neusner returns to reform!

bananabrain

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an interesting article here in the forward:

I have returned to the convictions (if not to the cuisine) of my youth — not because they are expedient but because they are compelling. After a half-century of apostasy, I affirm Reform Judaism as the American Judaism both of my personal choice and of our communal necessity. Indeed, I have come to believe that if Reform Judaism did not exist today, American Jews would have to invent it.

Returning to Reform ? Forward.com

the respected Torah scholar jacob neusner has ditched the conservative movement and headed back to the reform movement from whence he came originally. what's behind this? why's he done it? is he right?

it's all terribly interesting.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
I saw that article a few days ago. I think he's in part defaulting. He didn't go to JTS for ideological reasons. He went because it offered him a superior education. There may be other reasons he's shifting denominations. The Conservative movement is not in a good state. Its best and brightest tend to run off and do other things, be it in an MO or non-denominational framework. As suggested in that first article I shared in the post-denom thread, much of post-denominationalism might better be called post-Conservatism. With Reform making some very strong gestures away from its foundations and toward tradition there's all the more motivation for him to jump ship. From the tone of some of his post it seems like he'd like to take that momentum and steer it a bit. He seems like he wants to reaffirm certain values that are in the lineage of the haskalah without returning to that time. I think his second plank is a little confused in that it nearly quotes R' Mordechai Kaplan z"l and espouses his values. I've read that he was pretty upset about not being made the new JTS Chancellor and that may have something to do with his shift in affiliation too.

It would be a curious turn of events if the Conservative movement either fell or shrunk significantly replaced by all sorts of smaller unaffiliated or loosely affiliated communities with varying but committed practices. I'd hope JTS would survive something like that in some form. If it didn't, I think it would be good for the rabbinical school at HC whose hashkafah I much more agree with.
 
BB,

That's an incredibly good article. Thank you for posting it. I can totally relate to this part:

More recently, Reform Jews have allowed their denomination to be painted as an inferior brand of Judaism — a set of compromises of convenience. Reform Judaism needs to stop apologizing for itself. Instead, it must revert to the clarity and courage — if not to the details — of the Pittsburgh Platform and reassert in the face of contempt the right and duty of Reform. (“Reform,” as Leonard Fein noted a generation ago, is properly understood as a verb and not a noun.)

Reform Judaism has made it into the front rank of contemporary Judaisms, so it must be saying something that is true to the experience of its vast constituency. Specify what that is and build on it. I would suggest that a platform for a 21st-century Reform Judaism should have three essential planks.

The first plank would be to reaffirm the tradition of reason and criticism that has characterized Reform Judaism from its inception. Reform Judaism founded modern learning in Judaism. Its Scripture was not dictated word for word by a supernatural being from outer space. Its theology does not promise pie in the sky when you die. The power of Reform Judaism from its 19th-century origins has been its courage to say it stands for the Judaism of today.

Getting back to my own Reform roots: My first spiritual teacher was my confirmation class teacher, a 22-year old rabbinical student named Bernard King. As a Reform rabbi Bernie has achieved tremendous respect in the SoCal Reform community--all of it totally deserved, I'm happy to say. I still think of him as Bernie, though. I have always called them by their first names: Bernie, Stephan, Jonathan. No titles are necessary because I know what they mean to me.

In 1984 during my "re-entry" period (referring to my PMs), my husband and I caught up with Bernie by visiting his Orange County synagogue for a Shabbat service. He really surprised us by talking in his sermon about laying tefillin, a practice he had recently adopted. Lately I understand he's come under fire from his former constituents (he's now rabbi emeritus) and others in the Reform community because of his interest in Kabbalah. From what I know about him, I suspect this is a longtime interest that he has only made public fairly recently.

My point here? I don't think it's the degree of observance that makes a person Reform or traditional. I think it's your motive--WHY you're doing whatever it is you're doing that is the line of demarcation. I can visualize a Reform Jew keeping kosher, laying tefillin and in most ways living a lifestyle almost indisguishable from an Orthodox Jew. There are some practices they will never observe, like the mechitza (good riddance!) or the "separatist" style of Hasidic dress, but in most other ways he or she could very well observe the commandments in a manner almost indisguishable from Orthodoxy. I suspect there are many who do just that but keep a low profile about it.

