Chancellor Eisen and Dr. David Golinkin on Judaism’s Vital Religious Center

Posted on May 06, 2014

Having just celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’aut (State of Israel Independence Day), the importance of a vital religious center in Jewish life—both in Israel and the Diaspora—comes to the forefront. I would like to share a talk I gave a few months ago at The Schocken Institute for Jewish Research in Jerusalem, along with a response by Dr. David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.

A Vital Religious Center in Our Days
Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen, JTS

It’s good to be in Israel again, in this library again, where a year ago Shmuel Glick opened the evening by instructing us about what to do if the sirens went off to warn of incoming Hamas missiles. A lot has changed in the world since then, including in this part of the world, even if peace remains elusive. I want to talk with you about whether recent changes in the Jewish world, both in Israel and in North America, should lead us to think differently about the labels by which Jews define ourselves and the boundaries that divide us from one another.

Specifically, I want to explore and encourage the emergence of a broad trans-denominational consensus that, for lack of a better term, I call the “vital religious center” of North American Jewish life. We have translated this term, after much back and forth, as the shvil ha-zahav ha-dati.

I believe that the concept of vital religious center is as relevant in Israel as it is in America. Indeed, the creation of this center may serve to bring our two communities closer together even while preserving denominational differences that remain important. I thank my friends David and Tovah for joining me at the speakers’ table this evening to begin a discussion that I hope and trust will continue to echo beyond this evening and beyond the walls of this institution.

In a marked departure from recent customI will not begin by discussing the Pew Report, which seems to be obsessing Jewish leadership circles in America at the moment. I will also not begin by discussing the past week’s Torah portion, despite my natural attraction as JTS chancellor to the story of the burning bush. Let me, instead, go back 100 years to the moment in 1913 when Solomon Schechter, in effect, made Conservative Judaism a religious movement in America by founding the United Synagogue. He did so with a talk entitled “The Work of Heaven” in which, we note, he spoke repeatedly of “this Conservative, or if you prefer so to call it, this Orthodox tendency.” He referred to JTS as “Conservative or Orthodox” and elsewhere used the word “traditional” (masorti) to describe the sort of Judaism he hoped JTS would strengthen. Schechter often helps me think about issues of the day. That is certainly the case when it comes to the issue before us this evening. So let’s spend a few more minutes in his company.

In “The Work of Heaven,” as in other addresses, Schechter regarded religious movements—Conservative, Orthodox, or Reform—as means to an end, adjectives to a noun: Judaism, which he often called simply “Torah.” This was in keeping with his famous (and not always clear) concept, “Catholic Israel,” used to describe the community of Jews who had maintained Judaism over the centuries and continued to do so in his day.

Schechter included Orthodoxy in that category, despite its failure to recognize the changes that had taken place in Judaism over the “artificial ignorance,” Schechter called it, a tendency of which he was quite critical. Reform, I believe, was not part of Catholic Israel in his view. The speech he delivered at the new HUC campus in Cincinnati in 1913, entitled, “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition,” argued that, in religion as in government, “opposition there must be, owing to the difference in temper and temperament . . . of training . . . of surroundings . . . of opportunity.” The two religious parties—“government” and “opposition”—could and should work together in two areas, Schechter explained: Jewish learning and in the “great work for which Judaism can do for humanity at large.” In other respects, one infers, they could not work together. I am not sure that Schechter would take that position today. I certainly do not. Reform has changed in the meantime, meaning that we, unlike Schechter, can and should look “left” as well as “right” from the Conservative center as we seek to build our consensus.

