(The following is a response by the Reform Rabbis of Greater Pittsburgh to the recent Jewish Chronicle editorial on recent tensions between Chabad of Monroeville and Temple David.)
Two weeks ago, at the memorial for the victims of the murderous attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai, India, Rabbi Daniel Wasserman gave a moving talk.
He spoke eloquently of how all Jews, despite strong and honest differences, believe in a common plight and destiny.
Rabbi Wasserman did not refrain from mentioning that there are times when our integrity calls for us to argue with each other on essential matters of Jewish belief, practice and peoplehood. Nothing in his heartfelt remarks undercut his message of Jewish unity and peoplehood in the face of enemies, who in mindless hate would kill all of us without a second thought.
Knowing that our differences do not erode our unity, we are deeply disappointed that The Jewish Chronicle chose to enter into the present controversy between Temple David and the newly established Chabad community of Monroeville. In a lead editorial, The Chronicle singled out Rabbi Barbara Symons for criticism over her bulletin column to her congregants at Temple David. We, the Reform Rabbinic Association of Greater Pittsburgh, believe this was uncalled for, unnecessary and unfair.
There are strongly held differences between the Reform movement and Chabad, not only in theology and practice, but in community relations as well. Reform rabbis and congregations do not solicit members from other affiliated Jews, regardless of their synagogues or associations. This value is embedded in the fabric of our rabbinic ethical code as members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and our congregational affiliation with the Union for Reform Judaism. We believe that people have a right to belong to the religious institutions that they desire without being called, visited or solicited to leave and support other places of worship and learning. Sadly, it has been the experience of several Reform congregations in the Pittsburgh area that the connections between congregant and rabbi are not always honored by those who speak on Chabad’s behalf. This has led to disruptions in congregational life, to ill feeling and to needless strife between the Jews of our community.
Rabbi Symons articulated in her temple’s bulletin her concern that the boundaries between Chabad and existing Temple David members be respected. We strongly agree with her that there should be no recruiting or soliciting on behalf of Chabad of anyone who is already a member of another congregation. We call on the leaders of Chabad throughout greater Pittsburgh to affirm this position.
We also call on The Jewish Chronicle to exhibit better judgment before weighing in on a matter of dispute within our community. There is almost always another side of such arguments, as is the case here. We regret that The Jewish Chronicle has chosen to stoke the fires of controversy rather than playing a more constructive role.
Our congregations are open to all who would join us, regardless of financial considerations. No one in serious need is turned away. That is our response to the libel of some of the recent letter writers who reflect a serious ignorance of how our congregations actually work and what we stand for.
In these challenging times, the Reform Jewish community of Pittsburgh stands ready to help out fellow Jews in need, to stand with all of our people in times of trouble and to serve as a beacon for the liberal Jewish values we have preached for almost 200 years. We will do so without hesitation and with the utmost respect for other streams of Judaism in our community, despite difference or disagreement. We also stand ready to work with any and all Chabad groups in our area for the betterment of our Jewish community. We welcome the opportunity to speak together on how to accomplish this goal.
(Editor’s note: The column was signed by Rabbis Aaron Bisno, Art Donsky, Ezra Ende, James A. Gibson, Sharyn Henry, Amy Hertz, Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, Jessica Locketz, Mark Mahler, Sara Perman, Barbara AB Symons and Ronald BB Symons.)