What was the point of the Reform, Masorti and Liberal call for "cooperative working" and "respect" last week? After all, the three Progressive movements have an excellent track record working with each other -for example, on the new cross-communal school, JCoSS - and it is hard to recall the last time a Reform rabbi publicly insulted a Liberal or Masorti one, or vice versa. The Progressive movements already practise the pluralistic model of religious leadership they preached for in their Statement of Communal Collaboration; the declaration does nothing more than entrench the status quo.
No, the real purpose behind the document - as one source all but explicitly told the JC last week - was to challenge the Orthodox establishment's dominance of the community and to set up an alternative. Tired of what they perceive as Orthodox disrespect, the Progressives have issued public notice that unless attitudes change rapidly, they will be going it alone as leaders of "the mainstream".
Now, even for a United Synagogue member such as myself, it is hard not to sympathise with the Progressives here. On issue after issue, the Orthodox have paid lip service to mutual respect, but not practised it. The Progressives are right to be fed up, so perhaps this latest move was inevitable.
But it is not the best way to deal with the problem - and certainly not good for Anglo-Jewry. This statement formalises divisions in the community, making them ever harder to bridge. This gambit is never going to force the Orthodox camp to rethink its approach. Rather, it will be taken - correctly - as a "Dear John" note.
By drawing the battle lines so publicly, communal tensions can only be exacerbated. The truth is, this is less a "statement of communal collaboration" than the opening shots in a new war.
Talking of Orthodox exclusivity... EdgwareK is a highly useful email list, operating since 2002, on which more than 4,000 subscribers exchange and sell goods or services and advertise communal events. But in order to join, you must disclose which shul you belong to, name the wardens, supply three referees, explain whether you "keep Shabbos fully" and describe "your standard of Kashrus". Members of non-Orthodox shuls are rejected. Those confessing they are not Shabbat-observant are accepted, but are told, via email, that "We prefer to view this as not YET totally Shomer Shabbos!!"
According to the owner of the list - a private individual who runs it with his wife - this information is necessary because the service is aimed at the observant community, and they do not want members posting on Shabbat, or selling items from non-kosher kitchens.
But is it really necessary to pose such off-puttingly invasive questions, questions which exude religious snobbery and exclusivity (and to which some members, I know for a fact, in any case supply dishonest answers)? Surely a list of guidelines, supplied to all members, and a strict moderation policy would be enough?
Talking of Reform "pluralism"... A siddur soon to be released by San Francisco's main gay synagogue, Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, which is affiliated with the Reform movement, will include a prayer for "unexpected intimacy". Those engaging in "anonymous sex" can ask God to make the encounter a blessing "that allows us to both touch and see the Divine".
Adds the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: "Those involved in the project say it could also be said for other meaningful encounters with strangers." Meaningful?
A prayer for a one-night stand with strangers - gay or straight - is simply sacrilegious. How can anyone even pretend this is Judaism?