Jewish Unity

Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna writes:

First, we must acknowledge the role American Jewish religious movements play in focusing more on what unites Jews than what divides them. Communal concern over “continuity,” the reluctance of wealthy donors to support those who promote Jewish divisiveness, and a strong desire among young Jews to move beyond denominational labels have resulted in an increased focus on the importance of just getting along. A revealing indicator of this trend was the first-ever North American Jewish Day School Leadership Conference, a collaboration among Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and community day schools held earlier this year. Organizers cited it as proof “that working across ideologies is possible and desirable.”

Second—and perhaps not unrelated—the Israeli chief rabbinate, whom the conversion bill would have empowered, has become deeply unpopular in American Jewish circles, even among many Orthodox rabbis. The politicization of the chief rabbinate, its unwholesome ties to Israeli politics, and its unwelcome intrusion into American Jewish religious life, granting recognition to some rabbis and denying it to others, has cost the chief rabbinate dearly. American Jews have come to appreciate the wisdom of a religious free market, where religion is separated from the state, no chief rabbinate exists, and rabbis are free to make religious decisions based on their own best judgment and conscience. The vast majority of American Jews would not advocate for a chief rabbinate in the United States, and they are understandably disinclined to increase the chief rabbinate’s power in Israel.

Finally, the past decade’s focus on community-wide adult Jewish education has promoted much greater public unity among Jews. Transdenominational adult Jewish education programs, such as Melton Mini-School, Wexner Heritage, Me’ah, and now Limmud, as well as Orthodox educational outreach programs sponsored by Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and an array of so-called community kollelim, liberally extend the welcome mat to all self-identifying Jews, including, inevitably, non-Orthodox converts to Judaism and patrilineal Jews, whom the Reform and Reconstructionist movements recognize as Jews on the basis of their Jewish fathers and their identification with the Jewish religion.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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