By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo has a lot in common with the late Rabbi David Hartman. Cardozo is, as Hartman was, an Orthodox rabbi. Both immigrated to Israel in the belief that only here can Orthodoxy, indeed Judaism, renew itself and remain relevant. Both created institutions in Jerusalem, one the Shalom Hartman Institute the other the David Cardozo Academy. Despite their Orthodox training, the Israeli religious establishment has shunned them both.
But unlike Hartman, Cardozo isn’t a pluralist. Whereas the Hartman Institute welcomes, students, fellows and teachers from across the Jewish spectrum, religious and secular, the guest lecturers listed in the Cardozo Academy are all Orthodox, albeit often somewhat on the fringe.
I heard Rabbi Cardozo declare the other night that Conservative and Reform Judaism isn’t for him. But the way he described his own religious outlook, he is decidedly not for Orthodox Judaism. He told the audience that he’s no longer invited to speak even in the Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem where he worships.
Perhaps Hartman was more secure in his Judaism. Cardozo, though a graduate of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Gateshead in England, is a Jew by choice, which often entails insecurity. His father was a Jew by birth, his mother was not and converted long after her son. He wouldn’t be the only Jew by choice who despite an independent mind and secular learning – he’s a champion of his fellow-Dutchman Spinoza – seems to be beholden to established rabbinic authority.
Unlike Hartman, Cardozo seems to accept the isolation, indeed the implied humiliation. The film that was made about him shares the title with his brief autobiography, “Lonely but not alone.” Had I had the opportunity I would have asked him about people, other than family and personal friends, who relieve his religious loneliness.
The late Rabbi Louis Jacobs, the most erudite Jewish scholar it was my privilege to know, was also shunned by the Orthodoxy from which he came: an Orthodox synagogue even refused to call him to the Torah on the eve of a grandson’s wedding. In the end he made common cause, albeit reluctantly, with the Conservative movement. That’s apparently not Rabbi Cardozo’s way.
I came away from the event realizing that you can’t be a religious radical without being open to all likeminded manifestations of Judaism in the way of Hartman and Jacobs (who taught Reform and Liberal rabbis in London) and that it’s not enough to argue that Jewish law has to change to become relevant without taking practical, sometimes even political, steps to try to bring it about. Rabbi Cardozo seems to prefer be an Orthodox maverick rather than a religious reformer.
But you can’t be a timid hero. For all the heroic and erudite efforts that Rabbi Cardozo is making to challenge stagnant Halacha, in order to be effective he’d have to come out against those who currently wield halachic power in the Jewish state, i.e., the Rabbinate. You may get mild applause for your views from other ostensibly Orthodox Jews as he did that evening, but in the end you can only see results if you join forces – yes, forces – with other religious, not just Orthodox, women and men.