In his letter urging the elimination of non-Orthodox denominations ("Eliminate denominations," Letters, WJW, July 12), Rabbi Joshua Maroof contends that Orthodoxy is the "one, unaltered, authentic, traditional Judaism," the "original" version dating back 3,500 years.
This contention is not supported by the historical record. To name just a few major changes or modifications of the "original" Judaism:
Animal sacrifice has been eliminated, replaced by prayer.
Daughters can receive an inheritance, contrary to the sons-only stipulation in the Torah.
The legal subterfuge known as "Prosbul" circumvents the Torah's requirement that debts be forgiven in the Sabbatical year.
Rabbi Gershom ben Judah's edict prohibiting polygamous marriages.
The failure to carry out (thankfully) the many death penalties mandated in the Torah.
In the area of beliefs, there is the introduction of a hereafter, a theme nowhere to be found in the Torah. We also recite, in the Amidah, our belief in the resurrection of the dead. Whence comes this notion?
One should feel free to criticize Conservative and Reform Judaism's practices and trends, but to claim that only they are departures from an "original" version is either naive or unbelievably disingenuous. The bottom line is that we are all Jews. When we have so few friends into the world, it ill-behooves us to foster alienation within our own ranks.
A people divided
My Rockville neighbor, Rabbi Joshua Maroof, surely wrote his letter ("Eliminate denominations," Letters, WJW, July 12) about eliminating Ashkenazic denominations with several tongues in cheek. He surely knows that Jews have been a people divided - often creatively - through history by "denominations" or movements or parties.
When were we not? The biblical text tells us we were divided even under Moses. The Pharisees opposed the Sadducees, the House of Hillel and Shamai, the same, Chasidim and Mitnagdim scuffled more recently and on and on to this day. Thank God for options and alternatives enriching our lives with choices, however faulty and inadequate they all are.
And all admit to being imperfect save for the Orthodox who self-proclaim to be authentic. Besides, Reform Judaism, it should be remembered, predates Orthodox Judaism. These "denominations" representing critical differences are our profoundest strength: one people, a multiplicity of ideas and religious sensibilities.
Rabbi Maroof calls Jewish Orthodoxy unaltered. He cannot be serious. Judaism has always altered. Orthodoxy as well. That's what makes Judaism authentic and alive. But what kind of model does Orthodoxy represent - whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic - when its understanding of Judaism chains women as agunot to nasty husbands who won't do the right thing by their separated wives; manifests as a denomination that treats women as second-class Jews with no aliyot, no ordination, as acquired property in marriage, segregated from families at shul? Never mind attitudes towards non-heterosexuals.
As for Israel's Rabbinate, the state ought not employ and pay salaries to any clergy except military chaplains and hospital chaplains as in the U.S. and other democratic countries. The greater the separation of state and religion, the better. Even for Israel.
RABBI REEVE BRENNER
How to observe Tisha B'Av
I agree with "Observing Tisha B'Av" (From the Blogs, WJW, July 19) that it saddens me to see for so many of our people, "Tisha B'Av goes unnoticed."
The Jewish assimilationists abolished the custom of fasting on Tisha B'Av. In Israel, there are "God-fearing" Jews who also don't fast any more on Tisha B'Av, claiming that with the rebirth of the Jewish homeland, Tisha B'Av is just a chapter among the many unfortunate dates in our history.
But more people mark this day as a memorial to the Shoah. In Israel they visit Yad Va'Shem, Yad Mordecai, Kibbutz Lochamei Ha'Ghetaot Itzhak Katzenelson Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum and military cemeteries all over the country. The substitution of obligated custom of fasting with giving charity is also a new observance all over the Diaspora.
Thousands of people visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on Tisha B'Av. Holocaust survivors who lost their families in the Shoah calamity, observe this day as their yahrtzeit of their dear ones who perished, not knowing when and where they died, but Tisha B'Av is engraved upon their souls as a Memorial Day.
Observant Jews attend services in synagogues and temples, read Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, fast, give tzedakah as their predecessors did for the last two millenniums.
Secular Jews, and observant Jews, visit the Holocaust Museum and the cemeteries. Both of them express their relationship to Judaism, devotion to memory and concern for our future.
We have lived to see the remarkable Jewish rebirth in the Land of Israel. Ezekiel's vision of the "scattered dry bones" of the hopeless Tisha B'Av period, saw a resurrected Jewish nation in many parts of the world. Our sages predicted, "Nations come and go, but Am Yisrael Chai."