Reform Judaism in relation/contrast to Orthodox/Traditional Judaism
Dec 2005 Digest 202
I hope we are never reformed Jews [as opposed to Reform]--because that puts the changes in the past, and freezes us into a new kind of Orthodoxy. Although, as a member of the Union's Marketing Committee, I worked hard on the name change from UAHC, I admit it was with misgivings. We have built a brand name around Reform that has taken on a life of its own--but Reform is not what we are really about, at least today. (Two hundred years ago, there may have been a strong sense that the liturgy and worship modes needed to be reformed--but that was two hundred years ago.)
That's why I really like the name our movement uses throughout much of the rest of the world--Progressive. It reflects our willingness to move forward, even in areas where some might say we are moving backwards. It reflects an openness to change, and it suggests our commitment to tikkun olam.
It's ironic that Halacha--the root of which is from the verb to walk--has come to reflect not moving. Since we walk forward, we are the real Halachic Jews!
Feb 2006 Digest 035
We had a study group in our congregation many years ago, which struggled for weeks with a definition of who is a Reform Jew. We knew we didn't want to define ourselves the "old" Reform way, by what we don't do (keep kosher, wear kippot, etc.), especially since many Reform Jews now do what the Pittsburg Platform negated; and we equally knew that what I do as a Reform Jew may be totally different from what Irv or Ed or Joan or Carlyn do--albeit they are equally committed Reform Jews. Our final answer: A Reform Jew is someone who pays dues to a Reform congregation.
As has been pointed out, those dues support worship, even though not everyone who pays them worships beyond the HHD; they support study, even though not everyone who pays them ever opens a Jewish book, etc, etc. The Jewish version of different strokes for different folks is the old story about Goldberg who comes to temple to talk to God, and Kaufman who comes to talk to Goldberg.
I'm traditional enough to want to worship with a minyan, but selfish enough not to care if there's only a minyan. If we get ten minyanim to pack sandwiches to deliver to a nearby shelter, we're clearly doing something Jewishly right even if there aren't 100 people at Shabbat morning services. Just because I don't pack sandwiches doesn't mean I should be criticized by the social action cadre, any more than I should criticize them for not joining me on Shabbat morning in the chapel.
Our international arm, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, advertises in Israel, There is more than one way to be Jewish. When we're evaluating whatever we evaluate, we should also remember that there is more than one way to be Reform Jewish.
Larry 1100 units
Nov 2006 Digest 178
Reform Judaism really has slowly been moving back to a bit more Hebrew, (in the prayer books and in song). Reform Judaism has been moving back to re-examining Jewish practices with a "how was it then," and how does it fit with modern life Now."
Examples: The mikveh being reclaimed as a place of spiritual renewal rather than a place of purification from "unclean" states; the notion that one-of-the-parents-being-Jewish (instead of just the female) can make for Jewish children; avid support for Israel; renewed interest in kashrut, and so on.
IMO, it has come a long way from the "classical Reform" with Sunday services and everything in English.
I think Reform needs to stop looking over its shoulders at the Conservatives (who are blaming their declining numbers on a sideways move towards Reform over the interfaith-marriage issues and the status of subsequent children). I don't know if Jews on the far right end of the Jewish religious spectrum are losing to those who are even further to the right, but very conservative religions (both Christian and Jewish) will continue to attract because they provide a sense of security and boundaries where people don't have to make too many decisions in the face of modern society
Nov 2006 Digest 181
Lately I've been thinking that for people on the fringe, to venture into the temple is a huge risk. They don't like to come much, for if they did, they'd come more often. Especially for these folks, the "service" begins not with the opening prayer, but a few moments earlier--at the temple front door
Every interaction under the temple's roof counts. How are they greeted as they hang up their coat, what kind of glance or body language is offered them as the usher hands them the prayer book? All of this sets a tone.
Our current congregation is teaching me volumes about the power of warm-and-friendly. After the service, how "regulars" and board members habitually respond to a newcomer's presence at the Oneg is truly worth revisiting, if you hope to make the evening relevant to the newcomer--no matter whether you believe that means "elevating" or "practical." Acting friendly is both of those.
Are children said "hello" to or talked over/around? Recently we gained a new member family because she found her school-aged children [were] talked to directly, not over-and-above, as they stood shyly by her side.
If someone seats themself solo in the sanctuary, they might prefer it, but at least they deserve a whispered offer to join a group of friends or a family.
At the Oneg, do the regulars stare at strangers and say to each other, "Who is she? I don't recognize her...," or are we retraining each other to instead break out and go over and find out the answer.
