Seraphic Secret has many friends in many corners of the religious world. We have formed close friendships with Christians of numerous denominations.
We have also developed warm relationships with Jews who are active members of the Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism. Several of these friends are deeply concerned with the radical leftists agendas of their movements and thus lead secret lives as political Conservatives, and yes, as Torah loving Jews.
We have become particularly close to a Rabbinic Student at Hebrew Union College, the Reform movement’s college for Rabbinic ordination. This student loves Torah, Judaism, is an ardent Zionist and an American patriot. But at Hebrew Union College, according to our friend, these values are sharply undermined.
To give our readers an idea of the arch leftist agenda at Hebrew Union College, here is just one of this student’s letters.
With two weeks of vacation here from school, I finally sat down and tried to gather up some of my thoughts that you have so kindly indulged in our correspondence. I tried to focus on just looking at what is, in my opinion, a root problem among HUC faculty and Reform Jewish leadership — that of the confusion between “liberal politics” and “liberal religion.” It’s my hope is that there is a significant part of Reform Jewry that is more “centered”— both politically and in terms of religious sentiment — than the radical fringe left leadership that is cultivated at my current school, Hebrew Union College.
Deleting Torah from Judaism—It’s Politically Correct
When I started rabbinical school I think I was somewhat aware that the leadership tended to the left — politically and academically. I certainly wasn’t aware of how much those ideological worldviews are inculcated at the school itself.
Often, it’s hard to tell where the leftist ideology stops and plain old shoddy academics begins at school. I have a hunch that they are intertwined — as the lack of intellectual diversity leads to stagnation, or even a drop in the level of academic integrity.
No doubt that sounds harsh — and let me make clear that there are definitely one or two fabulous professors here. But when the assistant dean of the school gives a Rosh Hashanah sermon on how we need to “share the road” with the Palestinians, based on a revelatory bike trip in the wine country of Sonoma Valley, where she saw a road sign with the same message, albeit with a different intended audience.
And another assistant dean talks about how “the environmental cycle of the planet has sped up” (and yes, anyone that can help clarify what the “environmental cycle” is)** I really started to wonder: do my professors believe it’s possible for one to be politically conservative and a Reform Jew? And has an across-the-board conflagration of leftist political ideology with Reform Judaism destroyed intellectual integrity?
Here’s another example of how it seems to me that my professors have confused liberal politics with liberal religion — and how that translates into skipping over important questions in class. In a liturgy class, we were told that we [Reform Jews] don’t say Shirat Ha-Yam [Exodus:15] during psukei d’zimrah, part of the Morning Liturgy, because “it’s very obviously not a liberal prayer.”
Well wait a minute, What about it is not “liberal,” per se, I asked.
“It’s just so obviously very violent,” he responded. I looked around at my classmates, who nodded in agreement.
I’ll have to leave aside my nitpicky grammar about how the prayer itself is not violent, though it may contain terms that describe violent action. That G-d is doing, on behalf of the Jews, I might add. I’m all in favor of that.
“The prayer is describing G-d’s immeasurable strength,” I said. “How are images of strength not liberal?”
And does that mean that “conservatism” is for violence? Just what sort of liberalism are we talking about here?
And what does that have to do with whether G-d is portrayed as a warrior who will defend His people?
I didn’t get an answer, just a moral relevance mumbling about how do we “as liberals” really want to have a prayer that gets dangerously close to jihad-type stuff?
The professor does not, of course, point out the key difference which is that in Shirat Ha-yam G-d is taking care of business, rather than in jihad, in which the terrorist is targeting civilians. It was a frustrating discussion, but I think it points out how the term “liberalism” is used and abused at school to mainly mean “things that I, as a professor, personally agree with in my imagined political world.”
As I said earlier, I don’t know for sure—but it’s certainly my hunch—that conflating one’s personal politics (and however confused those may be, considering how many of HUC’s faculty are involved with Peace Now, the radical left organization) with history, or biblical criticism, is a form of laziness that leads to intellectual collapse.
The Yom Kippur War—Sorta, Kinda, Maybe; Well, Not Really
Here are my notes, for example, from a lecture supposedly on “The Yom Kippur War and Its Aftermath.”
