The leader of Liberal Judaism has attacked Orthodox Judaism for being founded on “discredited beliefs and antiquated practises”.
Sharing a platform with Orthodox and Masorti ministers at the annual Oxford University JSoc Intrafaith Conference, Rabbi Danny Rich described his movement as “a post or non-Halachic expression of Judaism”.
He added: “What seems to me to underpin Halacha, and indeed traditional Judaism as a whole, is a concept inimical to Liberal Judaism.
“While I appreciate the nuances and subtleties, the idea that the Torah was given directly by God and recorded accurately by Moses – who by Divine miracle contributed its transmission through the generations – is simply untenable for a Liberal Jew.”
Claiming there was much in Halacha which it is impossible to keep and much that a Liberal Jew “would not want to observe in any case”, he added: “I give just the example of the mitzvot concerning the Temple. Even if the politics of the Middle East were transformed – and even were we in a Messianic time – Liberal Judaism is clear that the Temple should not be rebuilt; its Halacha is redundant for ever, and the institution of the synagogue has enhanced and civilised Judaism in a manner in which the idea, never mind the practices, of the Temple cannot supersede.”
Rabbi Rich was speaking alongside Orthodox rabbi and dean of the London School of Jewish Studies Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Oxford University’s Professor Hindy Najman and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism.
Rich concluded: “Halacha as taught and practised is, in my view, pre-Emancipation and, in forging a Liberal Judaism for the 21st century, we shall, and I quote John Rayner, ‘…seek a form of Judaism that preserves all that remains valid of the various past phases of our heritage but without dragging along the baggage of discredited beliefs and antiquated practices’.
“With respect, I place Halacha in the category of ‘discredited beliefs and antiquated practices’, and thus I describe Liberal Judaism as non- or post-Halachic.”
It is rare from Orthodox and progressive panellists to share a platform. The Conference – which also saw a Q&A and debate with the other panellists – was organised by Dov Boonin, Yoni Stone and Ezra Margulies.