Commentary Magazine


The Difference Between Reform Rabbis and Islamists

For those who take it as their mission to expose every foolish thing said on Glenn Beck’s radio or TV program, the talk show host is a gift that keeps on giving. Today’s bon mot from the famous talker is one in which he takes a shot at the 400 rabbis who signed an ad organized by the Jewish Funds for Justice group denouncing him and FOX News’s Roger Ailes. We have previously written about the hypocrisy of this ad, which rightly chided Beck for his inappropriate language about the Holocaust but failed to mention the many examples of leftist hate speech that used the same wrongful analogies. But, of course, Beck couldn’t leave it at that.

So today, while discussing the ad’s signers, he went on to tell his listeners that rabbis from the Reform movement of Judaism are “generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the Reform Judaism, it is more about politics.”

Beck then goes on to note that this analogy is not about “terror,” but a rule of thumb about analogies is that if you have to issue a disclaimer in the same breath, it’s probably not a smart analogy to start with.

It’s true that most Reform rabbis are political liberals, just as most American Jews are liberals, a reality that COMMENTARY has been known to lament. And it is also true that a standing joke about Reform has been to say that its theology consisted of the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in. But if that jibe hits home about the core beliefs of many Reform Jews, it is erroneous to put down the movement per se as a purely political entity. However much many liberal Jews have come to see their faith in terms that have tended to merge their political beliefs with their religious identity, Reform Judaism is a venerable religious movement above and beyond political activism that is due the same respect that any other denomination of one of our country’s great faiths deserves. Many of its rabbis are, and have been, political activists (including many who are ardent Zionists), but that does not justify putting their faith down as mere politics. To do so is to manifest the sort of disrespect for religion that is more usually associated with the left than the right.

Moreover, any comparison between Reform rabbis and the leaders of Islamism is as untrue as it is obnoxious. Reform’s beliefs are in no way the equivalent of a creed that seeks to destroy all non-Islamic governments and faiths as Islamists do. Nor need we point out that it is also true, as Beck helpfully noted in passing, that Reform rabbis are not the spiritual leaders of a movement that sponsors terrorism as a matter of principle.

While the signers of the one-sided anti-Beck ad opened themselves up to criticism for backing an obviously partisan argument, to put down an entire religious movement as mere politics, as if a vast association of synagogues, schools, camps, and charitable endeavors exists merely to take shots at Beck, is absurd. As with some of Beck’s other glib utterances that have gotten him into trouble, it’s clear that he’d be better off not talking about topics about which his knowledge is limited.