We get a better sense of what Schechter meant by Catholic Israel—and can derive useful ideas for thinking about the vital religious center—from the final pages of a remarkable address that Schechter gave in 1903, “The Seminary as Witness.” The passage begins with a long account of the many ways in which Rashi and Rambam differed profoundly from one another. What, then, supported the “bonds of unity” among their students? (1) “They both observed the same fasts and feasts”; (2) “they both revered the same sacred symbols, though they put different interpretations on them”; (3) “they both prayed in the same language, Hebrew; “ (4) “they both were devoted students of the same Torah, though they often differed in its explanation”; (5)“they both looked back to Israel’s past with admiration and reverence, though Maimonides’ conception of the Revelation, for instance, largely varied from that of Rashi”; (6) “their ultimate hopes centered in the same redemption.” In sum, “they studied the Torah and lived in accordance with its laws, and both made the hopes of the Jewish nation their own.”

I have quoted at such length because I find it difficult to improve on Schechter’s definition of what unites Jews of the vital religious center despite our differences. That is all the more true because, three years after he gave the “Seminary as Witness” talk, Schechter “made the hopes of the Jewish nation [his] own” with his famous statement endorsing Zionism. I am less interested in the question of how Schechter would think about the vital religious center today than about how we should do so. Here, then—very briefly, in the most general terms—is my sketch of the main principles that define that center. I begin with the concept that I believe is most essential to Judaism—covenant—and proceed to community/ peoplehood, learning, mitzvah, tefillah, and relations to other peoples and faith communities. In conclusion, I shall reflect on the continuing usefulness of denominations: Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative.

1. COVENANT (BRIT). The primary fact of Judaism, the source from which all else flows, is that the Covenant at Sinai established a people simultaneously with a relationship to the Holy One. This gives life as a Jewish human being ultimate meaning at the same time as it connects us to a local and global community. In Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words, Torah speaks to the “vital, personal question which every human being is called upon to answer, day in and day out. What shall I do with my mind, my wealth, my power?” However, Judaism has always been more than religion. We are a kingdom (mamlekhet kohanim), a nation (goykadosh), a people (‘Am Yisra’el). That means—here one turns to Mordecai M. Kaplan for guidance—that Judaism has always been a civilization, an “evolving religious civilization.” Torah is not an individual path to enlightenment, but a communal project aimed at holiness. It requires local Jewish communities and the worldwide network of communities that we call the Jewish people.

There is a third component given with covenant, which I call “agency.” God, for reasons we will never understand, seeks human partners to help fulfill God’s intentions for creation—and particularly to add justice and compassion to the world. The covenant brings the Children of Israel into simultaneous relationship with our fellows, with the world at large, and with God.

I argued last year in this room that we need to get beyond division of Jewish souls and communities into “religious” and “secular” (hiloni and dati). The words are too thin, too narrow, to capture the richness of thought and action that is evident in Jewish human beings in our day. Our tradition refuses to define God in only one fashion. My notion of the vital religious center has space for individuals and communities who affirm responsibility to that which is Most Holy, Most Good, the Source of Life and Blessing—even if they choose not to attach the name God to those ideals. (The vital religious center does not include those who think, with Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins, that religious questions are a waste of time, that “signals of transcendence” are illusions, and that our ancestors were ignorant fools for trusting in God. My boundaries are broad, but they are not infinite.)

The primary commitment to covenant means that there can be no Jews without Judaism and no Judaism without Jews. There can and will be no covenant without infinite concern for the world and to humanity.

2. LEARNING (TALMUD TORAH). The central questions facing every individual Jew and every generation of Jews, then, are these: What role shall we play in fulfilling the covenant? What word will we say in the conversation begun at Sinai?  What must we do to make the world more just and compassionate?

If we accept commitment to that task, and are wise enough to know how hard that task is, we want to learn all we can about our world and benefit as much as we can from previous attempts to live in accordance with the tradition that, according to Torah, begins at Sinai. We will engage in Talmud Torah for its own sake, and will try to translate it into deeds. We will bring to that study, as the Rabbis did two thousand years ago, all the knowledge and skills at our command.

