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September 3, 2015 | 19th Elul 5775


  1. Jan 2007 Digest 006

    …In talking to God or about God, our opinions change over time as we seek the right language to express our feelings about God. I would not be surprised if within the next twenty years we have another prayer book with new God language to reflect newer, contemporary feelings.

    But the core, underlying issue for American Jews who identify with Reform Judaism (not necessarily affiliate with a synagogue) is--Do you really believe in a God to talk to and about? Do you believe that God is present in the world and in your life?

    I would be willing to bet that less than 50% would answer affirmatively to these questions--maybe more like 30%.

    If Reform identifying Jews do not believe in God then there is no reason to attend worship services. If worship services respond to this by becoming more like "events" or "programs" are we not headed towards Humanistic Judaism?

    If God is no longer a central, unifying principal for American Jews, then why have Shabbat?

    There are those who say that when we honor other people, we honor God. There are those who say they don't have to attend worship services because they do social action. Yes, we should do these things, but they are not, in and of themselves, substitutes for worship…

    A few weeks ago on Shabbat the rabbi engaged us in a discussion of Ashrei--is this prayer meaningful to you? A good question we should all ponder.


  2. Jan 2007 Digest 006
    …I would not agree that "Reform-identifying Jews [who] do not believe in God [have] no reason to attend worship services. Part of the issue is what is meant by "believe in God." I'm pretty sure that I don't believe in the God many others don't believe in either. And many would probably not recognize "my" God as the same one they believe in. Another part is that I think belief or non-belief can fluctuate, coming and going for the same person. Worship services can provide a sort of home base throughout especially, I feel, when the person in the pew knows that wherever they're "at" at any given time is respected and welcomed.

  3. Jan 2007 Digest 007

    …at the same time, I would hope that people might be more thoughtful about the response to "do you believe in God?" How is it that educated people think that the only God you can believe in is anthropomorphic?

    Saying something that indicates that they have no God-concept whatsoever I guess is the odd part for me. If there is absolutely zero God-concept, not even the most abstract, then how does one say, "Baruch ata Adonai?" How does one read Yotzeir Or?

    I mean, obviously, liturgy gets re-worked all the time, and certainly the Ethical Humanists and other groups have long been a part of modern Jewish thought. However, if we want to include language praising God and acknowledging the creative power of God, then some sort of God must be presumed…


  4. Jan 2007 Digest 007

    Part of the issue is what is meant by “believe in god.”…Another part is that I think belief or non-belief can fluctuate, coming and going for the same person…

    …How we feel about God or who God is does change. I have had my own quarrels with God, not unlike Tevye the milkman. But underlying it all remains the belief that God does exist--and that God's presence is in this world. That prayer matters because God does listen and answer. Sometimes not always as quickly as we would like or in a way we would like. As one who has worshipped in a Modern Orthodox synagogue with a traditional prayer book, I know for sure that not everyone there believes in the God that is described, but they do believe in a God.

    If people do not adhere to that one core principal, then worship is what? An event? A program?...


  5. Jan 2007 Digest 007

    Personally, I don't believe (in any sense of the word) in an anthropomorphic divinity. Most of the time I can "suspend disbelief" sufficiently enough to participate in a meaningful way in services. At such moments, Judaism is, if you will, the "vocabulary" with which I speak of my connection to the transcendent.

    I wonder, though, how "Jewish" this is. I mean, isn't Judaism--traditionally, liturgically and theologically (insofar as one can speak of a Jewish theology)--by definition based on the notion of a divinity that intercedes in human affairs? I have trouble with that idea. Does my discomfort with this notion of God, embedded as it is in the words we recite in all our prayers, mean that the spirituality I feel is not Jewish? As one rabbi put it in an article, it's nice Buddhism but it ain't Jewish.


  6. Jan 2007 Digest 007

    …Most of the time I doubt that there is a divine Being somewhere that hears our prayers in any way that we would understand as "hearing." Even so, I think that our liturgy is a kind of poetry that speaks to great truths and conveys those truths in the way that only poetry and myth can.

    …there may be rabbis out there who tell you your ideas "aren't Jewish," but the spectrum of what is Jewish (aside from the cultural, ethnic, etc.) is so broad--take a look at Finding God by Rabbis Rifat Sonsino and Daniel Syme--that you and probably any one of us here would find support for our views within the tradition. In Finding God, the authors look at over a dozen very different theological perspectives.

    All have their staunch opponents--and all are accepted within the tradition.


  7. Jan 2007 Digest 007
    I would suggest referring to Heschel's God in Search of Man . He offers an array of concepts that help address these complicated questions…

  8. Jan 2007 Digest 008
    …I personally like the idea that prayer is a way of opening myself up to the possibility of God. If I don't "exercise" my "faith muscles", they atrophy. Then, when I'm faced with a situation where I can't cope alone, I have a hard time revving them up--much in the same way that if I don't exercise my legs and heart I have trouble playing soccer with my kids in the backyard.


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