How Frum Is The Reform Movement? More Than Most of You Think

Sue Fishkoff writes for JTA:

… According to two recent studies, more Reform Jews are putting their mouths where their values are. In a 2000 survey that was never published, 344 congregations — about half the movement’s affiliates — showed a surprising adherence to kosher laws.

Ten percent reported that their synagogues have kosher kitchens, 80 percent ban pork or shellfish and nearly half won’t serve milk and meat on the same plate or platter.

“The majority of our congregations keep some elements of kashrut, and that’s very interesting,” Wasserman says. “It represents a change over time.”

Wasserman wasn’t surprised at the ban on pork or shellfish. That’s “deeply culturally” ingrained in many Jews, she says, who may eat nonkosher food in restaurants and even bring it into their homes, but expect higher dietary standards in Jewish communal settings.

But separating milk and meat, she says, is “going to another level that I didn’t expect to see 46 percent of our congregations going to.”

Another survey conducted last November at the movement’s biennial revealed that individual Reform Jews are becoming more kosher-friendly.

More than 500 conference participants, about one-quarter of the total, answered online questions about their dietary practice. At home, 62 percent say they ban pork, 46 percent ban shellfish and 35 percent don’t mix meat and milk. In restaurants, however, just 51 percent avoid pork, 34 percent won’t order shellfish and 29 percent stay away from dishes that mix milk and meat, such as cheeseburgers.

Some 38 percent said they eat vegetarian in restaurants, compared to 28 percent who do so at home, reflecting a significant number of Reform Jews who presumably are avoiding kosher questions entirely by eschewing meat when eating out.

The survey, which has not yet been published, asked about dietary practice rather than kashrut. It included actions such as eating matzah at Passover — nearly 71 percent said yes — and saying motzi, the blessing over bread — 48 percent do it on Shabbat — that Wasserman explains are expressions of Jewish identity that would be lost in a survey only on kashrut.

“The connection of the table to something holy and sacred, the notion that what we eat is connected to an expression of being Jewish that is appropriate in a Reform Jewish context, is bubbling up within the movement,” she says.…

At the same time, Fishkoff notes that a group of Reform rabbis are planning on developing their own kosher supervision. The OU’s Menachem Genack is, no suprise here, opposed:

Setting up your own standards “is too amorphous,” Genack says. “It’s very subjective — people can agree or disagree philosophically.”

What will those standards be? Rabbi Richard Levy explains:

Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, promotes the idea of Reform kosher certification. He says it actually would be more stringent than traditional kosher laws because ethical considerations would be added to existing dietary prohibitions.

“I would like to see it as an extension of halachah,” or Jewish law, he says. “It would expand what dietary practice means in a Jewish setting to include a concern for the people who harvest our food, bring it to market and sell it, a concern with the pain of living creatures, which has led people not to eat veal or foie gras, to look for free-range poultry and beef, or more humane methods of slaughter.”

Levy thinks such a system could emerge in the next decade.

“It’s not a pipe dream,” he insists.

It is not a pipe dream. It is in large part a reaction to Orthodoxy’s handling of the Rubashkin animal abuse scandal. And Orthodoxy is going to get what it most deserves – real competition that will cut the margins of their own kashrut supervisions. Why? Because most people keep kosher for non-Orthodox reasons, and soon they’ll have people to rely on who don’t torture live animals for a living. This cannot happen soon enough, or to a more deserving bunch of rabbinic criminals.

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30 Comments

Filed under Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Religion

30 responses to “How Frum Is The Reform Movement? More Than Most of You Think

  1. Chayim

    Should I take off my Yarmulkeh to the new reforming of the reform movement…?! Though they have quite a ways to go, they still get some credit, for it’s a start after all.

    And about them competing with OU, OK, etc. It’s not really a competition because Torah adherent Jews would never trust them at any rate. They are just trying to cash in on the “business” of kashrut, just like the muslims have recently developed their “hallal” certifications, which also never existed before. But hey, they’re Jewsih, can’t blame them for ceasing a great business opportunity.

    The best part of it all is that in order for the reform m movement to create clientel for their newly acclaimed business of kosher supervision and certification, they will have to convince their patrons in the movement to observe the laws of kashrut, at least to some degree. With their new active promotion of kosher observance there will hopefully be more halkah conscience Jews. Eventually, the reform will become orthodox. Finally, once that is accomplished, Chabad will have succeeded at it’s ultimate goal of eliminating all “name brands” and “labels”. For all Jews will once again be Jews and not G-d forbid reform or orthodox.

    Well on mates. Keep up the good work.

