Eilu – Week 2

Although Ben Dreyfus and I are separated by the miles and the generations, we clearly read the same Torah, and derive pretty much the same message from it.   


If we have a difference, it’s his emphasis on the evolution of Reform against a background of American influences, contrasted to mine on the operative influences coming from other paths of Judaism, albeit facilitated by the American change from melting pot to salad bowl.  Yes, it’s okay to be the tomato among the lettuce leaves, and to have plucked the tomato from an Orthodox or Conservative garden. 


Might our perspectives differ because Ben was born into Reform, whereas I adopted it in mid-life?  Or because he is a teacher and I a marketer?  Or maybe we’re not so different after all?


In reading that different communities and different individuals will arrive at different legitimate conclusions (italics mine), I infer an affirmation of a pluralistic contemporary Judaism, suggestive that the pluralism is a recent development.  Even in the late nineteenth-century, not all the American rabbis were in Pittsburgh nor in accord with the Platform.  Hillel and Shammai may be the exemplars of Jewish pluralism, but were neither its beginning nor its end. 


The question we were both asked to discuss refers only by indirection to the Pittsburgh Platform, but clearly it is the touchstone document against which the return to tradition is benchmarked.  A question I might ask – indeed, have asked – is where is today’s spokesman for the Classical Reform Judaism it espoused?  Both of the current commentators have referenced their, and the movement’s, ongoing commitment to the ethical and social justice message of the Classic Reformers.  Where’s the voice of commitment to the anti-ritual, anti-nationalist tenets of the Platform?


I hope that my own Reform Judaism is “informed by an educated understanding of traditional and modern Jewish sources, and … (is) true to the highest ethical principles of the progressive Jewish tradition.“  But I maintain that the Reform Judaism of the synagogues I attend is informed by vox populi vox dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God, and that the voice of the people stems from their sentimentality towards their grandparents’ shtetl Yiddishkeit more than from their own study of the sources.   


Fortunately, we have in our movement rabbis and teachers who build the fences around the Torah and make sure that when we reclaim and return, we are in fact moving forward in accord with the progressive Jewish tradition.   



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