Put another way: we want to love God and God’s creatures with all our hearts and not part of them; all our souls; all our minds; all our might. That “all” should include all of us: women as well as men, old as well as young. The Torah instructs us that such learning must emerge from practice, and must consist of both rules for practice and of thinking that ranges far beyond practice. Halakhah and Aggadah are both required. Our learning requires text and history, Hebrew as well as the language of the university, concern with how things should be and detailed knowledge of how things are. The kind of learning we do, more than anything else, defines membership in the vital religious center.

3. MITZVAH. Jews swim against the stream of contemporary culture in our insistence that we are not free agents, even if God has always required the freedom built into humanity since creation. Without freedom, there can be no moral action, no creative acts of justice or compassion, no “acceptance of the yoke of Heaven.” Recall the Rambam’s insistence on this point in the Laws of Repentance of the Mishneh Torah. The Rabbis got it right when they insisted on both autonomy and obligation. Jewish tradition rejects the notion that these two are either/or. Jews sometimes perform commandments out of a combination of love and duty, and sometimes out of duty alone. We sometimes do mitzvot because conscience and tradition both tell us they are right—and sometimes do them despite doubts voiced by conscience or tradition.

No Judaism true to Torah can do without mitzvah; the vital religious center, therefore, cannot do without halakhah, which I understand as the set of commanded norms and practices that define a particular community of Jews and set that community in relation to the Jews who came before us. We are never merely halakhic Jews or aggadic Jews, any more than we are merely religious Jews or merely secular Jews, merely autonomous or merely obedient. But we are always commanded.

4. TEFILLAH. Schechter rarely talked about God. I think the reason was his inability to affirm particular beliefs that he thought he should have been able to affirm as a rabbi and teacher of Torah. Rather than voice doubt or disbelief, he kept silent. We do not have that luxury, because we cannot award a monopoly on “God-talk” to the fundamentalists on one side or the militant atheists on the other. We Jews are the heirs to a long and sophisticated tradition of thought about God, and we are living in a time when many people are receptive to such thought, indeed hungry for it. We must not let them down—and leaders of religious institutions and movements need to work hard, using all the tools at our command, to fashion experiences of tefillah that enable Jews of all ages to stand before themselves, their God, and one another.

Much progress has been made in recent years to do this, both in America and in Israel. Not every Jew will be drawn to tefillah, no matter how good the music, how warm the community, how wise the rabbi. Some Jews will be drawn to study, good deeds, communal leadership—and feel out of place in a house of prayer, no matter how good its music and how welcoming its congregation. But no Judaism that calls itself the vital religious center can ignore the human need for tefillah to which almost every form of Judaism until today has responded.

5. JEWS AND OTHERS. Israeli and American Jews may part company somewhat on the application of this principle because of differing historical situations. On the principle itself, however, I believe we can all agree. We will both look inward as well as outward; we will both seek a balance between particular and universal; we will both insist on maintaining that balance in the face of Jews who tell us that we must ignore one of the two in favor of the other. America makes possible and requires a constant effort to form alliances with other groups and religious communities in order to influence the shape of the country in which Jews participate fully but comprise only 2% of the population. In Israel, Jews exercise not only influence but power, and therefore have the chance to determine educational policy and environmental policy and foreign policy. The State also includes a significant non-Jewish minority among its citizens and, of course, must contend with enemies bent on its destruction. I do not want to give you advice on this matter. It is enough to say that the Judaism of the vital religious center recognizes that Jews are responsible for and responsible to other peoples than ourselves. There is a planet to safeguard, a state and people to safeguard, billions of human beings to feed, neighbors with whom to live and from whom to learn.

In conclusion: it should be apparent that most of the agenda I have just outlined can be pursued beyond the boundaries of the denominations as they currently exist—and therefore should be pursued in this way, given that we want to use our limited resources as best we can and that most non-Orthodox Jews, in Israel as in America, do not have much interest in or patience for denominational differences. We should preserve those divides and the movements that serve them, only to the degree that substantial differences among Jews are not only inevitable but essential to the teaching and practice of Torah.