  2. Ear to the Sidewalk....

    I really don’t like to put down anyone’s observance, but this study is flawed.

    It clearly discusses that a percentage, yes suprisingly high percentage, of synogogues have some type of “kosher” standard. It does not mention the percentage of Reform households that do the same.

    Only approx 50% of a conference’s partipants answered that they have some sort of “kosher” standard, and these are ppl that are very involved in their synogogues and the Reform movment. This is their ‘best of breed’, and barely 50% of them ban mixing of milk and meat.

    71% eat matzo at Pesach.. Is that “only matzo and not bread” or is it, “Yes, I had some matzo this past Passover.”?

    When they get 2 sets of dishes, give me a call.

    Oy…

  3. The numbers are surely surprising (I suppose we shouldn’t have believed Orthodox propaganda), and the trend is encouraging. Hopefully, Conservative and Reform movements, thanks to such trends, will begin cooperating closely, or even merge in the future, and Orthodox Judaism will become even more irrelevant.

  4. c-girl

    “At home, 62 percent say they ban pork, 46 percent ban shellfish and 35 percent don’t mix meat and milk.”

    It sounds to me like there is certainly an awareness of kashrus in the home, even if it’s not up to ETTS’s high standards. But it is “something”, rather than the “nothing” we assume that makes it so easy to generalize and thus denigrate non-ortho observance. Deborah is absolutely right about not necessarily believing the Orthodox propaganda!

    And about the 2 sets of dishes- how about one set of glass dishes? Oy, yourself.

  5. Ear to the Sidewalk...

    c-girl —

    I don’t denigrate other’s observance, and in fact applaud anyone for finding their own way.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Reform movement has enmass become kosher.

    This ‘study’ was very narrow and doesn’t at all speak about millions of Reform Jews and how they understand and observe Kosher. As I mentioned, it discussed a shul’s policy (whic BTW is usually is based on their wanting/need for Kosher catering) and participants at a convention, presumably the elite of the movement, those that are super-involved and commited.

    Hardly a respresentitive sample.

  6. avrohom

    Scotty,

    good try. and halevay we would see real commitment and a good deed has the power of swaying the person to the positive…but while it is good for you to officially belong to the r or c movement; do nt kid yourself: the MAJORITY OF THESE MOVEMENTS HAVE THE HIGHRST RATEs F INTERMARRIAGE between 60 to 80% so akk these hoopla in the real world is meaningless insofar as thepreservation of tradition. The only movements that preserve tradition and the rate of intermarrige is in the below the teens is the ORTHODOX M.

  7. Ear to the Sidewalk...

    Also,

    Yes, one set of glass dishes would it.

  8. avrohom,
    if the Orthodox Movement is so great and has the capacity to transform Jews, make them more observant and religious, why is Israel so damn secular? The Orthodox Rabbinate in the country is on the rampage, it enjoys government’s support, those liberal movements are being discriminated against viciously… WHY have you failed to change the situation? Maybe because you are irrelevant and meaningless yourself in the real world out there?

    Okay, you have every right to depict the liberal branches as evil and hurtful to the Jewish community, but why is the Orthodox Movement so weak and meaningless itself?

  9. Nigritude Ultramarine

    Yes, one set of glass dishes would it.

    For Sephardim.

  10. John K. Diamond

    Many of the comments, so far, are missing a most important point.

    When the Rubashkin schechitah scandal broke in December, 2004, the OU, KAJ, and other Orthodox Certification agencies had presented to them a golden opportunity to finally take the bull by the horns and proceed to clean up the entire Kosher Animal Food Industry so that ALL of the Torah Laws regarding how we are to produce animal based foods that had been in effect from the time of Moses until the advent of the cruel factory farming of animals would be obeyed.

    All of them failed miserably. They lied to representatives of PETA, Failed Messiah, the JVNA and other groups, who were pressing them for needed action. To date, no real substantive progress has or will likely be made by our “so called” Orthodox Rabbinic Leadership.

    So it is a great blessing that the Reform Movement may proceed to establish Kosher Standards for animal foods that WILL obey ALL of the Torah Laws. These should include at least the following:

    1. That all animals received for Kosher meat or dairy processing be free ranged on humane and sustainable farms, eat the natural foods as commanded to them by G-d in Genesis 1:30 as well as being rested on the Sabbath.

    2. That Kosher slaughter be performed by the most up to date humane methods per recommendations by Dr. Temple Grandin and/or other experts in humane Kosher Slaughter.

    3. That all workers in the Kosher meat and dairy industries be paid living wages and have access to affordable health insurance.

