In comparing Jon Wolfman’s take on the Catholic Church’s responsibility for its child-molesting clergy
Amy looks at some rabbis who have done awful things and asks:
“Why don't the actions of these...men become the responsibility of members of the Jewish religion?”
She asks something analogous about Muslim responsibility for terrorism in Islam’s name.
Let me start out by saying that this is an answer to her question. It is not an argument.
I think that people who rape children should be charged, tried, and if convicted, encarcerated. This has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they’re clergy in any religion. Child rape is child rape. It is a civil concern regardless of whether it is a religious concern. I think that the Church is beside the point except to the extent that they shelter rapists, which I think they have no business doing, legally or otherwise. I had hope for Pope Francis but his greater concern for mercy toward rapists than toward their child victims is nothing short of disgusting. Being clergy should mean meeting greater expectations, not lesser.
Regarding Islam and Judaism: The major difference between those two religions and Catholicism is that Catholicism is centralized. There are no religion-wide central authorities in Judaism or Islam. In terms of the kind of condemnation you’re talking about, some of it has happened. A few years ago in the aftermath of an enormous Sunni convention in I think India, I mean over a million people, close to 70,000 Muslim clergy issued a joint fatwa against terrorists who perpetrated terrorism in the name of Islam. (It’s a while ago and I may have some details wrong, but this should be close.) If you look to the Sufis, Imam Rauf, head of the Ground Zero Mosque congregation, is virulently anti-terrorist on religious grounds.
There are some countries with Chief Rabbis, though how that functions differs. That absolutely would be pointless in the United States. There is one in Britain, I suspect predating Judaism getting as sectarian as it’s gotten within the past century or so. That doesn’t mean that rabbi has functional authority over all congregations. It depends on denomination.
In Israel, the situation is different because the government gives some rabbis authority over things like marriage law. Because Israelis tend to bifurcate into non-religious secular Jews who think the only Judaism as a religion that makes sense is going all the way with it and religious Orthodox Jews, Orthodox religious influence/power is barely tempered by more liberal denominations like it is in the United States. The liberal denominations are working to get a foothold and the Reform movement in particular is making gains but the gains are pretty tiny compared to the status quo. This has meant that the Orthodox have essentially tried to outdo each other in observance, doing crap like ultra-Orthodox men refusing to be seated next to women on airlines. With no limits and with the secular Jews giving them a free hand, the religious leadership just gets more and more draconian, resembling a Jewish Taliban more and more.
The Orthodox do not respect the less observant denominations. They recognize a lot of their members as Jews - not typically the converts because they only recognize their own conversions - but they don’t regard liberal Judaism as real Judaism because it isn’t based on strictly following scriptural law. This means Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis have next to no influence among the Orthodox on religious matters, and the “next to” is being kind.
They would tell you that they are practicing Judaism and I am not. It would surprise them to know that in key respects I think I am practicing Judaism and they are not, though they would not respect my opinion because of me as its source. It’s not that I don’t respect their observance, it’s that I don’t respect what principles they violate on their way to observing the details of religious law, and that emphatically includes a lot of what they’ve done to Israeli policy. The key sages who synopsize what Torah says primarily talk about compassion, which we’re generally better about than they are. The one thing mentioned in the Torah (by far the most sacred Jewish writing) more times than anything else is how we’re supposed to treat the stranger. You can see what they do with that. And yes, this is a violation of religious law, though they wouldn’t interpret it that way - I’m afraid out of convenience, the same way American televangelists utterly ignore Jesus’ priorities and values.
We don’t tend to have religious arguments with them because secular Israelis would side with them and we’d get nowhere, meaning we wouldn’t be seen as having the religious authority to make those calls. What the Reform movement does in Israel is use the legal system, particularly on issues like discrimination against minorities (within the country itself). That’s been more successful than we originally thought it would be but not successful in key areas.
So, to answer the question in general terms, the liberal Jewish movements get involved politically for religious reasons but don’t typically couch our case in religious terms because, given the current political circumstances, that would do more harm than good. Liberal Judaism will need a bigger presence in Israel before we can get away with that. As far as pressure from the American Jewish community, at this point Netanyahu is mainly ignoring the American liberal Jewish community in favor of the unquestioning support he gets from the Christian Right. Relations between American Judaism and the Israeli government are worse than they’ve ever been, though some of the reasons for that are internal and have to do with a lack of Israeli legal respect for liberal Jews.
I hope this helps in terms of how the other religions react to what. This is an overview and doesn’t address every issue.