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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776
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Religious Observance

  1. This is pretty far off the topic of a daily minyan, but I need to say that I truly appreciated Monica's posting. In fact she articulated beautifully what I have been trying to say to my own congregation in various ways and at various times. I am not a very observant Jew when it comes to keeping kosher and most other mitzvot regarding Shabbat, but the more I study the more I understand why these mitzvot are important and the more likely I am to do at least some of them. And I feel strongly as Monica says that the synagogue should not place a stumbling block before me or others who choose to be more observant. Much of what I have learned about Judaism has convinced me that the details are very important. I have recently been criticized for "trying to make our Temple Orthodox"--when those who really know me know that I am the biggest cheer leader for Reform Judaism in the Temple. People can get very confused, very easily and make hurtful remarks because they do not understand what they are saying...
    160 units

  2. I feel compelled to respond to recent comments on Reform religious observance. Almost thirty years old, the "Centenary Perspective" of 1976 makes clear that choosing to do is, in fact, within the scope of Reform Judaism:

    "Our Religious Obligations: Religious Practice--Judaism emphasizes action rather than creed as the primary expression of a religious life, the means by which we strive to achieve universal justice and peace. Reform Judaism shares this emphasis on duty and obligation. Our founders stressed that the Jew's ethical responsibilities, personal and social, are enjoined by God. The past century has taught us that the claims made upon us may begin with our ethical obligations but they extend to many other aspects of Jewish living, including: creating a Jewish home centered on family devotion: lifelong study; private prayer and public worship; daily religious observance; keeping the Sabbath and the holy days: celebrating the major events of life; involvement with the synagogues and community; and other activities which promote the survival of the Jewish people and enhance its existence. Within each area of Jewish observance Reform Jews are called upon to confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis of commitment and knowledge."

    Somewhere within the dialectics of individual and community, tradition and modernity, praxis and thought, lies a liberal Judaism. And within that liberal Judaism is found a stringent, almost dogmatic "classical" Reform Jewish custom.

    I have been raised in what I suppose are congregations on the right wing or traditional end of the movement. And my heart breaks when classical Reformers become so stuck in their ways (abandoning kashrut, for example) that they pervert the fundamentals of their own liberal thought. A Reform Jew ought to feel comfortable eating, praying and studying in his or her own synagogue. He or she shouldn't have to switch to another synagogue in order to keep his or her dietary restrictions or pray comfortably?


  3. I grew up in a "Modern Orthodox" congregation--completely led by lay leaders (and extremely learned ones at that). Attendance at shul was not a choice, and participation was disjointed and often overwhelmed with considerable talk throughout the whole service. I knew the "cues," could sing "Hatikvah" and Adon Alom from memory--but that was about it.

    After joining [our temple] in 1995, I had many question why I would "join a Reform Temple--they don't do anything there!"

    Let me tell you what my involvement at my Reform Temple has resulted in:

    1. I had my b'nei mitzvah at age forty--chanting Torah.
    2. I spent two weeks in Israel in 1998 with my rabbi and twenty-two closest friends. My normal "Shabbat Routine" changed abruptly upon my return. Rather than going to shul from 8:30 A.M.--10:30 A.M. and then going to my office for a "half day of quiet work," I stopped working (or discussing business for that matter) on Shabbat. That was my choice, a way of leading a meaningful Reform Jewish life.
    3. I consider myself a fairly capable Hebrew reader (resulting only from my active participation at my Reform Temple).
    4. I choose to wear a kippah and a tallit--meaningful symbolism to me, which I never understood, nor was I permitted to as a youth.
    5. I can (and have) led both a Saturday morning service and a Shiva Minyan.
    6. I embrace tikkun olam, mitzvot are the core of my belief system, my Reform Judaism, and my grounding, thanks to [our temple] and Reform Judaism.


  4. ...There is clearly a dichotomy within the movement. We feel it here in our small congregation intensely, because we are the only game in town, and we have come from all over the country fairly recently and have brought much baggage with us. A couple of years ago when I was in a major dispute as Immediate Past President with my successor, our Rabbi had to remind me that he also had a right to his feelings and deserved respect for his opinions. I have tried to keep those wise words with me. And they apply to this discussion. I think as a movement and within each synagogue we want to be as inclusive as we possibly can. So how can we resolve these differences? I agree very much with Aya's statement, "they were comfortable in a classical Reform mode in which they could sit back and relax, without having to participate too much in services, and where there would be no challenges, no changes, no testing of the meaning of what they were doing, no need even to think about the meaning any more. They liked services to be soothing." I believe that many of our members come to the synagogue for social and cultural reasons more than religious reasons, and they want exactly that. And then there are the others like myself who are constantly seeking and exploring and wanting to learn more, do more, add new music, a new prayer book, new readings, etc. We are moving to make our Friday night service have more English while the Saturday morning service will have more Hebrew and be more "traditional." This will not solve our problems, but may appease some people. There is a group though, who while they do not want to impose anything on anyone, want to be accepted as individuals who prefer a more "religious" atmosphere, content, practice. And the former group seems intolerant of the latter. That's where we are at right now in [our] small town...
    160 units

  5. I've been slightly troubled by some of the debate over various styles of practice and worship within our movement.

    Over the years, our diversity has been our strength. In deed, one of the joys of attending a Union regional biennial has been the exposure one gets to a broad spectrum of worship styles, ritual practices and styles of observance. We need to work harder to embrace this diversity without feeling threatened or judging one another. The fact that these divergent styles exist side by side within our movement is a source of its vitality and a wonderful opportunity to choose among a variety of options. Moreover, it enables us to experiment with the incorporation of these styles into the lives of our congregations. Somehow, we need to lower the level of territoriality and threat that seems to be associated with this diversity.

