This new book contains a foreword by Rabbi Eric Yoffie and an Afterword by Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
In light of profound demographic, social, and technological developments, it has become increasingly clear that the Reform movement will need to make major changes to meet the needs of a quickly evolving American Jewish population. Younger Americans in particular differ from previous generations in how they relate to organized religion, often preferring to network through virtual groups or gather in informal settings of their own choosing.
Dana Evan Kaplan, an American Reform Jew and pulpit rabbi, argues that rather than focusing on the importance of loyalty to community, Reform Judaism must determine how to engage the individual in a search for existential meaning. It should move us toward a critical scholarly understanding of the Hebrew Bible, that we may emerge with the perspectives required by a postmodern world. Such a Reform Judaism can at once help us understand how the ancient world molded our most cherished religious traditions and guide us in addressing the increasingly complex social problems of our day.
I talk to Dana this morning via Skype and asked him if there was any meaningful difference between Reform and Conservative Judaism. Dana said that in his mind there was. “We clarify and intensify what makes Reform Judaism unique and vital rather than further blur any such theological differences in the interests of merging in and saving money.”
Dana admitted that only a small minority of Reform Jews are interested in reading books on Reform Judaism.
Most blogging on Judaism is done by Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews have made only a small imprint online.
Dana: “That is one of the dilemmas of liberal religion. As much as it may make logical rational sense to someone like myself, it lacks the compelling power of fundamentalist religion.”
“I wrote an article for Modern Judaism a few years ago saying that you have to have a strict theology to compel people to sacrifice for their religion and when religion is too liberal, too open, it may seem very pleasant, but it doesn’t motivate people emotionally to sacrifice.”
Luke: “When I went to a Reform temple on Shabbat, everyone would drive there and half the parking lot would be filled with Mercedes and BMWs. When I go to an Orthodox shul on Shabbat, everyone walks there and you don’t have these glaring differences. There may be millionaires and everyone is invited to their home. There’s more of a sense that we’re all in it together.”
Dana: “That’s created by the high barriers to entrance. That’s counter-intuitive. You’d think that higher barriers would chase people away, and they do to an extent.”
“When people choose [fundamentalist religion], they have a high buy-in. I remember at one of my [Reform] synagogues, this one woman would do everything. Over the course of years, she began to be disheartened because she saw that most people didn’t care much. She was really sacrificing of her money and time and slowly slowly slowly she began to feel taken advantage of, while in a more fundamentalist environment, if you’re missing and in the hospital, people will figure it out quickly and will be at your bedside. This is a sociological construct. The beliefs don’t matter.”
“How does Reform Judaism build on its liberal edifice? I argue that we need to define our beliefs more clearly and raise those barriers, not up to Orthodoxy, but in significant ways.”
“What do you do with people who won’t help row? You try nurturing but eventually you have to throw them overboard. You end up with a smaller movement but with more dedication and commitment and clear vision.”