    4. Other items as the Reform Movement may deen appropriate.

    Although I am an Orthodox vegan, I applaud the Reform Movement for considering this course of action, so that Jews who choose to eat animal foods, which is their Torah right to do so, will have access to truly humane products.

    John K. Diamond
    Member, Advisory Committee
    Jewish Vegetarians of North America

  11. DK

    Definitely past time for me to reexamine my Hebrew National policy.

    I don’t think my mesorah is really “glatt” anyway. Let me check…nope, not glatt.

  12. Howard Katz

    A few points here, everybody:

    1) The Reform movement taking a few steps in the direction of kashrut is obviously a good thing. Their adding of ethical considerations
    is even better. However, for both Reform and Conservative. these steps – laudable as they are – remain drops in the bucket until they develop a spiritual, non-Orthodox practice that is perceived as satisfying and transformational by the rank and file. (note that I did not say “until they become Orthodox” – I don’t think that). Is the development of a such a practice possible? Don’t know – but it’s at least worth asking the question. Otherwise, these movements will remain the tedious bore that they currently are and will continue to bleed members, a few steps in the direction of “tradition” notwithstanding. (In my opinion, the only movement showing any promise in this regard is the Jewish Renewal movement).

    2) The reference in the previous post and to many other posts on this website to “so-called Orthodox leaders” represents, to my mind, a dangerous illusion – that there is a
    “real” i.e. non-fanantically right-wing, non-racist, non-ugly Orthodoxy out there, and that there are “real” as opposed to “so-called” Orthodox leaders out there as well. Orthodoxy and its’ current leaders ARE the
    “real” thing – this is it, guys. There is no “nice”, humane Orthodoxy out there, some individuals to the contrary nothwithstanding. Important and useful as this discussion and this site are, they still maintain the illusion that somewhere over the rainbow, an idealized Orthodoxy exists – or is at least a possibility. There doesn’t and it isn’t.

    I wish it were different as I too, devoted (wasted?) many years in this movement – but it isn’t different, unfortunately.

    Howie

  13. Neo-Conservaguy

    Another crappy Monday morning for me: I was all excited to blast John for butting the radical vegetarian position, when I realized, to my horror, that I agreed with almost everything he wrote. What did I do to deserve this punishment?

    Kidding aside, almost all beef is “finished” at feed lots so that the animals develop more fatty tissues before slaughter. Customers generally reject overly lean meat. Most cattle are “free ranged” for most of their lives; the issues occur at the feed lots and the slaughter houses, where overcrowding leads to sickness which leads to drugs in the feed, etc.

    The Reform movement would do well to work with the Conservative movement on the issues of supervision and ethical kashruth; why re-invent the wheel? See below for examples…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_responsa

  14. That the Reform movement has been moving gradually towards more tradition is something I have known about for some 15 years already. Many Reform shuls use way more Hebrew during services than they used to and are less “Lutheran” culturally.

    Then again, I was more of a Reform Jew in the beginning and only later moved towards Orthodoxy (before hitting a brick wall and stepping back somewhat).

    As for the organic thing, I am not so sure that the Rubashkin scandal is the main driver here. Many active Reform Jews are into all kinds of warm fuzzy social action and part of that is protecting the environment and workers rights. I know people who are at least as passionate about organic and ethical foods as they are about Judaism. For people like this, how the food gets to the plate as far as environmental and workers’ rights concerns are JUST AS IMPORTANT as who shechted the anoimal and how.

    There is already a brand of kosher organic meat that I have seen in New York, but only at places liek Whole Foods.

    I think all of this is a good thing and may very well slowly evolve into THE Judaism – in about 100 or 200 years.

  15. John K. Diamond

    Hi Neo,

    Thanks for your very kind response and for the excellent suggestion that the Conservative and Reform Movements should join forces to establish truly Kosher and Humane animal products.

    I have an excellent scientifically rigorous paper on the health and environmental benefits of grass fed beef that I would like to send you but your email address that pops up on this site doesn’t work.

    Please email me at jdiamond4@cox.net so that I can send it to you.

  16. c-girl

    Wise has been producing organic, free-range chicken and beef for some time, but it’s difficult to find.

    Aaron’s Best /aka Rubashkin’s/ aka Agriprocessors is marketing organic meat (from an online description: “All-Natural Ribeye steak is Free range, Hormone free, Anti-biotic free, Grass fed and Source verified”). Aah, the irony…

    Just to address a few random thoughts- there is nothing wrong and everything right with enriching one’s observance of kashrus by choosing to consume foods that are organically grown, wholesomely raised, humanely schechted, produced by fairly-compensated workers, etc. This should, by no means, be the exclusive realm of left-wing (non-o) Judaism. It does not negate any halachic definition of kashrus and it identifies those who subscribe to those ideals as compassionate, moral Jews.

