Judaism has carrot-and-stick doctrines. Some rabbis, such as Shammai and Karo, defined Judaism as fundamentalism. The resulting wall of difference from other peoples assured that their adherents did not assimilate. Besides the ubiquitous personal restrictions, the stick approach relies on a key assumption: there must exist die-hard adherents. It’s hard to win secular or liberal Jews with fundamentalism. Others, first of all Hillel, defined Judaism very liberally. They interpreted the commandments to the extent of twisting them and changing their sense, invented procedures to circumvent the commandments, and established impossible rules of proof in order to obviate punishments. Historically, “carrot rabbis” were the majority and did very well in preserving the Jewish nation.

The Reform rabbis act in a superficially similar way in adapting Judaism to modern realities. Speed is the main difference. The old sages created new rules slowly and carefully, with great regard for the Torah and for their predecessors. They might have been building a religion very different from that given at Sinai, but it was nevertheless a religion: coherent, thought-out, and God-fearing. Reformists cavalierly disregard the previous scholarship and light-heartedly rewrite the Torah. Most Reform “rabbis” did not seriously study in Jewish religious schools and simply have no idea of the immense accumulated wisdom; they don’t know what they disregard. Traditional Judaism is not closed to innovation: major codices were written in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, and a large body of laws developed in the twentieth century to cope with modern circumstances. Pharisaic rabbis, ultra-Orthodox now, were reformists two thousand years ago. Their inventiveness saved Judaism when the priestly Sadducees became unable to practice our religion with the destruction of the Temple. Pharisaic inventiveness differs from the Reformist fantasy.

Conservatism had a sound premise, but the merger with the reformists devastated it. Uneducated and vociferous reformists subverted the Conservative Movement. Another problem with Conservatism was its conception as a movement. In Judaism, various rabbis, often those living concurrently, sported a considerable divergence of opinions. Such schools of thought were few, allowing Judaism to remain an established religion rather than a whirlpool of opinions. The Conservatives, seeking in a typically political fashion to enlarge their support base, abandoned any theological centralization. They used a loophole: Judaism permitted every qualified rabbi to issue legal opinions. Such opinions were relegated to minor matters not regulated by the Talmud and subject to oversight by more authoritative rabbis. The Conservative movement employed that doctrine to allow every half-educated “rabbi” to promulgate his own views on almost any theological issue with practically no oversight. The atheist flock, who do not know Judaism and do not care to study it, welcome bizarre interpretations as long as they do not interfere with their atheistic, immoral, un-Judaic lifestyle. The rabbis, who have to lead and direct the flock to Judaism pander to the assimilated Jews with religion less obtrusive than a guinea-pig.

The Karaites created Judaism without fixed minute regulation. Their fate shows that doesn’t work. Most people give little thought to high-flown theological issues and think of religion in terms of orthopraxy, the way of deeds; they want instructions, though a balance needs to be struck between the firmament and the millstone—between necessary and excessively burdensome regulation. Reformists tread a path worse than the absence of regulation: while each Karaite interprets the commandments for himself, Reformists rely for guidance (or soothing) on atheist ignoramuses posing as their spiritual leaders.

The Hassidic dress, which appears odd today, was nice and modern when it was first introduced. Arcane food laws and superstitious Shabbat rites made sense at the time of their promulgation. Sages whose authority is rock-solid now were bitterly argued against in their own time. Judaism was always vibrantly current. Baffled by the fast pace of modern developments, rabbis of the last two or three centuries look back at the old days of stability, little assimilation, and uncritical obedience. Other Jews look forward. Stuck between antiquated Orthodox law and the lawlessness of Reformism, the Jews need a new law developed from the disputes of traditionally educated rabbis. An honest, knowledgeable, and thorough adaptation of Jewish practice to modern circumstances is the only way to prevent Reformism from turning our religion into a Saturday bingo session.