I believe that such differences do remain important. I am prepared to cooperate on some matters even with Jews beyond the bounds of the vital religious center: with Jews who deny the need for Hebrew, for example, or reject the commitment to peoplehood or insist that human beings are fully autonomous and so not subject to mitzvah or ridicule my faith in God as an absurd anachronism or who will not learn Torah with or from Jews of the opposite sex. But it is hard for me, and perhaps impossible, to share schools or shuls with such Jews or to award them an equal role in the definition of Judaism. There are eternal human questions that the Torah answered definitively for us a long time ago and should not be re-opened, others that our ancestors answered in ways I feel obligated to follow, and some that we can only seek to answer, each of us individually and all of us together, for as long as we live.

Doing so as a Jew in the present moment is one of the greatest gifts a human being can have. We have that opportunity, and the responsibility that goes with it. I suggest we consider—whether we define ourselves as Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Modern Orthodox, whether we live and practice Torah in America or in Israel—how we can best do so together.

Read “A Vital Religious Center in Our Days” in Hebrew. 


By Rabbi David Golinkin

I thank Prof. Eisen for inviting me to this symposium and for forcing me to think about this important topic. When Prof. Shmuel Glick turned to me about two months ago regarding the translation of the title into Hebrew, I thought that the title should contain the expression “derekh ha’emtzah“, “the middle way”, but I did not insist because I assumed that most people would not understand that title. Now I would like to explain the title which I preferred at that time:

I) What is “the middle way” in the Jewish tradition?

II) Three possible critiques of “the middle way” and a reply.

III) What should be the agenda of “the middle way” in Israel today?

I) What is “the middle way” in the Jewish tradition? (1)

This basic idea is hinted at in the book of Kohelet  (7:18): “It is best that you grasp the one without letting go of the other,  for one who fears God, will do his duty by both”.

This idea is found more explicitly in rabbinic literature, and there it is called “to walk in the middle”:

1a. Tosefta Hagigah 2:5, ed. Lieberman, p.381, in connection with the story of “four who entered the orchard”:

To what can this be compared?

To a street that passes between two ways,

one of fire and one of snow.

If he strays here, he is scorched by fire,

If he strays there, he is frozen by snow.

What should he do? He should walk in the middle,

provided that he does not stray here or there.

1b. Yerushalmi Hagigah 2:1, fol. 77a, in a section about Jewish mysticism:

This Torah is like two paths, one of fire and one of snow.

If he strays into one, he dies of fire;

if he strays into the other, he dies of snow.

What should he do? He should walk in the middle.

1c. Avot Derabbi Nattan, Version A, end of chapter 28, ed. Schechter, p. 86 (and cf. the sources listed there and cf. p. 149). The context is words of Torah vs. derekh eretz:

To what can this be compared?

To a street that passes between two ways,

one of fire and one of snow.

If he walks near the fire, he is scorched by fire,

If he walks near the snow, he is stricken by cold.

What should he do? He should walk in the center

and he should be careful that he should not be scorched by the fire or stricken by the cold.

2. Sifrei Bemidbar, B’ha’alotkha, paragraph 59, ed. Horovitz, p. 57; ed. Cahana, Vol. I, p. 148:

“Opposite the face of the Menorah the [seven candles] shall give light” (a literal translation of Numbers 8:2)…

How so?

Three toward the east and three toward the west and one in the middle.

Thus, they all face the middle one.

From this Rabbi Nathan said: the middle one is honored.

[another reading: the middle one is praiseworthy.]

In the Middle Ages, this idea appeared in a number of different ways.

