Is it Time to Reform Reform Judaism?

Whatever else the Haskalah has been, it was originally at its heart less a rejection of traditional Judaism than an effort to reconcile yiddishkeit with the Enlightenment and Romance era modernity. By the 1970s, though, Reform had wandered far from that original approach, and frequently set itself up in opposition to traditional Judaism.

I remember well the passion incited at our Reform summer camp in 1977 when the administrators invited Chabad leaders to visit. The debates were heated, but at their heart was a gnawing insecurity among many of us there that we had, indeed, wandered so far off the path that it was hard to tell that we were Jewish.

The older I got, and the more I learned about Judaism, the more I realized that the Reform movement had come perilously close to tossing out the baby with the bathwater. Thumb through the New Union Prayerbook one day, and compare it with, for example, Artscroll’s transliterated linear siddur. The denominational differences so great as to be almost a Catholic/Protestant divide.

It seems opportune to reconsider the role of Reform. If Judaism is a buffet, we should put everthing on the table and make it all as tempting as possible (which it really is – there is precious little about observant life that is truly unpalatable once you understand it.) If we can entice Jews back to their heritage and tradition rather than either a) deny it to them completely, or b) ram it down their throats, we have an opportunity to move beyond denominations and become a single community with many ways to approach Hashem.

The Reform community still seems to me to be in the best position to carry this off. If it cannot, though, it will surrender the role to Conservative Judaism and movements like Chabad and Aish Ha-Torah.

 

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