We learned one date: “October 1973.” We also “learned” that Golda Meir was Prime Minister at the time. I cannot think of any other facts that were taught. We did not learn which countries—other than Israel— were involved. We did not learn the names of any generals, names or places of battles, etc. Here’s what we did learn – I took very detailed notes—as a coping technique:
—”Every major event in history has to be put in a certain context…” so he is going to tell us HIS story in relationship to the Yom Kippur war. He got a phone call one night when he was in England…story of his aliyah to Israel… a few anecdotes about getting to Israel and it was very confusing and he thought about swimming to Cyprus (??) but he didn’t know where Cyprus was (big laughs)…
—Differences between 6-Day War and Yom Kippur war. “The feeling in June ’67… well Israel was still small, but it was bigger. Israel was now perceived in a vast range of realms [sic, believe it or not]. For example, people would flock down to the Wall now. With my Reform background, I feel differently about the Wall [??] but that’s another story.”
—He was personally very shocked in Sept 1973 because he went down and took a look at some Israeli outposts down on the Egyptian border…long story about how he was fascinated by night vision binoculars.
—Finally he gets to Oct 1973 …talks about going down to the bomb shelter and it was full of storage junk, and long description of what the toilet facilities were like. It was a very “weird feeling” being there with his neighbors. 15 minutes.
—”The long and short of it [the Yom Kippur War ] is that it was very controversial. The map gives you one story, and I’ll give you another, and you can make up your mind… 18 days just felt so much longer than the 6-day war.” [??] Never actually gets around to saying anything about the map. “Chaim Herzog believes the war was a victory. But the other way to see it- which is my bias – is that the war was a tremendous disaster. We had no faith in our leadership and no moral compass… I want to say something about death. The number of Israelis killed doesn’t tell us anything about the number of people killed on the
other side.” Long story about how his kids were in the bomb shelter with him, and two of them are officers in the army, and two of them aren’t… kind of lost me on the point of that story.
Student followed up with a question — in college he took a “course on human rights, and we really talked a lot about how Israel violated human rights in the Yom Kippur War.” Professor says “there are many different voices, and it’s not always just one or the other.”
HUC “Share” About Loss of Civil Liberties After 9-11
I think that the lack of intellectual depth is best represented by the profs’ inability to articulate themselves clearly. When telling us about a new URJ Women’s Torah Commentary, the assistant dean said it would finally give Jewish women a chance to “fix history.” We are graded on an “assessment matrix” which, we were told, will also include a way for the faculty to track and include our “spiritual growth.” URJ leadership urges us to make Reform Judaism into a “religion of meaning” (and they don’t even give credit to Michael Lerner in swiping that phrase!)
The students, of course, tend to the political lefty side as well. We had Shacharit, Morning prayer, on 9/11 and students were allowed to “share” their feelings about “their journeys” since that day six years ago. Students spoke about how their civil liberties had been taken away — “not only their civil liberties as Americans, but the civil liberties of those who aren’t Americans,” — their anger at actions being taken on their behalf by the government, how they still “couldn’t find any meaning” in anything that had happened since that day, etc.
One student lamented how her mother couldn’t accompany her to the gate at the airport anymore. The ability to engage in a little critical questioning would help here. For example — has anyone actually had their privacy invaded by wiretapping? Wouldn’t CNN report it if it happened to anyone at all? Is being escorted to the gate by your mother (at age 25) really a civil liberty? The lack of knowledge about basic American society is astonishing.
When I got my commission, one student asked if “military people have to get re-sworn in when the regime changes.”
That would be the “Bush regime” she was talking about.
Another asked if there was a lot of tension on ships between the Navy people and the “air force people on board who fly all those planes”.
The Irrelevant Relevant Sermons
We, as students, are constantly encouraged to make our sermons “relevant” and that we should feel compelled to address the “pressing issues” of our day, meaning the pressing political issues. But these are the sorts of examples that make me want to say, please don’t try and make your sermons “relevant” to American politics or situations because the chances seem high that you know little about the actual situation (see above, “environmental cycles”).
It seems to me that Hebrew Union College is simply taking its cues from the majority of academia in the U.S., replacing the true pursuit of knowledge with pandering to the P.C./multiculti gods.
A strength of Judaism has always been its commitment to rationalism, text study, and above all – learning. It would be a pity if, in Reform Judaism, we let that go in lieu of spiritual naval-gazing and preoccupation with dried-up ideological “feelings” trends of the 60’s.
**My dad’s favorite example of this happened at his own shul back in Dallas—a sermon given by a newly minted HUC graduate—on how Abraham’s purchase of the burial cave at Machpelah was related to Bush’s “dismal failure” in the subprime mortgage housing crisis.