of the attacks on their denomination, was erroneously overlooked for publication in last week’s issue, we received a slew of new, angry letters from Progressive members including from two rabbis.

In their correspondence appearing in our letters section this week, Reform communities have expressed their displeasure both with the writers of the letters and with the Jewish Report itself. The omission of last week’s letter was certainly not intentional and it appears this week.

One Reform rabbi mentioned to me that in her community there was a perception that the Jewish Report refuses to publish letters from their members and that we had also failed to directly approach the Reform movement for a response.

For the sake of clarity. We do not as a policy make requests to people to write to us in response to other letters - it is an open forum for discussion and we completely welcome and embrace debate.

We publish almost everything we get because we do not receive enough letters! The only exceptions are when the correspondence is incoherent or libellous.

So, in response to the feeling of being slighted, Progressive readers and leaders, may I say that it certainly was not our intention. And we emphatically thank you this week for your energetic and impassioned responses and for not letting things just be.

An ideal system is one which does not censor freedom of expression and one where there is vigorous and healthy debate. I hope other readers will take example from their fellow Reform Jews and engage with us. We are every Jew’s paper and we want to hear from you.

 

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