Recently, a rabbinic colleague shared a post that brought my attention to the following political cartoon:




Clearly the cartoonist is taking a derogatory posture toward Reform Jews (as well as The Supreme Court of Israel).

To be honest, I’m not interested in the cartoonist, his/her agenda, or the culture surrounding it. Eventually The Kotel and the rest of the State of Israel will recognise (sic) that pluralism, diversity, tolerance, and enlightenment are essential to the well-being of our Jewish Homeland, the Jewish People, and the world.

What I am interested in is this: DONKEYS.

When I saw this cartoon I was reminded of a remark that a farmer friend of mine made about donkeys. When I asked him why  he had a Donkey on his farm he explained that the Donkey is an essential part of the farm ecosystem. Specifically, he explained that it protects the other animals from vicious predators in the surrounding environment and it will kick you if you’re out of line, threatening, or aren’t part of the positive culture of the farm.

So I did a bit more digging into the whole idea of the Donkey. Much of what I learned came from the delightful British website: Mike’s Donkeys. I encourage you to visit the site to learn much more about Donkey’s than I’m able to share here.

Here’s a hopefully humorous explanation of why I think the Donkey is a perfectly appropriate image, not for Reform Jews, but for Reform Judaism. Quotes are from the “Donkey Facts” page of Mike’s Donkeys:

  • “Donkeys have an incredible memory – they can recognise areas and other donkeys they were with up to 25 years ago.”
  • Similarly, Reform Judaism has tremendous respect for the Jewish past, our history, our story, our heritage and our traditions.
  • “Donkeys are not easily startled (unlike horses) and have a keen sense of curiosity.”
  • Curiosity about the history, the rituals, the emotions, the possibilities, the mitzvot, and other aspects of Judaism have contributed to the incredible renaissance we are witnessing in contemporary Jewish Life. Reform Judaism has always valued curiosity and treated inquiry as a religious obligation and value. And, like the Donkey, we are not startled by a diversity of opinions, viewpoints, or healthy debate.
  • “Donkeys are more independent in their thinking than horses and will reason, then make decisions based on their safety.”
  • Reform Judaism has long lifted up the notion that true religiosity has at least some measure of autonomy. Many Reform Jews find tremendous meaning in the idea of a Commanding God, but in most cases, their relationship with and adherence to this God is made more powerful and authentic when it is recognised (sic) as, at some level, a conscious choice made by an autonomous and independent individual. Once upon a time, Reform Judaism was rightfully critiqued for being overly deferential to reason and rationality. Nowadays, that rational thread within Reform Judaism is matched by other ways of knowing– emotional, spiritual, non-rational.
  • “Donkeys don’t like being kept on their own although a single donkey will live quite happily with goats.”
  • Reform Judaism, like other mainstream forms of Judaism, places high value on the Kehillah (community). When it comes to community, Reform Judaism strives to be as welcoming as possible, hence the relevance of Mike’s comment about goats.
  • “Donkeys are often a lifeline to families in many regions of the world. They help with water and wood fuel collection, land cultivation and transportation of produce to market.”
  • Similarly, Reform Judaism, arguably the most vibrant denomination of Judaism in North America and much of the world, is a lifeline to many individual Jews and to the Jewish people more generally. The good work of the World Union for Progressive Judaism is a shining example of this.
  • “Donkeys are often fielded with horses due to the perceived calming effect they have on nervous horses. If a donkey is introduced to a mare and foal, the foal will often turn to the donkey for support after it has left its mother.”
  • Reform Judaism is a voice of reason in a sometimes chaotic and absurd world. Many individuals find comfort and meaning in Reform Judaism and eventually, Reform Judaism’s role in helping advance many wonderful global causes will be fully recognised (sic) and affirmed.

I’d love for others to critique, challenge, add to, or further advance my thinking on this topic! Thanks in advance!




In Praise of Donkeys, Asses, and Mules