1. Bahya ibn Pakuda lived in Saragosa, Spain (ca. 1050-1120). In his classic work The Duties of the Heart (8, 3, 25, ed. Hyamson, Vol. 2, pp. 260-263), he quotes the above verse from Kohelet and explains:

Do not go to extremes in adopting the ways of those righteous people who separate themselves from the world…

So too do not go to extremes by walking in the ways of the wicked who make this world predominant…

Keep to the middle of the road…

2. Maimonides discussed our topic in Hilkhot Deot (1:1-5; and cf. his Eight Chapters which is his introduction to Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, ed. Kafih, p. 151ff.):

1. Each and every person possesses many character traits. Each trait is very different and distant from the others.

One type of man is wrathful; he is constantly angry. Another is calm who is never moved to anger, and, if at all, he will be slightly angry over the course of several years…

2. Between each trait and the [contrasting] trait at the other extreme, there are intermediate traits, each distant from the other…

3. The two extremes of each trait, which are at a distance from one another, do not reflect a good path, and it is not fitting that a man should behave in accordance with these extremes or teach them to himself.

And if he finds that his nature leans towards one of the extremes or adapts itself easily to it, or, if he has learned one of the extremes and acts accordingly, he should bring himself back to what is proper and walk in the path of the good which is the straight path.

4. The straight path – this is the midpoint temperament of each and every trait that man possesses. This is the trait which is equidistant from either of the extremes,without being close to either of them.

Therefore, the early Sages instructed a man to evaluate his traits, to calculate them and to direct them along the middle path, so that he will be sound of body.

How so? He should not be wrathful, easily angered; nor be like the dead, without feeling, but rather – intermediate…

5. Every person whose traits are in the middle is called wise… (2)

Our topic arose again with renewed vigor in the 19th century as part of the struggle between the streams which arose in modern Judaism.

1.  The first to discuss this was R. Nahman Krochmal (1785-1840), one of the pioneers of Wissenschaft des Judenthums (Jewish Studies) and of the historical school in Judaism. He quoted Yerushalmi Hagigah (see above) at the beginning of Gate 2 of his classic work Moreh Nevukhei Hazman, which he then proceeded to explain in that chapter (ed. Rawidowicz, Berlin, 1924, pp. 10-12). His approach to the middle way was cleverly summarized by Solomon Schechter:

What, then, must he do? He must walk in the middle, or, as we should say, he must choose the golden mean. But, as Krochmal suggests, the middle way in historical and philosophical doubts does not consist, as some idle heads suppose, in a kind of compromise between two opposing views. If one of two contending parties declares that twice two make six, while his opponent asserts that twice two makes eight, a sort of compromise might be arrived at by conceding that twice two makes seven. But such a compromise would be as false as either extreme; and the seeker after the truth must revert to that mean [=middle] which is the heart of all things, independently of all factions, placing himself above them. (3)

2. Rabbi Zekhariah Frankel (1801-1875) and the Breslauschool also professed the middle way. As the historian Prof. Mordechai Breuer explained:

Contemporary writers and journalists frequently denoted the middle position of the Breslauschool between Reform and Orthodox with the [French] term juste milieu[=exactly in the middle]. This term entered usage in France in the middle of the [nineteenth] century in order to characterize the political position of that stream which opposed the revolution and the reaction to the same degree. [Heinrich] Graetz called Frankel “the suitable middle person” and Hermann Cohen called him “the theologian of compromise”. (4)

3. The third proponent of the middle way was Prof. Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), the primary founder of JTS in New York and of the Conservative Movement, for whom the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is named. He related to our topic in a letter which he sent to Louis Marshall in 1913. It is clear that he was influenced by Maimonides quoted above:

[JTS] should create a Conservative school removed alike from both extremes, Radical-Reform and Hyper-Orthodoxy… [it is] an institution which is meant to pursue a middle course… (5)

II) Three possible critiques of “the middle way” and a reply

1. One could claim that this is a non-Jewish idea which came to us from the outside.

For example, one could say that Maimonides quoted above was directly influenced by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (II, vi, 10-11, Loeb edition, p. 93):

I refer to moral virtue, for this is concerned with emotions and actions, in which one can have excess or deficiency or a due mean [=middle]… is to feel the best amount of them, which is the mean amount–and the best amount is of course the mark of virtue.

