In 1853, the Reform clergyman who had been elected spiritual leader of Frankfurt’s official Jewish community published a pamphlet denouncing the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft, the independent community of Orthodox Jews, depicting them as a group of reactionaries bent on turning the clock back to the Middle Ages.
Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, the Rav of this kehillah, penned a powerful response, one that is just as applicable today as it was 160 years ago.
In his lengthy essay, Rav Hirsch described the life lived by those residents of Frankfurt who had already joined the haskalah movement.
“Their hearts were empty; their hearts ached where the loss of their religion had left a painful void. Even in the midst of the glitter of modern life, they felt ashamed to walk the earth without any religion and they grew troubled and miserable…”
Rav Hirsch then proceeded to underscore the true message of the pamphlet he was refuting and, by extension, the movement it represented.
The pamphlet, he said, sought to fill the emptiness within them, “quieting their hearts, calming their consciences and wiping away their shame. With this one magic device he made irreligion appear as godliness, apostasy as priestliness, sin as merit, frivolity as virtue, weakness as strength, shallowness as deep thought…
“Modern Jews were told,” Rav Hirsch continued, “‘Just be yourself, enjoy whatever you fancy, do only what you want. No matter what you are or what you do, it is all religion and you can consider yourself religious… ’”
Last week, Gedolei Yisrael and leading Rabbanim from across the spectrum of Torah Jewry denounced the Israeli government’s caving to the reform movement. The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael issued a powerful condemnation of the government’s decision to allow the reform movement a foothold in Israel, at the Kosel and in other areas. The Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of Shas issued a very sharply worded declaration of protest earlier in the week.
On Thursday, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate echoed the call of the Gedolei Yisrael and issued a scathing denunciation of the decision as well.
There are numerous reasons — each of them persuasive on its own — why Torah Jews throughout the world should be very alarmed by the extremely worrisome developments that have prompted these calls.
One of them is precisely the point that Rav Hirsch alludes to in his essay.
It is a tragic fact that — due in no small part to the malicious actions of the secular Zionist founders of the State of Israel and their successors — the majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael are currently estranged from their glorious heritage. Educated by government-run schools that failed to teach them even the basic principles of true Yiddishkeit, they know little about Torah and mitzvos.
But the fact that conversions, marriages and divorces are all supposed to be performed according to halachah helped pave the way for countless Jews to have at least some sort of connection — albeit a very tenuous one — to a Torah way of life.
At the very least, whenever they are inspired to seek a dose of inspiration, they know where to turn. Whether it is a time of rejoicing in their personal life, such as a bris, bar mitzvah, or wedding, or a time of crisis, many a secular Israeli Jew makes his way to the Rav of a local beis knesses or pours out his heart directly to Hashem at the Kosel. They may not be practicing a life of Torah and mitzvos — but at least they know where such a life can be found, and that the doors to such a glorious, enriching life remain open to all.
For much of the last two centuries, the reform movement and its conservative sidekick has succeeded in tearing countless Jews — entire generations — away from their roots.
It was hardly the first movement to try to accomplish this goal. Unlike many of the other efforts to separate Jews from the eternal source of truth — the holy Torah — the reform movement’s promulgators did not try to convince their victims to stop being Jews. Instead they insidiously insisted that one can do as one pleases — even reject every tenet of the Torah — yet still be a practicing Jew.
The tragically high rate of intermarriage and assimilation within American Jewry is testimony to just how successful this destructive agenda has proven to be, and evidence of the incalculable, permanent damage it has wreaked on the soul of our people.
Now the reform and conservative activists are determined to bring the counterfeit bill of goods they disguise as Judaism to Eretz Yisrael. Their intent is to throw sand into the eyes of the uneducated, and delude the secular Israeli masses into suffering the same fate as their American brethren.
The battle lines have been drawn and our leaders have issued a piercing clarion call.
It is vital that we be crystal clear who our opponents are.
We have no quarrel with the overwhelming majority of reform and conservative Jews, who seek to live their lives in peace and privacy. As we wait and yearn for the day that they, too, will be exposed to and able to ascertain for themselves the beauty and warmth of the eternal truth, we recognize that they wish us no harm.
It is a small minority, a group of reckless rabble-rousers armed by well-funded public relations machines and backed by the leadership of these movements, that have declared war on Torah Jewry in Eretz Yisrael.
To them and their backers we declare: We will not abandon our brethren in Eretz Yisrael and allow them to become unwitting victims to those who seek to sell them a counterfeit version of the oxygen of life. With every fiber in our being, we will fight for the eternal, Divine truth. We will do everything we possibly can to protect the sanctity of the Kosel and every holy place in the Holy Land, and battle for the right of every Jew, regardless of his current level of observance, to be protected from their harmful agenda.