BUT they will never adopt these practices arbitrarily, because they were commanded "by a supernatural being from outer space." They will adopt them to the degree they find them personally meaningful, and ONLY to the degree they find them personally meaningful. Traditionalists actually pride themselves on the fact that they observe the commandments even when they seem arbitrary and illogical, because "God commanded it." You aren't supposed to say for example that you don't eat pork and lobster because you don't like pork and lobster--not even if it's true! "God commanded it" is supposed to be the only valid reason for observance. That approach will never fly in Reform Judaism, just by the nature of Reform Judaism.

Over the last few decades I've seen the standard of observance become much more traditional compared with what it was when I was in my teens. I can remember when only the older men wore kipot in the sanctuary, and you almost never saw a talit except on the rabbi and cantor and the bar mitzvah boy, if there happened to be a bar mitzvah that week. It was never a bat mitzvah in those days either! Now you see them all the time...including on the girls and women.

Any new Pittsburgh Platform should just state that right upfront, and not attempt to define some particular degree of observance for the whole Reform movement. It should state right upfront that observance of the commandments depends upon the needs and desires of the individual or the individual congregation. And most important of all, that it is NOT dependent on "God's will" as perceived by traditionalists or anyone else. That should be stated explicitly and without apology.

B'shalom,
Linda
 
Very interesting article, BB, thanks for posting.

Here I can say that I agree with his conclusion, that Reform Judaism makes more sense than the other denominations, but little that he says which leads to this conclusion.

Reform Judaism has only little to do with Americanism and much to do with the spirit of Judaism.

The following section from the article is one which I disagree:

Integrationist Judaisms respond to the aspirations of the majority of American Jews. Most American Jews want to be Jewish, but also want to be Americans, not only by citizenship but also by culture. They respond to systems of Judaic thought that explain how to be both fully Jewish and fully American.

Choosing Reform Judaism as a means to Americanism would be assimilationism and we know that is a loosing hand. This paragraph sounds a lot like what European Enlightenment German Jews would have believed in the early twentieth century. Things did not work out so well with that thinking.
 
Avi,

I think that passage you disagree with is less true today than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Reform Judaism did borrow a lot from Protestant Christianity both ideologically and in shifts in architecture and even ritual practice (stage in front, choirs, organ music, confirmation). There was a time when people gave their children names intended to sound less Jewish and tried as best they could to integrate into society while holding onto their Jewishness. Today I think for most Jews there's a desire to embrace Judaism in a more public and open way. This seems just as true to me in Reform as anywhere else.

I don't think that Reform Judaism has only little to do with Americanism (and by this I don't think he means American Nationalism but a certain American attitude about individualism and freedom) and much to do with the spirit of Judaism, but I applaud you for finding a way of understanding Reform Judaism that is on its own terms rather than in contrast to something else.

-- Dauer
 
It might be interesting to give some thought to, and discuss, some reflections on the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 which Neusner discusses in his piece:

Pittsburgh Platform - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For example, I wonder how people view this perspective today:

the Pittsburgh Platform also calls for a recognition of the inherent worth of Christianity and Islam, although it still holds that Judaism was the "highest conception of the God-idea."

The idea of chosenness was also discussed:

The platform seems to acknowledge the concept of Jewish chosenness accepting in the Bible "the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God."
 
I'm not really sure why Neusner refrenced the Pittsburgh platform. He ought to know what's in there and I don't think he agrees with quite a bit of it. Maybe he meant the general thrust of it rather than the actual words, that, even if the words of the Pittsburgh Platform don't ring true anymore, the spirit of it should still be embraced as what is most central to Reform.

Here's the full text:

CCAR - Declaration of Principles

I also wonder if this has any relation to what he said:

Classical Reform revival pushes back against embrace of tradition | JTA - Jewish & Israel News
 
bah, debbie friedman. everything i detest about modern jewish music... although the artist herself is an impressive performer - she can teach a song as she performs it, i've never seen that done before or since. also, i had a small impact on her creative oeuvre herself, as the creator of the dance that goes with the "i am a latke" song, which i and a hippy friend invented during her gig at limmud '93 - she saw us doing it at the back and invited us on stage so everyone could join in. yes, 300 people all pretending to be dancing latkes, that's what i call traditional!

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
What is the 'inherent worth' of Christianity and Islam to the reformed Jew?

Those words are out of the wiki article on the Pitts. Plat.

Here is the exact quote from the website Dauer linked. This is better:



6. We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past.. Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission, to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who cooperate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.
 
6. We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past.. Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission, to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who cooperate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.
Thanks Avi,

I like that.

Does the monotheism section eliminate some other beliefs?

Moral truth, vs truth and righteousness..any comments about that?