Simple identifiers help, too. Our congregation has every board member wear a pretty gold pin with their name on it at every Oneg, so a newcomer can find someone from the board to inquire about the temple policies.
To overcome physical barriers for the disabled, I take the suggestion of a wheelchair-bound college student who once advised me to get in a wheelchair and try to negotiate the entire building, to learn where the barriers are
Here are some other evidences of care and relevance: Put and stock diaper changing tables in the restrooms (both genders). If you discover a newcomer in the room, after you greet, please also flag the rabbi, so s/he can do his/her job and go greet as well.
And...recycle. Younger families want green; they care deeply about the planet. It's one of the hallmarks of their generation. I really wonder why aren't more synagogues on board with these simple habits It's a noticeable disconnect to utter prayers like Ma'ariv Aravim, then find no place to recycle a can of pop at the Oneg
Marta 501 families
Dec 2006 Digest 187
I suspect that the "mythology" in question was not our core set of beliefs per se but the beliefs *about* Judaism. That is, many now believe that orthodoxy (small or large O) is fixed and unchanging, and that orthodox practice is by and large exactly as it was 1500 years ago.
This is not the case, though to many of us on the outside this may seem so. Orthodoxy does have a framework within which changes to practice must fit, and does indeed respond to changing times and knowledge (though not at the speed, or the way, that many of us would want). Even seemingly contradictory rulings on a matter are seen as "halachic" if they were derived by following and embodying the process and framework. Looking closely, there was indeed much "reform" (small R) throughout orthodox history. Remember that Rambam was reviled by many in his time.
Reform, on the other hand, purposely *broke* that framework, that process, by declaring that halacha does not automatically bind each and every Jew without their consent. We proudly state that it is up to each Jew to examine those laws and practices to determine which are relevant and meaningful in our own lives. We do not accept the mantle of full observance without knowing, and accepting, each law, rule, practice, and custom.
An interesting light into orthodox practice is the current brouhaha about agunot (women whose husbands will not grant them a get, rendering them unable to divorce and remarry). There's both positive and negative here.
There are a great many Orthodox rabbis who are trying to find a way to solve the problem--and they recognize that it is a problem--within the confines of the halachic framework. Yes, there are some opposed to doing this, but from what I've seen most of the disturbance has been in how to do it, not whether to do it (cancelled conferences and declarations of certain Israeli rabbis aside).
March 2007 Digest 032
With regard to Saturday morning worship, we have an 8:30am service that we began independent of the Bnei Mitzvah "show" about two or three years ago. We are now getting about 15 -20 adults plus kids on a regular basis. Service is led by the clergy and involves much participation by congregants in lots of ways.
However, we do have 450 or so families and so, while we are happy with the slowly growing numbers, we have an awful long way to go. Much is written in iWorship about the struggle with service attendance, be it Sat am or Friday night. However, I do not recall much about what I personally see as one of the major reasons--the loss of obligation to pray within the Reform Movement. Everything is supposed to be personal choice (I have wanted to ask, should we change the name to the" Ten Recommendations"?). This lack of a sense of obligation has greatly impacted the community's commitment to service attendance. I do find it somewhat ironic that many of the "regulars" in our little service grew up not in the Reform Movement but within either the Conservative or Orthodox Movements. I do think it has much to do with the sense that as Jews we have an obligation to pray and join with other Jews on Shabbat and this is something that is just so foreign to the Reform Movement.
March 2007 Digest 033
I am posting something derived from a comment I made to my cantorial colleagues after many of us took exception to a characterization of cantors as singing at the congregation instead of leading them in and inspiring them to worship. This is just an excerpt:
I've been thinking lately about the TV show with the British Nanny who comes and lives with a family and teaches them how to better their family dynamic and discipline. I read an interview with Nanny Jo in which she was asked about criticism that relying on what she calls the "Naughty Chair" (time out place) undermines children's self-esteem. I laughed out loud. Then I tried to imagine who would have such a response. I immediately thought about a family from a previous year¹s B'nei Mitzvah class who, at every turn, insisted on things being done "their way," and never took no for an answer. That led me to reflect on the speeches of our confirmands, one of which extolled the benefits of being a Reform Jew because "it means I don't have to follow a lot of rules. I can just do what makes me feel Jewish and it's all about me." This sort of thinking is not uncommon. Jews, more and more, are expressing a resistance to the acceptance of commandments on principle. They are like adolescents who resent having curfew. It drives me mad because it's so self-indulgent and unimaginative. Rules and boundaries are gifts of love, not tools of oppression...