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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776
Jewish Literacy Initiatives

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations

The Synagogue Arm of the Reform Movement



Ours is a uniquely ignorant generation...
Wonderfully educated in the ways of the world,
we are abysmally ignorant in the ways of our people.

Dear Synagogue Leader,

The challenge facing the Reform Movement today is great: How do we lift up a whole generation of Reform Jews from a pervasive ignorance of Jewish people, texts, literature, and history, thus enabling them to become increasingly literate as Jews?

To do this, I propose a five-point program in Jewish literacy. It involves adults learning together little by little, day by day. And it is a program that we can accomplish together, with materials and resources created by the Union, as well as additional materials to be created jointly with the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Materials in each of the areas have already been prepared and will be available on the UAHC Website.

Ours is a literacy-dependent tradition, a religious tradition that has respect for sacred words. Together, we can discover that learning is a source of inspiration, a great adventure, and a lifelong source of joy. I hope you will join me on this journey.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President's Address, Biennial Convention, Dallas, TX
November 1, 1997
1 Chesvan 5758


The first part of my proposal is that each synagogue in the Movement call upon its members to read four significant books per year and that the study and discussion of these books be incorporated into the regular work of the board.

To assist you, the Union will select eight volumes each year and will prepare study guides and suggestions for board discussion. You may choose from these or, on the advice of your rabbi, select other titles.

Guides are already available for the following:

The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Finding God: Ten Jewish Responses by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme

As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment by J. J. Goldberg


Too often our committee and board meetings are long, business-as-usual sessions, with a litany of reports and an occasional perfunctory opening prayer. How can we transform these meetings into sacred moments?

I have seen how the study of sacred texts can add Jewish sustenance and passion to deliberations, reminding committee members that they are, indeed, doing God's work in their community.

I propose, therefore, that all temple boards and significant committees make Jewish text study an integral part of every meeting. To make this possible without imposing an impossible burden on our rabbis, the Union has prepared monthly texts for the following:

Board of Trustees

Ritual Committee

Education Committee/School Board

Finance/Budget Committee

Texts that are relevant to the business of each committee were chosen. Each month's study guide includes commentary and questions that will enable a lay committee member or trustee, with modest preparation, to present and discuss them.

The monthly study guides are formatted for easy copying and distribution.


When Torah is chanted, the public reading is transformed from an encounter with text to a brush with holiness. If we are to truly appreciate its sacred character, the Torah should be sung.

In too many congregations, however, the beautiful chanting of Torah is never heard. I am therefore suggesting that every congregation train at least two lay Torah readers prior to the 1999 biennial.

How can we do this? This spring, in cooperation with the American Conference of Cantors, we will hold training programs in major cities throughout North America. Next fall, every regional biennial will offer training. By the summer of 1998, cassettes and books for personal instruction will be available for study in the home and synagogue.

The schedule of training sessions and sample lessons have already been prepared and are available.


As important as the public study of Torah in the synagogue is, we must also make Torah study a habit in our homes. And what better place to begin than at the Shabbat dinner table, where we and our children can learn to put aside the routine and mundane and taste the sweetness of Shabbat.

To reach every household is not an easy task, but we are getting help form new technologies. We will begin posting on the UAHC home page suggestions for Torah talk that are especially appropriate for families and children and can be introduced at our Erev Shabbat meals. The suggestions can be found at

These suggestions are a supplement to Torat Hayim, the commentary on the weekly parashah that has been available for the past year. Torat Hayim is distributed by e-mail to more than 3500 individuals, is posted on the UAHC web site each week], and is faxed and mailed to every congregation. To subscribe, please send an e-mail to


For more than a century, the Reform Movement has marked the anniversary of the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai with confirmation. But Shavuot is not only for our youngsters. Therefore, as we mark the most intensive year of Torah study in our Movement, I propose that each of our synagogues organize a Tikkun Leil Shavuot -- an evening of intense study -- for its members on Saturday, May 30, 1998. Congregations may wish to organize their own Tikkun or join with other congregations in their community.

To assist you in this effort, the Union, the College-Institute, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis is preparing a variety of appropriate study materials.


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