Similarly, one could claim that Schechter, who lived in England from 1882-1902, was influenced by the Anglican Church. Indeed, this claim was made recently by Matthew Lagrone. In 1837, John Henry Newman wrote that the Anglican Church is the via media, the middle road between Catholicism and Protestantism. (6)

As a reaction to these two claims, one can reply: so what? Many ideas and approaches and customs were absorbed into Judaism from the outside and Maimonides himself already said: “accept the truth from he who said it”. The Torah portion of Mishpatim(Exodus 21 ff.) was influenced by the Code of Hammurabi, the 13 exegetical principles of Rabbi Yishmael were influenced by the exegetical methods of the Greeks, the Pesah Seder is based on the Greek symposium, Rav Sa’adiah Gaon was influenced by the Kalam, Maimonides was influenced by Aristotle, and medieval Hebrew poetry was influenced by Arabic poetry. There is nothing wrong with this. Judaism never lived in a vacuum – it absorbed from the environment and changed them like any living, dynamic religion.

2. The Orthodox in the nineteenth century attacked Rabbi Zekhariah Frankel and the Breslau School and even mocked them. As Prof. Mordechai Breuer explained in his above-mentioned book:

In the eyes of many Orthodox spokesmen, the careful refusal to identify positively with one of the two movements struggling over the future of Judaism made the Breslau stream particularly disgraceful, equivocal and two-faced. [Rabbi] Azriel Hildesheimer certainly thought of Breslau when he characterized those who chose “the golden mean” with these insulting words: “On the two sides of the street, on the left and the right, walk human beings. Only horses walk in the middle”. (7)

He is hinting, apparently, at Tosefta Bava Kamma 2:12 (ed. Lieberman, p. 9): “It is the way of an animal to walk in the middle [of the road], but human beings go on the sides”.

In other words, Rabbi Hildesheimer used Tosefta Bava Kamma in order to attack Tosefta Hagigah quoted above, but there is no contradiction between the sources. Tosefta Bava Kamma is simply describing the situation on the street in the Mishnaic period, but Tosefta Hagigah is recommending a path in life: “to walk in the middle”.

3. Finally, one could claim that the middle way in politics and religion and thought simply doesn’t last. And so wrote the poet W.B. Yeats in “The Second Coming” in 1919 immediately after World War I:

… Things fall apartthe center cannot hold…

… the best lack all conviction,

while the worst are full of passionate intensity…

Indeed, so it is in Israeli politics. All of the middle-of-the-road parties have not lasted: Dash, Shinui, Kadima, Meimad and so on. They burst upon the scene and quickly disappeared. And this seems to be what is happening to the Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements in theUnited States according to the Pew Report of 2013 and likewise to the middle-of-the-road Protestant denominations.

Indeed, so Schechter complained in that same letter to Louis Marshall quoted above (emphasis added –DG):

… But I cannot help thinking that the Seminary is given little credit for what it has accomplished. And instead of encouraging it to follow on the path it had set out, there is an unmistakable tendency to reproach us for our want of forming large constituenciesand enlisting the support and the goodwill of what is described as the “Orthodox public”. It is overlooked that an institution which is meant to pursue a middle courseand to create new currents of thought and action could not possibly be popular with the crowd whose mind is, as a rule, given to extremes and to radical action, whether Orthodox or Reform… (8)

I can only reply: Yes indeed! It is difficult to be in the middle. Maybe it is not popular or “sexy” – but that does not mean that it is not correct. I agree with Tosefta Hagigah and Sifrei Bemidbar and Bahya ibn Pakudah and Maimonides that one should “go in the middle” and that “the middle is honored and praiseworthy” and that “the straight path is the middle trait”.

III) What should be the agenda of “the middle way” in Israel today?

