MORTON ORENTLICHER, Ph.D.                                     

Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley

M.B.A., Operations Management,Columbia University

B.S., Chemical Engineering, Cooper Union


MortyOrentlicherMorton Orentlicher joined Hebrew Tabernacle with the movement of the Beth Am congregation from Bennett Avenue up the hill to the Tabernacle.  Raised Orthodox, and secular for several decades, he affiliated with Reform Judaism as a consequence of the response of many Reform Jews to the Bosnian genocide in the early 1990’s.  Mary and he have raised their children in the Liberal Jewish tradition, although she was raised Catholic.  The children both identify strongly as Jews, although neither is religious.  It is easy to see his passion for both human solidarity and with the question of the meaning of being a Jew.

Morton is currently an independent consultant and continues to work on  the development and commercialization of waste water technologies.  Dr. Orentlicher’s experience includes over 30 years’ in infrastructure and environmental projects.  Following service as head of an environmental review unit of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and Assistant to the Mayor of New York for engineering and quantitative issues, he occupied a number of positions both as corporate manager and as an engineering consultant.  Prior to government service, he had a 10-year affiliation with Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Neurology.  Morton is a dedicated technologist and a believer in the creative tension between rationality and intuition, in both technology and in religion,

Social Action Committee #2

on Monday, 03 September 2012.

Action as a Liberal Jew - Rabbi Jacobs

Jews come in as many varieties as other groups of human beings. Just as Catholicism has the Inquisition and also St Francis, we have Murder Incorporated and Hadassah. Jews shuddered when Jewish villains were exposed, since it reflected on all of us and historically could be a pretext for persecution. My white-bearded zeydah taught me 70 years ago that “when we can be as bad as everyone else, then we will know we are free.” At least in America, I believe we he have achieved that state and can say we are free. There are still white supremacists and neo-nazis that would like to do us harm, but we live in a society that overwhelmingly rejects them and have a legal system that prosecutes them. Baruch haShem.

So in a world with Jews who we must acknowledge as bad, how do we behave regarding their behavior? Liberal Jews are not necessarily Reform, but Reform Jews who take their Judaism seriously must be Liberal Jews. If you do not remember the first blog in this series, please review it and check whether you agree with that statement. In that context I will quote from the leader of our movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Reform Judaism … offers a unique religious worldview that combines the timely with the timeless: the latest scientific and philosophical thinking with a spiritual inheritance of millennia. In our tradition, God … helps us to find ourselves – in synagogues that are deep and serious; where we settle for nothing short of excellence; where we welcome Jew and non-Jew, those of any culture, race, and background who seek the wisdom of the Torah and a community to call their own.

In the context of the opening of this blog and Rabbi Jacobs statement regarding the nature of our Movement, I am printing an entire statement that Rabbi Jacobs put on the Internet regarding the inclusion of a learned rabbi, the chief rabbi of Safed on a commission of Mogen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross). This learned rabbi has issued statements that would bring joy to the neo-nazis if only the word Arab were to reverse roles with the word Jew In his statements. The fruit of rabbinic statements by learned haredim such as the rabbi of Safed was the near lynching of o young Arab by a mob of young haredim in Jerusalem last week. That rabbi was appointed to a position by Mogen David Adom, and that aroused an international Jewish condemnation. It also elicited this statement by the leader of our movement.

From a profound commitment to the Jewish people and progressive Jewish values we are joining the campaign to raise the alarm about the appointment of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu by Magen David Adom (MDA). Rabbi Eliyahu, as the chief rabbi of Safed, has used his position of authority to incite to racism and xenophobia. His extreme views pose a real danger to Israeli democracy and have no place in such a worthy organization. 
MDA assists people in their most difficult moments regardless of race, religion or creed. We admire MDA for their holy work and we share with them a profound belief in the values of equality. As friends, we now turn to MDA to question the unfortunate decision to appoint Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu on their halachic committee. 

Martin Buber teaches us about Ahavat Israel: "Love your neighbor as yourself: turn to your friend with love, with acts of love, as a brother". It is with these sentiments that we ask MDA to make the right choice in this matter.

In the past weeks, many of you have corresponded with MDA branches around the world to express your support of the work that they do, and to protest the appointment of Rabbi Eliyahu. You have received the following answers:

1. Rabbi Eliyahu has no authority to set policy within MDA. He is not the only member on the committee. 
We want to respond by saying that the appointment of Rabbi Eliyahu by the MDA taints the entire organization with the racist remarks that he continues to make, and validates him as a leader in Israel.

2. Rabbi Eliyahu was cleared of all charges of racist incitement 

History shows that Rabbi Eliyahu not only allows himself to incite to racism, he also has no hesitation to deny it after the fact (for example, he denied having made the statements in his own op-ed published in Haaretz in 2008). 

Use this link to continue emailing MDA offices worldwide. We have made a special page on our website with information about the latest developments in this campaign. You can also click here to read more about Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements.

On behalf of the Reform Movement in North America and Israel, we want to convey a clear message to MDA: We support you in your work and we demand that you stand by our shared values. This issue is not going away, and we trust your leadership to find a solution so that we can all be blessed by your work.

Yours kindly,

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism


He speaks for me, and I had already sent a message to MDA. What is your response to the situation and to Rabbi Jacobs?

Social Action Committee

on Sunday, 05 August 2012.

#1 Who are We and What is Social Action?

"Jew" is not a well-defined term to any but a follower of Orthodoxy. A Jewish mother or an Orthodox conversion to Judaism are the two characteristics that qualify a Jew for the Orthodox. For the non-Jew or the Jew who is not following Orthodox rules, the definition is fuzzy. The broadest definition includes anyone raised in a home that had been labeled "Jewish" or anyone who had converted to any variant of Judaism. No definition involves a Jewish race or even a defined ethnicity. Even the Orthodox recognize Arab, African, Asian and European "Jews". How do we in this community define ourselves as Jews?

Whether Beth Am or Tabernacle, we all connect to the rabbinic tradition that has evolved over more than two millennia, that at a minimum connects all European and Arab Jews and other Jews who recognize an affiliation with Torah and Talmud. Tabernacle or Beth Am traditions fit within a sub-group of "Jew" within that ancient tradition – Liberal Judaism. That is a minority of the persons who consider themselves Jews, who are either traditionalist or secular. We are neither. Most of us recognize the Eternal, whether as a divine person or a mystery at the foundation of all. Some of us are truly secular, and see divinity as a fiction that serves to unite us. Theology is not central to our communities, nor is it for Liberal Jews generally. We engage in the act of worship without the need to capture the divine in words. We see our fulfillment as Jews through "worship, study and acts of loving kindness." Holiness is found in community and ethical action. That is who we are, whether we are converts or descendants of German Reform or Eastern European Orthodoxy.

Social Action involves both study and action, and for some is a form of worship. It is a species of "acts of loving kindness" that involves awareness of and caring for persons beyond our immediate community. It was manifest in the support for Soviet Jews and in participation in the Civil Rights Movement. Social Action is central to the identity of a Liberal Jew, who could be a Republican, Democrat or Socialist or a person who commits to social solidarity without a label. It seems to me that it is an identity that excludes as well as unites, for it relates to the memory of ancestral slavery and the commandments to cherish that memory and to love the other as ourselves. Social Action as a Liberal Jew includes rabbis marching with Martin Luther King, but not the assassins of Rabin. It is not passive when confronted with oppression of any person, Jew or non-Jew.

What is your reaction to the preceding as a definition of who we are and what Social Action means in our congregation? We should have a common ground on these basics on which we can build programs that represent our tradition.