The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Using Reform and Conservative Synagogues and Halacha

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

When one brings up using non-Orthodox synagogues, many respond with an emotion-filled reaction. The truth is one cannot really understand another person without having walked a mile in his or their shoes. The non-Orthodox need to understand the Orthodox.

A METAPHOR

To do so, a metaphor might come in handy. No one would argue that John McCain, who passed away this week, truly loved America. He loved this country’s ideals. He loved America’s principles, morals and standards. Two weeks ago, when Governor Cuomo made the horrific faux paus of saying that America was never ‘that great’ – his largely Democrat and liberal audience actually booed him. To those with any grasp of history and morality, America’s greatness was and is indisputable. The fact that our grandparents and great uncles fought the evil that was the Nazi regime and freed a continent subjected to unspeakable tyranny reflects our greatness.

Although it may be hard for non-Orthodox people to understand, the Orthodox love Torah-true Judaism. They love what it stood for and what it stands for. They love the Torah’s ideals, principles, morals and standards.

To an orthodox Jew, the rejection of these ideals and principles is tantamount to rejecting the ideals and principles of America to an American patriot.

But what are these principles? 

There are five major principles under discussion:

  1. There is a Creator who created the world.
  2. This kind and benevolent Creator rewards good and punishes evil.
  3. This Creator, Hashem, used the Torah as the blueprint of the universe.
  4. This Creator endowed us with mitzvos, both positive and negative ones, in order to benefit us.
  5. He endowed us with a badge of honor, the observance of Shabbos, wherein we declare these ideals to the world that Hashem, created it all, and desires us to cleave to and emulate Him.

A rejection of any of these principles is a stab in the heart of the precious legacy that is the birthright of Sinai, which Orthodox Jews hold so dear. While the overwhelming majority of Reform and Conservative Jews do feel a connection to Hashem and to Judaism, they don’t really know that their organizations reject many of these five aforementioned principles.

When Reform Rabbi John L. Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, California, writes on ReformJudaism.org that he does not believe in the G-d of the Bible, this is a rejection of principles 3,4, and 5 and quite possibly 1 and 2 as well.

When the Conservative movement voted to approve driving on Shabbos to attend synagogue this was a rejection of principles 3,4, and 5.  In 2006, when the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish law and Standards declared that an entire section of the laws of family purity no longer applies, this continued the rejection of Torah true Judaism.

Back to the Halacha

But let’s get back to the headline: the halacha about using the buildings of Reform and Conservative synagogues.

The Maharam Moshe Schick (OC #71 and #305) writes that praying or spending time in a synagogue that does not conform to Torah law is a Torah prohibition. The Gemorah in Yuma (70a) explains that the appearance of doing a mitzvah is considered like doing a mitzvah on account of the verse, “berov am hadras melech,” the greater the number of people the more glory to the King.  Since praying in a place that does not conform to the Shulchan Aruch is considered a sin by the Rambam (See Rambam Hilchos AZ 11:1), even appearing there at the times that they pray is forbidden. Maharam Schick understands this as a Torah prohibition.

Rabbi Chaim Sopher a student of the Chasam Sofer and author of the Machne Chaim, absolutely forbids entering a non-Orthodox synagogue  (YD Vol. III #30) as well.  He further forbids other interactions with non-Orthodox Jews, describing them as deniers of Moshiach, of the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and its korbanos, etc.

Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Responsum

Rabbi Chaim Dov Spring was a talmid of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn and of Yeshiva Beis Yoseph under Rav Avrohom Yaffen. To the chagrin of Rav Yaffen, Rabbi Spring joined the U.S. Army as a chaplain between the Korean and the Vietnam wars. He was stationed at Fort Leonard in Missouri, and very soon had some 500 talmidim/Jewish soldiers who took interest in Judaism. He was highly successful introducing them to mitzvos, obtaining tefillin and tzitzis for them.

One such student was getting married at Congregation Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in Milwaukee. Rabbi Spring wanted to make sure that the wedding was halachically valid with kosher witnesses. Rabbi Spring posed the question as to whether he and another kosher witness, Rabbi Meir Kagan, the director of HaPoel HaMizrachi in Chicago, could attend the wedding as the witnesses.

Rav Moshe responded with three points:

In this particular case, Rabbi Spring did end up performing a proper halachic wedding.

Local Example

Recently, the Jewish Community Center purchased a prominent Reform Jewish synagogue in the Five Towns area. Part of the contract stipulated that the JCC will continue to rent the worship section of the building to the Reform congregation to hold religious services.

This past Shabbos there were a number of Rabbonim that attended a simcha in the JCC building’s social hall.  Although there were people that question the propriety of it, there are a number of factors that might permit it in this case. First, the JCC now owns the building, it is no longer owned by the Reform Jewish congregation. Second, there is a prominent sign on the front yard announcing the JCC’s ownership of the building. Third, the Rabbis posed the question to one of the leading Rabbinic figures in the United States, who gave them permission to attend.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com