Jun 21, 2006

Kadima and the Conservative movement

Yesterday, Kadima signed an agreement with the Conservative movement to create a joint faction in the World Zionist Organization. I have no problem with that. That is what politics is all about. Power and money. They have joined forces to create the largest faction in WZO. That means they will control votes (power) and budgets (money). Kadima, led by Olmert, has shown itself to be a very savvy and powerful party. They know how to pull the strings and make people go along with them. I think Olmert will be stronger as a PM than Sharon was and would have continued to be. True, Olmert is not as popular as Sharon and lost much popular support that Sharon had, but I think Olmert is savvy enough and has shown that he knows everybody’s price and how to get them to tow his line.

I have two issues with the event. First of all, Ehud Olmert called the Conservative movement, in a letter sent to the factions last week, “the middle path that Maimonides praised, the 'golden path' of tradition that distances itself from extremism and all of its characteristics and prefers the path that is unified with tradition, belief and Jewish heritage." If Olmert has reasons to like the Conservative movement, beyond political expediency, I have no problem with that. He can affiliate himself with whomever he feels comfortable or with whoever provides him the best opportunity.

However, saying the path of the Conservative movement is the golden path of tradition and associating it with the Maimonides method, is wrong. Praise it for its pluralistic style, if you so please. Don’t call it what it is not. The Rambam must be rolling in his grave over that phrase. The Rambam was ultra-Orthodox (there was nothing else at the time – reform and Conservative are relatively new on the scene, back then there was (what we call now) orthodox and not religious, along with various small sects such as Shomronim and others who were always negligible) and unwavering in his stance in mitzva observance.

Olmert’s description of the Maimonides being the middle path and the “golden path” of tradition is clearly a bastardization of what the Rambam writes in his works entitled, “The Eight Chapters” (Shmone Prakim La’Rambam) and in other philosophical works. He writes that in all character traits, it is the middle path that is the golden path, and a person should always strive to be in the middle. He discusses with this the various traits, such as anger, humility, charity, etc. and explains how to achieve the middle path and to avoid being extreme.

I am not now defending Orthodoxy and saying they are the middle path. Nor am I criticizing Conservative saying they are evil. That is not my point. My point is to call a spade a spade. The Conservative movement is not what the Rambam meant to as a middle ground. By middle ground he did not mean, what is in between Reform and Orthodox. He meant within the realm of mitzva observance the character traits of a person should be developed in the middle and not to the extreme.

My second issue with the agreement, and maybe it deserves a separate post, rather than included here, but I don’t feel like separating it and it is my blog so I can do what I want, is peripheral. Nothing to do with the agreement itself, I am going to take the opportunity to extend the debate to the Orthodox parties in government.

Shas is part of the coalition led by Olmert. UTJ is desperately doing everything it can to negotiate for itself a way into the government coalition. Shas ignored issues it used in the campaign and joined anyway to get funding for its school system. Olmert had insisted that any coalition partner agree in advance to support his future disengagements. Shas negotiated for itself from a position of strength (because Olmert could not have had a majority without them) to not necessarily be agreeing to disengagements. They had used their previous votes against the disengagement in their campaign as a way of attracting right wing voters who were disillusioned with Likud and Mafdal for their support of the disengagement (Mafdal only pulled out very late in the game and allowed Sharon’s government to survive when it might have fallen in early stages of planning the disengagement). Shas gives the excuse that in no way is the future disengagement definite, etc. Yet Olmert is spending all his time and energy drumming up support for it and despite the promises that he will try to negotiate first and only disengage if he sees he has no partner, he is not trying in any way to negotiate or to create a situation in which negotiations will happen in good faith.

So it is clear Olmert is hell bent on disengaging (or whatever he is calling it today) and Shas is turning a blind eye to the reality of what Olmert is trying to accomplish. Olmert has even been quoted as saying that the disengagement is happening and there is no way to stop it. True, maybe it could be voted down when it comes to a vote, but by allowing Olmert the platform to push it, in the media and around the world to foreign governments, Shas is complicit in creating the atmosphere that will allow the disengagement to happen. If Shas was a disengagement supporter I would have no problem with that. My problem is that Shas claimed to be against the disengagement and still claim to be against it, yet allow the disengagement train to continue rumbling on so they can collect some extra funding. Now they are abandoning another “belief” and ideology to continue sitting in government.

