NEW YORK (AP) — In a direct challenge to most American Jews, a group of Orthodox rabbis declared Monday that the Reform and Conservative branches “are not Judaism at all.”
The 600-member Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, the oldest organization of Orthodox rabbis in the United States, condemned the two more liberal branches for condoning assimilation and intermarriage.
Some Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis attacked the declaration and said the union, founded in 1902, is on the fringes of Jewish thought in America.
A 1990 study of U.S. Jews found that 41 percent are Reform, 40 percent are Conservative, about 7 percent are Orthodox and 2 percent are Reconstructionist, with the rest mostly unaffiliated.
In a statement from its executive board, the Orthodox union declared at a news conference that the Reform and Conservative movements “are not Judaism at all” but “another religion.” It added: “It is prohibited to pray in a non-Orthodox temple at any time.”
The Orthodox union said that Orthodoxy means to oppose “conversions and homosexuality,” which “are repugnant not only to Torah Judaism, but also to common morality.”
The declaration was sharply criticized by two organizations that represent the overwhelming majority of North America’s Orthodox Jews Ñ the Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
In a statement, they said the declaration is a “hurtful public pronouncement” that “calls into question the validity of the Jewish identity of the vast majority of American Jews.”
They said it “does not reflect the sentiments of mainstream Orthodox Jewish thought since it implies the disenfranchisement of Jews as Jews.”
Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, acting chairman of the Orthodox union’s board, did note at the news conference that under Jewish law, “any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew.”
Many Orthodox rabbis have long refused to recognize marriages, burials and conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis, but this is the first time that an Orthodox rabbinical group has made such a declaration.