Eilu – Reader comments and my responses

Larry Kaufman’s Letters from Eilu V’Eilu Subscribers Question #1

Is there any room any longer within the Reform Movement for us “Ethical Monotheists”? It seem more and more that so called Classic practice is marginalized, while I and I know many others still find the majestic language of the Union Prayer Book and the hymns of the Union Hymnal (if you can ever find them) and the emphasis on prophetic Judaism far more uplifting and rewarding. I know there are a few large holdout temples like Sinai in Chicago and I read the commentary from them quite closely. Please advise how we can at least retain much of what was very good about the classic period?


Bert Devorsetz

Temple Beth Shalom

Winter Haven, Florida


The question is not whether there’s room for Ethical Monotheists – hopefully, that’s all of us – but whether Ethical Monotheism is enough.  Judaism remains the operative word in the phrase Reform Judaism, and Movement hopefully implies forward movement.  “Classicists” might not see it the same way, but I believe today’s mainstream is totally committed to prophetic Judaism, but without ossifying the style of 1885, or even 1955, into a new Orthodoxy.   


As expressed in the opening statements, today’s Reform worship style reflects the wants and needs of today’s worshippers – less formal, more participatory, more visual.  To retain that which you miss from the Classic period, you have only to assemble a community of those who share your preferences.  My observation of congregations that identify with the Classic tradition is that many of them (including Chicago Sinai) are quite different from what they were even 25 years ago in terms of their ritual practice and worship style – and that is very much as it should be in a movement committed to modernity.  . 


  Question #2

Like Mr. Kaufman, I was raised in a different tradition. Even in the eleven years I’ve been involved in the Reform Movement, I’ve seen drastic changes toward traditionalism which have, quite frankly, made me a lot more comfortable in the Movement. From what I understand about the Conservative Movement, they seem to be moving toward us while we are moving toward them, embracing egalitarianism, allowing musical instruments at Shabbat services, and with a majority of the membership (in one survey) favoring the recognition of patrilineal descent because they have some of the same issues with intermarriage that we do. Do you think that we’re headed for an eventual merger? I could at this point ask the same questions about Reconstructionism.


Steven Taub

Greensboro, North Carolina


Prior to commenting on Mr. Taub’s premise (or premises), let me zero in specifically on his question:  Do I think we’re headed for an eventual merger?  No. 


I remembered when, immediately following the establishment of the state of Israel, there were suggestions that, their mission accomplished, the various Zionist organizations could close up shop.  One knowledgeable observer responded that no organization in Jewish life ever closes up shop while someone still wants to be president and someone still wants to be executive director.


Institutional self-interest aside, would an eventual merger make sense?  Let’s look again at the three-part formula for differentiation – how we live, how we worship, how we think. I don’t see a lot of lifestyle differentiation between Reform Jews and Conservative Jews (and haven’t for years, except possibly in terms of at-home Kashrut observance); and I agree that the cosmetics of worship are less different than they once were, and that Conservative Judaism has followed us, not only in the  areas mentioned by Mr. Taub, but also in ordination of women and acceptance of gays and lesbians, to name two that I consider very significant. 


But, even with the new, more liberal leadership at its Seminary, I don’t see the Conservative movement abandoning its commitment to finding its new answers within Halacha, binding Jewish law; and I don’t see the Reform movement accepting Halacha for governance.  Ideologically, I think there’s room under the big tent of Reform for the Reconstructionists, but the same institutional constraints to a merger would apply, so no, I don’t think in any near term definition of “eventual”, that it’s likely to happen either. 




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