Orthodox rabbi hails Reform Jewry for social justice efforts
Calls for bridging denominational divide, empowering women
Shmuly Yanklowitz is an Orthodox rabbi who believes Orthodox Judaism can learn from Reform Judaism.
“I have been very impressed by the Reform Jewish community’s social justice leadership and always saddened by my own religious Orthodox community’s lack of leadership toward social justice,” said Yanklowitz, a global social justice leader and educator who serves as president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, a learning and leadership center in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Yanklowitz will present three Shabbat talks and discussions at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls on Saturday, Dec. 15.
In a phone interview with NJJN, Yanklowitz said he will illustrate to those who attend his talk how to develop “the midos [character traits] to be social change elements who support the vulnerable and build our community,” while demonstrating “moral leadership” at a time when the country is so politically divided.
One thing needed to further that development, said Yanklowitz, is Jewish pluralism. “We need to bridge the denominational divide,” he said. “We need to bridge the Israel-diaspora divide, and we need to be more empowering to women’s leadership. We need to develop deep alliances with other gentile communities,” leading to the formation of “stronger partnerships with Muslims and Christians and activists from other communities. We need to strengthen the bonds with the African-American and LGBTQ communities.”
He emphasized that such bridges must be built on a foundation rooted in Jewish wisdom and learning.
Unfortunately, Yanklowitz said, many in the Orthodox community who have deep connections to Jewish tradition, ritual, and learning don’t have a strong background in social justice leadership. And for those in less observant communities, social justice ties are strong, but traditional observance and knowledge may not be.
For the last decade, Yanklowitz has been working to encourage his Modern Orthodox community to engage in social activism promoting, among other causes, environmental preservation, animal welfare, and workers’ and gay rights.
Yanklowitz founded and serves as president of Uri L’Tzedek, an “Orthodox social justice organization guided by Torah values and dedicated to combating suffering and oppression,” according to its website.
Yanklowitz is also founder and president of Yatom: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network and founder and CEO of Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, which promotes the ethical treatment of animals. His latest endeavor is Torat Chayim, an association of Orthodox rabbis from throughout Israel, North America, and Europe committed to a more pluralistic and progressive future, which has attracted more than 250 rabbis.
“I want to plant the seed to start a conversation,” said Yanklowitz, to engage the Orthodox community in both social justice and the greater Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.
The 37-year-old Yanklowitz, known as Rav Shmuly, grew up in Princeton and Basking Ridge. He holds two master’s degrees and earned a doctorate in moral development and epistemology from Columbia University. He was ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah as a Wexner Graduate Fellow.
He was on the list of the top 50 rabbis in America by Newsweek and The Daily Beast in 2012 and 2013.
Yanklowitz became vegan with his wife, Shoshana, on their wedding day as a decision “to build a family around principles of compassion.” The couple have four young children and have taken many foster children into their home.
If you go
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Saturday, Dec. 15
Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls
“Jewish Pluralism: How Can We Disagree but Remain One People?”
“Where Is our Moral Courage?”
“The Dignity of Difference”
Free, including lunch