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Leonard Fein & Steven Cohen: Let Secular Jews Be Secular Jews

Leonard Fein & Steven Cohen: Let Secular Jews Be Secular Jews January 30, 2013

Leonard Fein and Steven M. Cohen have written a masterful reply to Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s screed about the delusions of secular Jews. It is a must-read for anyone who has been involved in this conversation.

Favorite bit:

Yoffie complains that these allegedly faithless secular Jews continue to assemble in synagogues and to undertake acts of family life and communal celebration that are either explicitly religious or that radiate with the power of deep faith. Indeed, he may be drawing upon his familiarity with his own Reform movement. In the same survey we find that of those identifying as Reform, just 6 percent (6 percent!) see themselves as religious Jews “to a great extent.” Among the same Reform Jews three times as many (18 percent) see themselves as secular, and nearly seven times as many (41 percent) call themselves

cultural Jews.

Fein and Cohen (a leading Jewish demographer on the faculty of HUC-JIR) are much more polite than I was.  For reasons that I won’t go into here, I hear Orthodox rabbis make similar claims all the time.  So I was just shocked (really…not in an ironic Claude Rains-y way) to see it coming from Yoffie.

Again, Fein and Cohen were more polite, but just as taken aback:

One wonders if Yoffie has taken to relating to cultural and secular Jews the way Orthodox Jews have often related to Reform, asserting a claim to authentic Torah-true Judaism and dismissing the distinctive virtues of the stubbornly ignorant and resistant others. Just as some Orthodox leaders can’t let Reform Jews be Reform, Rabbi Yoffie can’t let cultural Jews be cultural.

I have witnessed (and to my regret, participated in) the Reform movmement’s rightward religious tack for many years.  I can only hope that Yoffie and his colleagues take Cohen’s findings to heart.


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