In his fascinating lecture (which is being published here), Prof. Eisen sketched three approaches to the middle way: Schechter’s, Rashi and Maimonides’s, and his own. From these approaches, I believe that we should stress the following in the State of Israel:

  1. Torah study in its broadest sense: Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, Jewish Thought, Jewish History, Jewish Literature and Piyyut.
  2. Holiday customs and life-cycle events. It is clear from the “Third Guttman Avi-Chai Report 2009” that these are things which unite most Jews in the State of Israel. (9)
  3. Hebrew.
  4. Zionism and love of the Land of Israel.
  5. Jewish history/shared destiny in the past, present, and future/Jewish peoplehood.

On the other hand, I did not include the following items because, unfortunately, in our day, they divide rather than unite:

  1. Belief in God.
  2. Prayer. Nothing is more divisive today–some pray with a mehitzah, some without, and some do not pray at all.

Who are our partners in “the middle way” in the State of Israel?

2,000 students and graduates of the Schechter Institute;

the students and graduates of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary;

135,000 TALI teachers, parents and pupils;

thousands who study at branches of Midreshet Yerushalayim and Neve Schechter;

the Conservative / Masorti Movement in Israel;

Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem;

the Reform Movement inIsrael;

Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah/the Religious Kibbutz Movement/supporters of Meimad;

pluralistic Batei Midrash such as Hartman, Alma, and the many organizations which belong to Panim;

over thirty unaffiliated spiritual communities (INNSC);

Humanistic Judaism and secular rabbis.

The State of Israel has failed thus far in funding and supporting the middle way.

1. According to the Guttman Avi-Chai Report of 2009, 61% of Israelis support recognition of the non-Orthodox streams in Judaism, but the State still does not.

2. Alarge and growing number of parents are looking for pluralistic Jewish education for their children as is evidenced by the huge growth of the TALI school system, but until recently, the State did not provide any Jewish education. The officials at the Ministry of Education are frequently “Orthodox in their Secularism”. One of the highest officials in the Ministry said to me a few years ago: “we teach Hebrew and Bible–what else is necessary?!”

3. According to Rabbi David Stav, who ran unsuccessfully for the position of Chief Rabbi last year, 25% of young couple couples get married overseas every year in order to avoid the Chief Rabbinate.

4. There is almost no government funding for pluralistic Batei Midrash.

The middle way – what should we demand from the State of Israel? 

  1. As I maintained in an article in The Jerusalem Report a few months ago, we must demand the abolishment of the Chief Rabbinate in order to allow Judaism to flourish in the State of Israel. (10)
  2. We must demand alternatives regarding rabbis, marriage and conversion: Conservative, Reform, Modern Orthodox, Haredi, Humanistic, Civil – with funding for each alternative.
  3. A third stream at the Ministry of Education–Pluralistic Jewish Education with funding and pedagogic freedom.

Is there still a place for the movements in Judaism? Absolutely.

The middle way unites Israelis regarding the five items that I mentioned, but there are still disagreements regarding faith, prayer, and halakhah, such as marriage, conversion and the status of women in Jewish law. Therefore, we will work together in the areas which unite us and separately in different kehillot in areas where we differ.



  1. On the middle way in Judaism, see Shlomo Weissblitt, Mahanayim 5 (1993), pp. 162-169; Alexander Klein, Badad 6 (Winter 1998), pp. 87-100; and what I wrote in my book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, pp. 374-375.
  2. On Nahmanides’ unsuccessful attempts to find the middle way between the two camps regarding the works of Maimonides, see Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism, I, London, 1896, pp. 102-103.
  3. Ibid., p. 62.
  4. Mordechai Breuer, Eidah Udeyukna, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 30.
  5. Norman Bentwich, Solomon Schechter, Philadelphia, 1938, pp. 192, 194.
  6. Matthew Lagrone, Conservative Judaism 30/1-2 (Fall-Winter 2007-2008), pp. 127-134.
  7. See above, note 4.
  8. See above, note 5, p. 194.
  9. See the report at
  10.  See The Jerusalem Report, Nov. 28, 2013.

Read both essays in Hebrew.