    One way, is to encourage our congregants to attend more of the Union?s regional biennials and kallot where one can experience this eclecticism first hand. Moreover, I have great confidence that the new Reform siddur, Mishkan T?filah, will go a long way toward increasing our comfort level with diverse styles of worship and diverse practices, because it forces the service leader to make informed, creative choices in organizing a service, and frees us from the rigidity of an iron-clad style of worship. Moreover, the annotations and commentaries that accompany the rubrics of the service offer an excellent opportunity for additional study and dialogue about the history and evolution of Jewish prayer.

    Personally, I am more concerned that people commit themselves to Shabbat and holiday worship, to organized ritual in the home and to meaningful study of Hebrew and of Jewish text than the stylistic details of such observance. Let us work to accept and appreciate one another without judging one another's level of Jewish commitment. In the Reform "Big Tent" there is certainly room for us all.


  6. My approach is rather simple. If a certain more traditional practice is not objectionable or offensive to the majority of the congregation, who may not even notice it in the first place, why not perform the ritual in a more traditional fashion in order to maintain Shalom Bayit with the more traditional congregants? For those of us who are more traditional, while we must recognize congregational minhag, study and discussion of these matters can only be enlightening for us all.

  7. I take my Reform seriously. That means I am prepared to discuss it with anyone who is serious about their commitment. I do not want to force my practice on everyone in my congregation, but I do not want my practice to be frowned upon or made impossible by the practice of others so long as what I am doing is within the framework of Judaism.

    If I chose to where tallit and kippah I ought to be able. I am now. In my upbringing the kippah was forbidden(!), and tallit was reserved for the bar mitzvah (not bat!). If I choose to shuklkle and bow, I ought to be able and am. It was frowned upon in my growing up. If I choose not to keep kosher I ought to be allowed, but it does me no harm if others do, and if the congregation chooses to keep kosher style, so be it.

    Translations that are not translations are just plain wrong unless so noted, and correct translations offered for those of us who may be mislead by the pairing of the text. If the Reform interpretation is more inclusive and appropriate for our liberal thoughts, great, but show it as an interpretation and not a translation.

    I hope more people are serious about these topics; they are certainly more challenging than yet another Sisterhood Service or even avodah service, of which I am proud in our congregation. Yes, let?s share those ideas, but let?s share our views of our yiddishkeit as well.

    1,300 families

  8. I would like to address the issue of observance and translations for a small congregation point of view.

    We are a small congregation and, as such, strive to appeal to many different levels of observances. In our services, we have some members who are not traditional at all and some members who are very traditional. As you can imagine, it is a challenge for our religious leadership to make services meaningful for everyone, but, we are able to appeal to the majority of members in our community. We certainly do not look down upon anyone who chooses to observe being Jewish in a different way from the majority. In fact, we often take time to explain where those traditions come from in case someone wants to know.

    85 Family Members

  9. The strength of the Reform Movement lies in a willingness to accept diversity of practice, with mutual respect for those whose practice differs from one's own. This has not always been a part of our movement. We have had a sad history of looking askance at those who wore kippot, of minimizing ritual, and not always welcoming those who came to our sanctuaries with choreography of prayer. To our credit, we are changing and becoming more tolerant of differing routes to prayer and reflection, but in the process we must remain open to those who want less as well as those who want more. This is a conversation we have frequently in our own congregation's Religious Practices Committee.

  10. I think the discussion over practice and the levels of observance has been instructive. My own perspective is as one who was raised in Reform but did not participate for about twenty-five years (college--1990). Since returning to active membership I have taken advantage of numerous opportunities and find myself much more engaged than I thought I would be, especially growing up in the 50s and early 60s.

    One interesting development is that, as we continue to encourage both inclusiveness and diversity at one level of our religious life, our institutions are pulling us in the other direction. One instance I can point to is in the formulation of Mishkan T'filah. While I have lots of problems with the Gates, I find it very refreshing to go to Shabbat services and rediscover the meaning of life in the siddur. Since we're still using the Gates almost exclusively, the opportunities for both keva (rote) in the Hebrew and kavanah (meaning) in the English interpretations frequently surprise me. Yes, nine evening services are too many. But there's a shift I appreciate in every one of them, even those I ultimately do not like.

    We do have copies of Mishkan, and are using it at monthly "alternative" services (we have b'nei mitzvah every week, and a monthly second service on Shabbat morning), so we haven't introduced the new one to the whole congregation yet. It will be very interesting, when we do, to hear the various responses.