    Deborah- amen, sister. Hyprocrites everywhere should know they’re officially on notice. And we’re taking names.

    DK- I see an ad campaign: “It’s 6pm; do you know where your mesorah is?”. Or: “Intelligent Judaism: It’s what’s for dinner.”… Still not there, but I’m working on it.

    Howie- it’s not too late for us to drop the co-opted labels and our “need” for brand-name Orthodoxy (big “O” intended) and join with intelligent, rational halachic leaders. They’re out there and they’re looking for us.

  17. D

    “It is in large part a reaction to Orthodoxy’s handling of the Rubashkin animal abuse scandal.”

    This is a bit of misplaced concreteness. While that episode was undoubtedly a catalyst this sort of return to tradition has been underway for the past few decades since Reform’s observance nadir in the 1970s-80s. However, given the Conservative movements failure to establish its own national hashgachah (remember that, unlike Reform, they never abandoned kashrus) I view it as highly unlikely that this effort will yield much practical fruit save a few checklists for individuals to follow on their own (e.g. a “top 100” list of acceptable organic, humane, “living wage” and overpriced producers). Creating their own shechitah, however, is likely not going to happen. Even the Conservatives couldn’t pull that one off. And the “organic”, “union made” and other such certifications will definitely suffice the social-justice oriented requirements.

    Contrary to Shmarya’s pipe dream here (and it IS a pipe dream) the folks at the O-U will sleep soundly tonight knowing that their position as the globally recognized leader in traditional kashrus will be secure tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that…

  18. John K. Diamond

    Hi C-Girl,

    Thank you for your very kind and meaningful post.

    I would like to send to you, also, the excellent paper on the health and environmental benefits of grass feed beef as I offered conserva-guy.

    Please consider emailing me at jdiamond4@cox.net so I can send it.

  19. D –

    No one is arguing that the Reform Movement was suddenly propelled to greater observance by theh Rubashkin scandal. What I’m saying is the idea of their own supervision took a giant leap forward as a result of Rubashkin and his rabbis. How do I know this? You’d be surprised what people tell me …

  20. D

    It would be interesting what some of the scuttlebut is behind this. Do tell, please…

    As for me, I remain skeptical for the reasons I list above but would be willing to admit I am wrong should that prove the case.

  21. Yochanan Lavie

    “Many Reform shuls use way more Hebrew during services than they used to and are less “Lutheran” culturally.

    Then again, I was more of a Reform Jew in the beginning and only later moved towards Orthodoxy (before hitting a brick wall and stepping back somewhat).”

    I can relate. I was raised High Church Reform and found it inauthentic. I became Orthodox, until becoming the (mostly) observant apikorus I am today. If Reform was more “Jewish” back in the day, maybe I wouldn’t have switched.

  22. Anon

    As a member of a reform congregation who keeps a real kosher kitchen at home with 4 sets of dishes, thank you, I can tell you that having a certification that will certify meat as moral, organic and kosher not only will work, but will be wildly popular. Out here away from the big cities, people have to choose between organic and kosher – and most choose organic not because they don’t want kosher, but because they don’t want pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and other garbage in their meat and dairy products. Science doesn’t show any discernible difference in the amount of blood in kosher vs. conventionally slaughtered meat, but the science is overwhelming in demonstrating that inorganic food is basically a slow poison. The fact is that non-organic meat shouldn’t be considered kosher in the first place. Cows that are fed ground-up remains of other cows and other animals are not “chewing the cud.” They are now blood-eating carnivores, and hence not clean. Given a choice between poisoning your kids or following a questionable religious tradition, no sane person is going to pick the poison. The reality is that kashrut is way out of touch with modern reality of the agribusiness industry, and needs to look closer at how animals are treated and raised.

  23. avrohom

    deborah,

    “…, why is Israel so damn secular?…”

    for a variety of reasons. When it was founded their leaders were staunch anti religion and so were many people and therefore it continued to be so…

    “… The Orthodox Rabbinate in the country is on the rampage, it enjoys government’s support,…”

    Their support is in a few areas only. They face an opposing power from day one…

    ” Maybe because you are irrelevant and meaningless yourself in the real world out there?”

    i have news to tell you: one of the reasons the “reform” and “conservative
    haven’t succeeded either in isarel is simply because the people who oppose religion know: either religion is genuine ie. orthodox ro it is nothing.

