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Column demeans Reform rabbis, Judaism and Jews

I found the article written and published in the Jewish Chronicle entitled “Prayer and Tennis: A Rosh Hashanah Thought” profoundly disturbing, insulting and divisive.

Rabbi Mark Levin, D.H.L., has just published an important book about connecting people to prayer. It has been widely acclaimed as a wonderful gateway into Jewish prayer. His book is based on serious scholarship and study. He attempts to do something that is extraordinarily important: Open the Jewish prayer book and worship to Jews who might find the act of Jewish prayer to be intimidating. This is not a simple task. Every page of his text is filled with learning, and wisdom. As a distinguished congregational rabbi in our community for many years, Rabbi Levin’s serious book is a true tribute to his ability to combine practical service to the Jewish people with continued Jewish learning and scholarship. This book will certainly enrich the Jewish community for many years to come.

The reviewer states clearly that he has not read the book but only a review of this book. But his opening paragraph has a profoundly disturbing undertone: “After reading a recent article about Rabbi Levin’s new book on prayer, I was intrigued. First, I would direct readers to “Rav Schwalb on Prayer,” Hayim Donin’s book “To Pray as a Jew,” or Aish.com or Chabad.org, where much of this “new book” has already been covered and in fact, will take readers into a much more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of prayer.”

What is the goal of his comments except to disparage Rabbi Levin’s scholarship and the non-Orthodox world? If people were not aware of it, the reviewer is referencing two books on prayer written by Orthodox rabbis, which attempt to introduce people to the siddur and Jewish worship. His not so hidden point is: How can we learn anything from a Reform Rabbi about prayer when Orthodox rabbis have already written on this subject? This opening paragraph and much of the article is an exercise in sinat hinam gratuitous hatred toward another Jew and another Jewish denomination. I have read these two books by Schwalb and Donin. They are worthwhile introductions to Jewish prayer. But, they certainly are not more sophisticated or erudite than Rabbi Levin’s work. I don’t question the religious authenticity of Allan M. Gonsher’s movement or synagogue. But, how dare does he have the chutzpah to demean Reform rabbis, Judaism and Jews? 

Rabbi Levin combines years of practical pulpit experience making worship relevant to contemporary Jews plus serious scholarship in a doctoral program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I have been a rabbi for over 30 years. Rarely have I met a rabbi equal to Rabbi Levin in rabbinic knowledge. And I was trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the fountain head of Conservative Jewish scholarship. We all should be honored to have Rabbi Levin in our community where he continues to teach Torah in so many venues.

What we have here in this article is what is wrong with contemporary Judaism. Reform and Conservative Jews believe that Torah can be learned from knowledgeable Jews of all ideologies. Whereas the overwhelming majority of so-called “Orthodox” Jews believe that wisdom is only limited to their denomination. My rabbinic learning intentionally includes learning from scholars from all denominations. I do not believe that any one denomination has a monopoly on the truth. But, I have found that in reading most Orthodox scholarship that non-Orthodox sages are rarely if ever quoted. That says something horrible about Jewish unity and pluralism.

Our community can do better. We need to honor our Torah scholars. Rabbi Levin is one of them and he is always welcome to teach and to share Torah at the New Reform Temple. At our synagogue, we believe that learning and wisdom is not limited to any one group, or denomination.

Rabbi Alan Londy, D.Min. is the spiritual leader of The New Reform Temple.