    Moreover, I find the options for ritual energizing. But as I have been slow to embrace them, I hesitate encouraging others to do so. For instance, I have never worn a tallit. But a friend who is a student at HUC wrote a beautiful poetic meditation on the practice, and I plan to do it sometime before the Holy Days this year. Who knows, I may even buy one for myself.

    900 units

  11. Mar 2005 Digest 042

                …Some…of us are concerned that we should conduct congregational worship differently according to the number of worshipers who have gathered to participate. My feeling is that in Reform tradition halachah has a vote but not a veto. Any congregation which feels uncomfortable in reciting some rubrics in the absence of any particular number of worshipers should not subject itself to needless discomfort. Personally, I don't feel any Reform congregation must feel itself bound to a particular form of worship, although there should be some sound reason for departing from long-standing traditions.


    1100+/- family units
  12. Mar 2005 Digest 042

                Perhaps we all should take a moment and think about the movement to which we belong, how it began and why it continues to thrive. I suggest that Reform Judaism recognizes that we live in a rapidly changing and diverse world. Our willingness to embrace diversity and provide spirituality that is responsive to the needs of modern men and women is a significant plus. We

    are rich in tradition and also have a rich tradition of inquiry, challenge and debate.  From that process, I suggest that the movement has been able to readily adapt and meet the needs of congregants and various communities.

    Sure, we should be proud of our heritage. Sure, we should be proud of our language. Sure, we should be conscious of not becoming Christian like, but be our own people. However, each congregation needs to be responsive to its community. [Our congregation] has 1100 families. There are multiple worship venues ranging from Kaballah, to Torah study, to Shabbat evening and morning services, although Shabbat morning is large-- a b’nei mitzvah event. Each

    service appeals to various segments. We believe that we should embrace diversity; respond appropriately as we can. "One size can't fit all."  I suggest that finding ways to keep Judaism alive and thriving is more important than being didactic and bound to a particular worship form.

  13. Mar 2005 Digest 043

                I would like to follow up [on another poster’s] suggestion.

    Several postings ago she suggested Rabbi Ellenson's paper "The Prayers for Rain in the Siddurim of Abraham Geiger and Isaac Mayer Wise"  in the CCAR Journal Summer 2004, page 16. I would like to add to the reading list. The whole issue is very worthwhile but the article "The Writing of Reform Jewish Practice and Its Rabbinic Background" by Rabbi Joan Friedman on page 31 seems to speak to how we got to where we are today and our ongoing discussion on this list serv about who we are and are not. I don't think anyone would waste their time, however, if they read the entire issue (no ads, no pictures).

  14. Mar 2005 Digest 044

                …[The March 4, 2005/23 Adar I 5765 article “The Eyes Have It” by Neil Rubin] posted on Ten Minutes of Torah []…is] relevant to the piece of the stream of discussion regarding level of observance and what do we call ourselves.

  15. Oct 2006 Digest 153

    …how [do we] recruit more people to [our Religious Observance Committee] and invigorate "new blood" and new energy...Currently I have a committee of about ten, of which many have been members for ten years or more. Most have grown children, and we often spend time dealing with current problems by talking about the historical past and not looking to the inevitable future. I feel we are making decisions for a demographic of the synagogue that doesn't have representation or input on the committee. I am as guilty as the rest in not being as in touch with the "younger" members as I should. Many of them I don't even recognize by sight. So I find myself in an uncomfortable position of knowing the problem but not having a clear vision of finding a good solution.


    394 family member units
  16. Nov 2006 Digest 174

                …I also believe the present discussion about relevant Judaism should be looking at a number of questions.

                One. What is the role of obedience in Judaism and praying? Some of us believe a good Jew prays because he is commanded to do so. If the Reform rabbinical leadership requires this form of praying, it will lose a substantial percentage of Jews, especially young Jews. Some of us want only the same traditional prayers (the same Hebrew words, the same English translations and the same melodies); these have been used for such a long time, they appear to be "normal." Yet, the majority of affiliated Reform Jews only rarely attend services, and they will not be upset if the "normal" prayers are substantially modified. More important, Reform rabbis during the past two hundred years have cut out whole prayers from the services because they were "inappropriate" for Reform Jews.

                Two. What are the roles of Orthodox and Reform Tradition? Reform Judaism was created on the basis of informed consent. Do we reject that notion and reaffirm Orthodoxy?

                Three. What should the older Reform Jew be willing to do (or sacrifice) so that the religion and its service can be desirable for the next generation?

                I do not wish to "flip" what we have been handed. On the other hand, I believe Judaism is based on God-wrestling--struggling to make Judaism, the Jew, and the world better. Sometimes, we will have to struggle socially and politically, and sometime we will have to struggle to make our prayer service better--at least better so that younger Jews want to use it. The world changes, but Reform Jews seem reticent to recognize this fact. The result is a diminution of Reform Judaism and the number of young Jew who want to join it.

                On the other hand, when a significant number of congregant parents are more interested in bar/bat mitzvah themes and secular speeches from the bimah, I think we should at least consider the need to institute radical changes in our religious services.


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