Ordination debate continues

In your Nov. 14 editorial, you commented on the ordination controversy at Central Reform Congregation. We Jews truly are divided on the subject, and many are deeply concerned about its effect on interfaith relations.

I must take issue with your urging Archbishop Burke and the Rev. Vincent Heier to “lower their rhetoric”. I have been heartened by the fact that the Archdiocese has taken a low-key approach to the issue. Personal discussions were held with Rabbi Susan Talve before any public pronouncements by the Catholic Church. Continuing conversations between the Jewish Community Relations Council, on whose board I serve, and the Archdiocese were held in the most respectful and friendly manner. Father Heier, a long-time close friend of the Jewish community, expressed more hurt than anger. It could have been much worse.


I can imagine the hue and cry had the Archdiocese hosted a speaker or ceremony that was as offensive to the Jewish community as this ceremony was to theirs. There would have been a justly-righteous hue and cry of disappointment that our friends would treat us in this manner. Our rabbis and communal leaders would have shouted our anger from our pulpits and board rooms. We would have been subject to calls to end relationships with the Archdiocese.

None of this happened. Archbishop Burke’s pastoral letter in the St. Louis Review, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese, expressed the disappointment of the Catholic community, while noting that this would not disrupt Catholic-Jewish relationships. The article and editorial in the same issue were balanced and calm.

As one who has been involved in interfaith activities in St. Louis for over forty-two years, I was heartened by this response. We have worked hard to develop relationships that could have been broken by a synagogue hosting such a ceremony. It is to the credit of both communities that this did not happen. Archbishop Burke and Father Heier deserve our commendation.

Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman

Rabbi emeritus, Shaare Emeth

Initially, regarding the Catholic ordination at Central Reform Congregation, I was not in favor of this activity by a Jewish synagogue. Then I attended the event by standing in the back of the sanctuary, and wanted to witness this potential travesty of religious orientation. The rituals, ceremony, music and soothing presentations by the presiding clergy were beautiful. As I observed the people in the sanctuary, one could feel the love, respect, and admiration of both Jews and Catholics sitting side by side. Even the choir was a mixed blessing of voices from both religions. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing…Catholic hymns being sung in a Jewish synagogue! I was emotionally moved by the peaceful enjoining of two very different paths to God. As I was listening to the ceremony and pondering the decision made by Rabbi Talve to allow such an interfaith ceremony in a synagogue, I was intrigued and impressed by her holy inspiration. Opening the doors of a Jewish synagogue to this Catholic ceremony was a model of interfaith intuition by Rabbi Talve. I have to thank her for changing my mind.

Michael R. Hess

St. Louis

Permit me to immediately point out that I, like lots of Jewish people, have many non-Jewish friends, all of whom I totally respect; so let there be no misunderstanding in the least.

It is, hence beyond normalcy, for the Central Reform Congregation to support, “host” and initiate the entrance to the priesthood for two women. As everybody knows, female priests are not “legal” in Catholicism and some of my very dear Catholic friends have stated just that.

What Talve should do, is to work on uniting or maybe strengthening more cohesiveness amongst fellow Jewish brethren. It is outright shocking that a most reputable Jewish house of worship would advocate such an episode.

Howard Sandler

University City

Of Israel, Zionism and Christians

I would like to point out a number of things not included in the article “Christians and Israel?”, and comment on some of what was included in the article.

Modern-day Israel was in some part established because of committed Christian Zionists.

There were Puritan leaders who came to America and promoted the return of Jews to their homeland. There were others, both in America and England. William Eugene Blackstone, a real estate millionaire and preacher, wrote a book called Jesus is Coming. The book refuted the idea that Jews should have to convert to Christianity, and said that Jews should be allowed to return to Zion. It sold over a million copies, in the late 1800s. Four hundred important individuals signed what is known as the Blackstone Memorial, in favor of the area of “Palestine” being returned to Jews; these included John D. Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Supreme Court Justice Melville Fuller and the future President William McKinley.

As for the British, in 1621, Sir Henry Finch, a member of Parliament, wrote a book called The World’s Great Restoration, in which he supported the Jewish claim to Palestine and asked that Jews return there to reestablish a Jewish homeland.

In the mid 1800s, other prominent Britains called for a restoration to Zion; these included the Earl of Shaftesbury (described in several sources I looked at as an “evangelical”), the novelist George Eliot, Sir George Gawler (a hero of Waterloo), and others.

Yes, some of these supporters were dispensationalists, but others felt Jews needed a homeland because of the terrible persecutions in both the Arab/Ottoman world as well as in Europe, and were moved by the plight of Jews.

Also, it is not mentioned in the article that the early Reform movement was against Zionism. At the Frankfort-am-Main conference in 1845, the prayers for the return to Zion, present since the Exile after the destruction of the Second Temple in siddurim (prayerbooks), were removed. At the Pittsburgh Conference in 1885, the platform read “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community; and we therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning a Jewish state.”

Yes, there are also Orthodox Jews who were and are against the establishment of modern-day Israel on religious grounds. My point is to not bash Reform Judaism, but Reform Jews, because of their antagonism to the “social conservatism” of evangelicals, are perhaps the most antagonistic to the idea of evangelicals being supportive of Israel.

I get tired of reading about “Jewish” positions as being liberal or progressive or as was written in the article “Jewish leaders point out that evangelical Christians’ conservative social agenda doesn’t fit in with the religious tradition of tikkun olam, healing the world”.

Which Jewish leaders? Does that include the Orthodox? The article then goes on to include “abortion rights, poverty programs, government health care programs and stem cell research” as being “Jewish” positions or aspects of said “tikkun olam”.

Many Orthodox Jews are against “abortion rights”. Jews differ on how to abolish poverty (not all believe that government largesse is the road to doing so). Nowhere in any traditional Jewish sources is the idea of “government health care programs” mentioned, nor is it the ideal of all Jews. And stem cell research is also not a monolithic position of all Jewish groups.

In fact, it is tiresome to read in the Light about “Jewish positions”. It would be more correct to say “Reform and/or Conservative” Jews, or “many Jews”. Were we one group with one agenda, it would be fine. But we are many groups; we can consider ourselves all Jews, but we do not see eye-to-eye on religious ideas or on politics. The Light should not use inclusive but incorrect terminology.

Maurice Sonnenwirth

University City

A new school

We were intrigued by a recent letter questioning the relationship between the New Jewish Community Day High School and other existing Orthodox educational institutions. We are pleased to see the breadth of choices that exist within the Orthodox community for receiving a quality high school education that supports Orthodox beliefs and practices. It would be wonderful if such a choice was equally available to Jews who affiliate with other streams of Jewish life, as well. We are open to providing a school in which Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and unaffiliated members of our Jewish community, are all equally supported. We feel that we can increase the number of students in St. Louis who receive a quality Jewish high school education by creating such a venue

We look forward to working in partnership with the larger community, and all existing Jewish educational venues to make this dream a reality.

Dr. Phillip Korenblat, and Mr. Maurice Guller

Co-Presidents of the Saint Louis Jewish Community Day High School Board