Shas and UTJ representatives have refused to sit with Conservative and Reform rabbis in all forums of government until now. They always claim the moral high ground saying that if they sit with them it gives them legitimacy. Yet Shas is now sitting in government with Kadima, who is essentially aligning himself with the Conservative movement. UTJ is trying to sit in government with them. All for a little money (it is not even that much when you look at the details of the agreements).

Where are the ideals these parties claim to represent? Where are the ideals these parties have always stood for in the past? True, Kadima said in the elections that they are a party with no ideology, but did somehow that force the religious parties to devolve themselves of their ideologies as well? These parties should immediately announce that they will not sit in government with representatives of the Conservative movement, and stay true to their constituents and ideologies. If you think that is a wrong ideology, don’t vote UTJ or Shas, but their constituents do believe in that, and they should stay true to their ideologies.


  1. I have nothing to respond when it comes to politics. I am responding anyway as you see.

  2. Rafi - how dare you question the ideals, reasons, and values of our established and esteemed rabbis. it must be "yoshor" - b/c they wouldn't do it otherwise!!!! how dare you question the motives and seeming compromises of the rabbis - it's a halacha l'moshe that they can do this - torah lo bashomayim hee - they are the proponents and defenders of the torah - and you come along and question them!!!!

    ok - obviously I've lost my mind today. If you see it rolling around, just step on it and mail it back to me.

  3. The Rambam was NOT ultra-orthodox.

    Maybe a YU type. He went to university, had a real job, opposed the kollel system, and would have puked all over these stupid red strings and other 'segulot'.

    He also prefered Aristotle over Hamodiah.

  4. Rafi,
    As a Shas supporter (whatever that means from the US), I have to disagree. There is a balance that needs to be made between being idealistic and being practical.

    Lema'aseh, the Shas schools need money. They need to pay their teachers. They were drained due to the Kitzutzim by Netanyahu. Im Ein Kemah, Ein Torah.

    I'd like them to leave the coalition as much as the next guy - and not just because of this new development with Conservative Judaism. However, I'm on the outside looking in. It's a whole other ballgame when teachers are demanding their wages and coming to you for them.

    No one is telling them to be a part of Kadima - just to be a partner with them - a marriage of convenience. It's not called "Selling their soul". It's called "Putting food on the table".

    Of course, if and when the point of no return comes (i.e. the Convergence Plan - Lo Aleinu), they'll need to reconsider their options.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. sorry yaak - but you can't have it both ways. either you have moral convictions and it's called mesiras nefesh - e.g. learning in kollel, or you don't. you're trying to justify bad behavior. either it's assur or muttar - this is not hora'as sha'ah. they just want extra and they want more - they could live without if they had the real moral conviction to do so.

  7. yaak - I would normally agree with what you say, and I have had no problem with Shas being part of governments in the past, despite it not always beign so kosher. But this time around they did nto campaign on their normal platform alone of social welfare and religious issues. They actively campaigned on the issue of not having supported the disengagement (despite having been offered money to vote in favor or abstain, they voted no) and on issues of returning religious Judaism to its former status of leadership and momentum (for lack of a better description)..
    After having openly campaigned on these issues, that "marriage of convenience" can no longer be an honest excuse.

  8. anon - cute, but get real. Much of what the rambam writes is in no way resonant with the modern orthodox community. Sure he had a job, but as he says someone working should be learning 9 hours a day. let us not assume that he worked a full time job and learned a 1 hour daf yomi shiur a day. I do not think you do him justice, but he was much more open minded in philosophy then Rabbonim of today..

  9. social - did you find his head? If yes, I can give you the address to mail it to him.. :)

  10. you know what - I don't really want it back anyway, just keep it on a shelf. my wife says I rarely use it to begin with.......:P

  11. she is probably right... lol

  12. Ha when I said anytime it was in response to your thanks. Look way above. Funny it took me a while to figure out why you told me to mail it.


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