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November 23, 2014 | 1st Kislev 5775

Commentary to Proposed Vision Statement for Reform Judaism

April 10, 2012/18 Nisan 5772
Rabbi James Gibson
Member of the Reform Judaism Think Tank

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29.18)

This vision statement boldly asserts the claim of Reform Judaism to meaning, power and authenticity. It does so by reinforcing a vibrant tie to our past as well as staking bold spiritual claims for our own day and the future. Reform Judaism, 200 years old and stronger than ever, stands ready to usher in a new era of engagement for all Jews, not just those already identified with our Movement.

Divided into three sections, this vision statement encompasses the essence of what Reform Judaism is as well as who Reform Jews are and how we engage with our faith through belief and action. It goes on to define the role our institutions play in bringing this vision into reality across the broadest imaginable spectrum of our people.

Specifically, Reform Judaism responds directly to the challenges and needs of our day. We confront our most compelling crises, including the valuing of things over people, alienation from meaning, and unthinking fundamentalism of all kinds.

Reform Judaism opens its doors wide to include those marginalized by other forms of organized religion, especially those discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Reform Judaism welcomes those who embrace God, those who struggle in their search and those for whom spirituality is only to be found in sacred human connection.

We offer this dynamic way of life and faith to guide Jews and seekers along a clear path of ethical conduct grounded in our people’s historic values. We do so to make this world a better place, where all might align themselves with our core ethical teachings found in the Torah, the Prophets and our rabbinic writings.

Why this path? We passionately believe that a Reform Jewish life adds depth, direction and substance to the lives of those who otherwise risk wandering in a material wasteland. Standing firmly in an authentic tradition, we respond to a world in need of hope by raising our moral sights instead of accepting ethical chaos. Reform Judaism teaches us to do what is just and right, based on our ancient teachings and our modern insights.

At the core of this mission is the individual Reform Jew’s responsibility and capacity to learn and respond to the demands of our tradition. We do so by honestly engaging with teachers and texts that inspire us to act according to informed choice. We are free to decide our path within modern Judaism. We are not free to ignore the choices we have to make. We affirm the Jewish covenant, that holy connection between us and our people, our faith, our history and our living Torah.

We also believe in Reform Judaism’s responsibility to support critical scholarship to learn ever more about our past. We do not blindly accept the claims of tradition, rather we constantly seek to understand the context and circumstance in which our beliefs and practices developed and grew. For this endeavor we need programs of higher learning in Jewish studies covering disciplines as varied as rabbinics and cantorial arts to archaeology, history and linguistics.

Yet, we believe that study and prayer are not enough to fulfill the clarion call of our faith. We study in order to act; we learn that we might renew ourselves and our communities through the living covenant with God and the entire Jewish people.

Reform Judaism is the “living expression of Torah and tradition in our modern lives” because of our unique responses to modern trends and new ideas. We widen the circle of acceptance for many Jews in ways that are not possible for more traditional Jewish movements.

And yet we always affirm our connection to the larger Jewish community, even those who would deny our place in their midst. We accept the challenge of community building, from storefront minyans to urban synagogue centers to smaller, vibrant Jewish communities all over North America.

We organize ourselves into communities so that no one who wishes to live Jewishly is left outside our circle of concern. All of us, professionals, lay people, seekers of all kinds, engage in this sacred work. We gather the sparks of human souls in order to make an everlasting flame of spirit. We accept the challenge of gathering the resources, both spiritual and material to make this vision a reality.

We are inextricably tied to the Jewish family in the State of Israel, where our Movement responds to the needs of so many who also strive to resolve the challenges of tradition and modernity.

Although we support and promote Reform Judaism, our vision encompasses all Jews and, indeed, the entire world community. To quote one of our greatest teachers, Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus:

“It is imperative that we respect the sanctity of every human soul…the Jew [stands for] truth and the irrefutable logic of decency…we insist on social justice, on political and religious freedom…Our prophetic exhortations are the last and best hope of humanity.” (CCAR Yearbook, 1989, Cincinnati, OH, pp. 113-14)

This vision statement demands we lift our gaze to the heights our faith asks us to ascend, not only for our people, but for all humankind. It calls for engagement at each level of our Movement.

We are proud, committed Reform Jews, from the simplest to the most educated among us, from professionals and academics to laypeople with giving spirits and willing hands.

In this vision, we offer to light up a world that walks in darkness, to sound the shofar of hope to all who hear nothing but despair, and to envision peace for those who have only ever seen war and violence. Only a vision that encompasses our Movement, our people and our entire world is worthy of Reform Judaism.

This is the task to which we as a Movement commit ourselves today, tomorrow and on into a better future for us all.

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