To the Editor:
A word of clarification regarding the contention of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, that "our religious traditions led us to different conclusions" than Pope John Paul II's regarding gender roles, abortion and homosexuality ("People of All Faiths Recall Pope With Fondness," news article, April 4).
The religious tradition to which the rabbi referred is the less-than-200-year-old Reform theology.
Traditional Judaism, which is more than 3,000 years old and continues to be embraced by Orthodox Jews worldwide, is much closer on all those issues to the stances taken by John Paul II.
(Rabbi) Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, April 4, 2005
It continues to amaze me how spokesmen for ultra-Orthodoxy can continue to maintain, against the historical evidence, that Judaism has never had a pluralism of views on various controversial issues, and that the current views of ultra-Orthodox rabbis are the only correct Jewish ones. Shafran is correct that ultra-Orthodoxy and Reform differ on these issues - but he is incorrect to think that all of Jewish history corroborates his view of Judaism. If we were to step back 3,000 years, approximately to the time of the building of the First Temple, I think we would find a very different religion than the one practiced by Jews (of any stripe) today. (For one thing, of course, Jews no longer sacrifice animals as part of worship). If we stepped back 2,000 years we would find evidence of some synagogues where women were leaders (see Bernadette Brooten's work, "Women Leaders of the Ancient Synagogue"). If we stepped back a thousand years we would find Jews in the Middle East who rejected the authority of the Talmud and the midrash (the Karaites).