Eilu Summary

Mi-kol melamdei hiskalti – I’m enlightened by all I study with.  My thanks to Ben Dreyfus, and to those who have added to this discussion, offline as well as on.  As we enter into a new year, let’s ponder these take-away points:

 1. Ben has reminded us to be careful how we use words like “traditional.”  (My parallel favorite is “religious,” not to be construed as a synonym for “Orthodox.”)  Per that great midrashist, Reb Humpty ben Dumpty, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”   Whatever I mean when I use a word, I have no guarantee that you will understand it as I meant it. 

2. Reform has reclaimed ritual, particularism, Hebrew, but above all, the right to be defined by what we do, not by what we don’t do. 

 3.  I agree with Ben that our influences today don’t come from Christianity (although we and Christians may be influenced in parallel by the same societal trends), but we can’t pretend that our Reform forebears were not heavily influenced by it.  It’s healthy that today we want to take more from the Chasidim than from the Lutherans.   

4. The Reform movement makes a big deal out of informed choice, based on a study of our texts.  But not every “religious” choice we make is mitzvah-based.  I chose to resume wearing a tallit not to fulfill the Torah commandment to wear fringes, not to show God or the community or myself that I was fulfilling a mitzvah, but to express solidarity with the Jewish people across both time and space.  Today’s reclamation of ritual practices discarded by Reform in the nineteenth century has many roots – esthetic, atavistic, spiritual, sentimental, and others.  Practically speaking, one reason is as good as another; and I am perfectly comfortable with assigning a new meaning to an old practice. 

5. Neither Judaism nor Jewish tradition is monolithic, whether we look at the First Century or the Twenty-First.  Nor is either static.  The very word Halacha, which has taken on the meaning of Jewish Law, might be better translated from its Hebrew root as The Way to Go.  Movement is inherent in it. 

5. In the spirit of Eilu v’eilu, we recognize and welcome diversity, not only from congregation to congregation, but within any given congregation.  Where once in Reform congregations, nobody wore a kipa, today some do, some don’t.  My very eclectic congregation offers two concurrent Shabbat morning services, three if there is a bar or bat mitzvah.  None of them would satisfy an Orthodox Jew, nor a Classic Reform Jew.  But we satisfy a hundred Reform Jews every week!

6. Where we want to go Jewishly as individuals is strongly influenced by where we came from, what we grew up with, what we’re used to.  We act, perhaps more than we want to admit, out of respect for our grandparents’ memory, and what we think they would want us to do. 

7. Among “reclaimed” practices, I see many I’m not personally comfortable with – tashlich, rising on tiptoe for Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh, touching/kissing the Torah scroll with a siddur during hakafah – but I can abstain and appreciate that these practices are “working” for others.  I don’t expect the ritual to reflect only my sensibilities.

8. Tolerance and pluralism are positive values in Reform Judaism.  We have to be on guard against an attitude that says, “We each worship God in our own way – you in your way, and I in His.” 

9. This Eilu commentary will hit mailboxes right before Sukkot.  I remember Sukkot children’s services over sixty years ago, with Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver preaching to several hundred kids who had been kept out of school for the festival.  How many of our congregations will have a hundred worshippers of any age group on Thursday morning?  How many of our youngsters won’t go to school because it’s a Jewish holiday?  As we have reclaimed, so too we have rejected.  Maybe that’s why we continue to pray, Chadesh yameinu ka-kedem…Renew our days as of old.  We are not through evolving, and hopefully, never will be.



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