Not a Moment too soon

Published in The Jerusalem Post on March 7, 1999

If Hershel Shanks had his way, we might all be theistically-unencumbered ‘humanists’, sharing love at will in ‘open marriages’. This, under the umbrella of some loosely-defined notion of ‘modern Judaism’.


The prominent editor of the US-based Moment Magazine, you see, recently has run cover stories taking down two of the Ten Commandments – belief in God and the prohibition on adultery. I assume that he’ll be going after the other eight core commandments sometime soon.


Moment Magazine’s immoral rantings are instructive for us here in Israel. Sort of like a warning sign: such Judaism you need not import from America.


It all started when Shanks had his widely-read “Jewish cultural” magazine “Revisit the Seventh Commandment”, beginning with a front cover photo of a couple passionately necking.


The “Adultery!” story made short shrift of non-marital sex (“routinely accepted in the Jewish community”) and homosexuality (“an alternative way for some Jews to express their love”); proceeded to tell us about surveys which show that extra-marital encounters are common and basically unavoidable; and didn’t forget to mention that the prophet Hosea, too, failed to be a paragon of fidelity to his wife. Which, of course, proves that it’s not so terrible….


The final words in this abominable article, shocking even in today’s super-liberal, almost-anything-goes Jewish world, belong to the radical Reconstructionist-environmentalist Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the “Jewish Renewal Movement” (sic) and the feminist theologian Judith Plaskow.


Monogamy and fidelity are not for everyone, Waskow tells us. Every couple must make its own autonomous decision as to whether their particular ketuba (marriage contract) requires monogamy, this “rabbi” intones.


For some couples, Waskow suggests, the fact that Jewish law thousands of years ago once permitted polygamy may serve as precedent for multiple sexual partners. He then suggests the possibility of – get this! – “polycentric marriage”, where relations are allowed within a carefully defined circle of lovers.


Plaskow fumes against the “possessiveness” of traditional marriage constructs, arguing that nobody possesses his or her partner’s sexuality. Monogamy, she insists, is but one choice in a menu of Jewish marriage possibilities.


So much for the Seventh Commandment. This month, Shanks’ Jewish magazine goes after Commandment Number One, the Decalogue’s top principle: “I am the Lord thy God”.


Shanks devotes eleven pages and the cover to an interview he personally conducted with an old, forgotten, marginalized “rabbi” who forty years ago founded something called “humanistic Judaism”.


I won’t bore intelligent readers of The Jerusalem Post with details of the soporific, sophomoric scribble entitled “Who needs God?”. Simply put, Shanks and his “rabbi” gut the Divine essence of Judaism. With faith and God out of the picture, all that’s left for the “rabbi” to sputter is some drivel about ‘courage’, ‘humanistic feelings’ and ‘folk culture’.


You might think that Moment Magazine is radical and unrepresentative of broader Jewish thinking in America today. Perhaps so. Nevertheless, consider the telling feature Shanks brings us in his latest issue: a cross-section of views on the question “Should Rabbinical Students Who Are Romantically Linked Be Living Together?”


Understand: no-one over there expects plain Jewish folks to refrain from pre-marital relations. But if you’re a rabbinical student (or a rabbi?), aha… then there is a moral dilemma to consider!


Prompted by controversy on this issue at the Conservative rabbinical seminary in the US, Moment Magazine brings us rabbi-in-the-street reactions. HUC (Reform) and JTS (Conservative) rabbinical students interviewed largely reject any restrictions on living together before marriage.


Abstention is simply not practical. “Realistically, you cannot expect a couple to be able to afford two New York City rents for even a semester’s worth of engagement time”, writes a second-year JTS rabbinical student. “The rabbi of the 21st century has to be someone within reach, not an unattainable, unapproachable ideal”. In other words, he has to be as much a sinner as all the rest of us.


“In terms of following Judaism, there are worse things you could do, like eating a cheeseburger”, writes another liberal rabbi-in-training. “This part of the halacha (avoidance of pre-marital sex) is weak at best, and becomes less important when you consider practical issues such as money”.


So much for the next-generation representatives of Divine morality and Jewish theology in America. Cheap rent overrides the most basic premises of holiness in Jewish family life.


Remember that Reform and Conservative representatives now want to serve on Orthodox Religious Councils in Israel. As if they care whether the poles of the Sabbath *eiruv* will be nine or ten *amot* apart or whether a *mikva* will have the appropriate units of water!


So we all owe Hershel Shanks and Moment Magazine a vote of thanks. For reminding us what it is about American Jewish life today that we in Israel absolutely have no need of importing. Not a moment too soon.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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