Sermon: Aish Ha Torah and Mayyim Chayim – Or is Aish truly Jewish Motherhood and Apple Kugel

Written by Writings & Sermons by others — 6 January 2008

Let’s begin with what Aish Ha Torah clearly achieves. Since its foundation, in 1974 by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, it has provided a counter cultural and counter establishment way for people to find their way into Orthodox Judaism. Not only is Aish not afraid to use all available tools for the effective marketing of ideas to attract the interest and dedication of searching Jews, but it uses them with great effect and indeed panache. From a clear brand identity, to liveried Smart Cars, to well designed promotion, to an informative and vibrant website to a myriad of “get them in the doors” offers – heavily subsidised trips, parties and events and links with other effective organisations such as Birthright Israel, Aish knows how to do the business.

What does it not achieve? Aish does not achieve a pluralistic Judaism, thoroughly engaged with the world as it is, but working for positive transformation through Tikkun olam together with sincere people of all faiths. Aish does not create and maintain a multi-generational community which values men and women as equally bound by the Mitzvot and which includes families of all types, mixed faith as well as all Jewish. Aish is not open to the whole spectrum of Jewish interpretation and learning, a spectrum which respects the ideas and insights brought to all of us by our experience of modernity together with the deep value of our tradition, but channels its followers into the Orthodox spectrum only.

Everything that Aish cannot achieve is of course what Reform Judaism and the other branches of Progressive Judaism worldwide can achieve and to a great extent do achieve. However we are still novices at applying the expertise which Aish so clearly demonstrates in 21st Century communications and personal care. The excellence of Aish demands that Reform Judaism “raises its game” in terms of marketing and programme quality to respond to the needs of all Jews searching for authentic and life enhancing Judaism in a way which is not fixed to our current institutions – the recent Movement initiative, is a serious step on the way. Our Rabbis, our community leaders, our teachers and those Jews who have already found Reform Judaism to be the life enhancing journey that I know it to be should be unleashing a flow of Mayyim Chayim, living water to quench the thirst of those whose alternative is to be branded by Aish Ha Torah. We must be just as good on the outside because our Jewish core is equally strong, life enhancing and authentic.