    “, but why is the Orthodox Movement so weak and meaningless itself?”

    This is where you are wron and think that the narrow mindedness of this blog reflects reality. In fact “orthodox movement is VERY relevant in israel. Many people do indetify with it as far as basic observance of traditional kashrut, of fasting on kippur not eating chamets and much more. This goes probably for the MAJORITY of israelis. and they are influenced by the ORTHODOX.

    One thing is important to remember: whether or not one agrees with the position of religion and state in israel, one thing you should consider: if there would be no uniformity with regards to marriage there would be HIGH LEVELS OF INTERMARRIAGE IN ISRAEL BETWEEN jews and non jews and the only thing that keeps the low levelof intermarriage is orthodox influedce. once that is gone you coud be sure: how intermarriage will be rampant…

    Posted by: Deborah

  24. The Reformists are working hard to prove their Jewish credentials by donning tefilin, recognizing kashrut, and davening in Hebrew. At the same time, their assimilation rate and their embrace of gay marriage seriously questions their Jewish credentials.

    As more Reform Jews begin to rediscover their Judaism, maybe they’ll also return to the real Judaism- Orthodoxy. In my shul, there are a few former Reformists who became too observant for their shuls and joined the Orthodox community.

  25. Avrohom,
    Yawn. Welcome to reality:
    “A Dahaf poll commissioned by IRAC (The Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) published on the eve of Rosh Hashanah reported that 13 percent of all Israelis who planned to attend services during the High Holy Days will attend either a Reform or Conservative synagogue rather than an Orthodox synagogue. Furthermore, the survey uncovered that 40 percent of those who planned to go to services said that if they had the option of attending a non-Orthodox congregation within walking distance of their homes, they would do so, and 40 percent of those who are not attending services would if there were a Reform or Conservative synagogue nearby.”
    http://www.masorti.org/publications/enewsletters/4_1.htm

  26. “Wise has been producing organic, free-range chicken and beef for some time, but it’s difficult to find.” – c-girl

    Yes, Wise was the brand I was talking about that was kosher, organic AND free range. Their website is here: http://www.wiseorganicpastures.com/catalog/

    I have found them, as I said, only at Whole Foods in Chelsea (in NYC, and I found it by accident). On their website it will tell you where to get it anywhere in the US.

    You can even order the meat from the internet, implying that they will deliver it to you as well.

  27. TM

    Read Anon’s comment well. It is sad that most kosher meat does not meet hormone free, antibiotic free, organic standards.

  28. BK

    Last year, when I was down in Louisiana with the Guard as part of the Katrina relief effort, my command (after Pennsylvania’s sole Orthodox Guard Chaplain headed home for the High Holidays), took me to a Reform congregation on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

    Sure, they had an organ. Sure, they used that prayer book that felt like the Americans with Disabilities Act response to davening, but in the wake of all the regional devastation, seeing a couple of loaves of challah and some popular Ashkenazi fare was most welcome, even if I didn’t partake. In spite of their own loses (and the blue plastic tarps enshrouding their ark), this congregation still worked hard to reach out and donate clothing and whatever they could to those that had it worse.

    Jewish observance is hard, and a lot of it, we can all agree, seems like minutia. These guys get it wrong a lot, but outsiders looking in still lump us all together whether charedi or treyf-consuming. I’d rather be judged on the merits of these kinds of generous and engaged Reform folks than on the molesting, kashrus scamming, and general corruption coming from the opposite end of the spectrum.

    By the way, it’s been more than a year since I adopted the vegetarian path and joined my wife. For all the Disney-anthropomorphic and ethical reasons not to eat the creatures, we’ve discovered that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to maintain a meat set…

  29. avrohom

    deborah,

    bring me all the studies you want. the fact is that with all the antireligous stances of israelis most of them do NOT attend reform and conservative temples period. “would” “could have” is all baloney with regards to the real facts on the ground.

    what you will find if g-d forbid free for all will be the name of the game is: plain disenfranshisement of any slice of yiddishkeyt by those oppose orthodoxy”.

  30. “bring me all the studies you want. the fact is that with all the antireligous stances of israelis most of them do NOT attend reform and conservative temples period. “would” “could have” is all baloney with regards to the real facts on the ground.”
    Have I said something different? The fact that most Israelis do not attend Reform and Masorti congregations does not mean that Israelis are sympathetic to Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is a failure inasmuch as even though it has all the resources it cannot transform Israeli society. You are both irrelevant and hated for your lack of spirituality, corruptness and terror. Period.

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