I have a little confusion as to how our Messiah lends a hand as a fullfillment of the Judaic or Reform misson.
 
BB,

bah, debbie friedman. everything i detest about modern jewish music...

Maybe you'd prefer some Mormon Jewish music?

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Wil,

you might want to read the commentary on the newest Reform platform. It contrasts it with the earlier ones:

CCAR - Commentary on the Principles for Reform Judaism
 
Avi,

Nope. I am aware of the controversy surrounding baptism of the dead though.
 
Raksha said:
understand he's come under fire from his former constituents (he's now rabbi emeritus) and others in the Reform community because of his interest in Kabbalah.
deary deary me. they should be pleased - the kabbalistic disappointment of the shabbetai tsvi debacle was a major enabler for "less of this mystical silliness and lots more rational sensibleness" types of judaism about 100 years later - in fact, some of the disillusioned shabbateans became early rationalists, i believe.

My point here? I don't think it's the degree of observance that makes a person Reform or traditional. I think it's your motive--WHY you're doing whatever it is you're doing that is the line of demarcation.
agreed.

There are some practices they will never observe, like the mechitza (good riddance!) or the "separatist" style of Hasidic dress, but in most other ways he or she could very well observe the commandments in a manner almost indisguishable from Orthodoxy. I suspect there are many who do just that but keep a low profile about it.
i believe the code for that is "orthoprax" or "flexidox", one of the two, probably the former.

BUT they will never adopt these practices arbitrarily, because they were commanded "by a supernatural being from outer space." They will adopt them to the degree they find them personally meaningful, and ONLY to the degree they find them personally meaningful.
actually, i would argue that that same dynamic operates within orthodoxy in terms of hashkafa, if not in terms of the obligation model.

Traditionalists actually pride themselves on the fact that they observe the commandments even when they seem arbitrary and illogical, because "God commanded it." You aren't supposed to say for example that you don't eat pork and lobster because you don't like pork and lobster--not even if it's true! "God commanded it" is supposed to be the only valid reason for observance.
actually, halakhically there are at least three valid reasons, starting from the difference between "huqqim" and "mishpatim" and going from there. i don't eat big macs, not because i don't like them (i certainly used to) and not because they aren't good for me (which they certainly aren't) but because it would make G!D Sad. and i don't want to make G!D Sad. i just don't see why that should be such a bad thing. to me that shows consideration for Someone's Feelings, such as they Are and such as i can understand them.

It should state right upfront that observance of the commandments depends upon the needs and desires of the individual or the individual congregation.
i always thought it did, because of the dominant philosophical idea of the "autonomy of the self" - in face, i believe that it comes down to the same thing in orthodoxy by the subsidiarity route - at some point you have to exercise the autonomy of the self when you make the decision to respect traditional authority and interpretations.

dauer said:
There was a time when people gave their children names intended to sound less Jewish
as in the famous jackie mason joke (normally i don't find him particularly amusing) about "my friends who named their daughter 'crucifix finkelstein'."

wil said:
What is the 'inherent worth' of Christianity and Islam to the reformed Jew?
if nothing else, confirmation that monotheism is the right option and that the abrahamic legacy is a real one? i rather like the "providential" bit although i'm not sure if it isn't philosophically rather against the rationalist spirit. if you want to be cheeky about it, you might point out that the real value of christianity and islam to judaism are that the only thing all three of us agree on is that the jewish Revelation was valid!

dauer said:
Maybe you'd prefer some Mormon Jewish music?
and double-BAH and arsebiscuits to orrin hatch. retroactively-baptising gits. have you ever read the book of mormon? i picked up a copy in alaska. amazing stuff. i think in the final analysis i'm with south park on this, although i think bob_x would strongly disapprove of anything less than condemnation...

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
deary deary me. they should be pleased - the kabbalistic disappointment of the shabbetai tsvi debacle was a major enabler for "less of this mystical silliness and lots more rational sensibleness" types of judaism about 100 years later

Yeah, well...I guess some people are still feeling the aftershocks from the Shabbetai Tsvi debacle...seems like kind of a knee-jerk reaction at this point.

in fact, some of the disillusioned shabbateans became early rationalists, i believe.
That's what Gershom Scholem says, but quite frankly I could NEVER see the connection between the Jacob Frank antinomian types and the early Reform movement. I remember reading those paragraphs over and over again in his book trying to figure it out, but I just didn't get it and still don't. I finally took Scholem's word for it because I assumed he knew what he was talking about. But I still don't understand WHY there would be any connection.

--Linda
 
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