Reforming Reform (Wednesday, May 26 1999)

The New Platform: A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism Adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention Central Conference of American Rabbis

The Vote: After heated debate, Reform rabbis approve 'centrist' changes in principles (JTA)

"Earlier drafts of the principles, including a version that appeared in Reform Judaism magazine six months ago, specified other mitzvot, such as observing kashrut and wearing kipot, or yarmulkas, and tallitot, or prayer shawls, ``in the presence of God."

In the end, a document very different from the original was adopted by the Reform rabbis, one that many rabbis here believed had been diluted too much. "


The Draft They Watered Down: Ten Principles for Reform Judaism

"In the presence of God we may each feel called to respond in different ways: some by offering traditional or spontaneous blessings, others by covering our heads, still others by wearing the tallit or tefillin for prayer.... Others may wish to utilize the mikvah or other kinds of spiritual immersion not only for conversion but for periodic experiences of purification. Some of us may discover rituals now unknown which in the spirit of Jewish tradition and Reform creativity will bring us closer to God, to Torah, and to our people."

The Tallis Man Talks: Is it Time To Chart a New Course for Reform Judaism? an interview with Rabbi Richard Levy (Reform Judaism)

Q: What has changed since the 1976 Centenary Perspective that warrants a new statement of principles?

A: "The Centenary Perspective would not use the Hebrew word "mitzvah" but only the English word "obligation," whereas most Reform rabbis and lay people are trying nowadays to build more and more mitzvot into their lives. The experience of a year in Israel, a growing comfort with traditional practice, an enhanced desire among congregants for a richer Jewish life, even an increasing number of college-age Reform Jews who become acquainted with the practices of the wider Jewish community by their involvement in Hillel -- this is very different from when the Centenary Perspective was written. "

The Voice of Reform Tradition: Whatever Happened to Reform Judaism? (Benno M. Wallach in CCAR Journal)

"A kippah? Why? More than sixty years ago an exhaustive responsum was published by Professor Jacob Z. Lauterbach regarding the wearing of headgear. He found persuasive arguments in the literature both for covering the head or going bareheaded. He quoted Talmudic as well as weighty rabbinic sources, and a number of responsa by several respected religious authorities, unquestioned by even the most orthodox of traditionalists. Among them, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) was quoted as having said that it is not forbidden to be bareheaded, and no less a spiritual giant than the Vilner Gaon (1720-1797) paskened that a Jew need not have his head covered, even when entering a synagogue for prayer"

The Debate: Reform struggles over just that (Ha'aretz)

Yoffe further argued that "instead of the huge effort invested in reformulating the platform, it would have been better had the movement's rabbis and spiritual leaders worked to instill observance of practical mitzvot such as learning Torah and then as a result of these actions and their effects, principles would crystallize."

You Want More? "Principles for Reform Judaism" Drafts and Commentary

What Came Before: Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted at San Francisco, 1976

The followup:

More Reform: A Mikveh of Our Own (Reform Judaism)

"Many Reform Jews think of the ritual bath as archaic, dirty, and anti-women. Why, then, did our congregation choose to construct one of only three Reform mikvehs in North America? And why would we recommend that other Reform temples follow suit"

Surrender First, Then We'll Talk: Rabbi Lau: Reform platform is 'no basis for dialogue' (Ha'aretz)

"It's very nice to have a yarmulke in synagogue and to separate cold cuts from cheese, but it doesn't make them partners in the Bible as it was given on Mount Sinai," Lau said.

Yudel's Line: Actually, the more liberal Jews adopt mitzvot, the more fanatic the Orthodox are going to get. The marketing textbooks call it brand differentiation. What we saw last year, where the Orthodox Union refused to cosponsor Shabbat Across America, will happen again and again. Once you can get Shabbat from any of the denominations, tradition becomes a commodity; each step Reform takes toward the holy drives the Orthodox even further toward the holier-than-thou.

Reform 1999: J.J. Goldberg: Eric Yoffie responds to Reform's reforms.

Yoffie, head of the Reform congregational arm, agrees with the goal of increasing religious observance and commitment -- but fears that the formal platform debate will spark a backlash.

"My view was, the best way to do it is to do it," Yoffie says. "Perform the acts and build the theology around it. The rabbinate took a different approach."

Flashback 1988:Reform Judaism moving toward tradition (Long Island Jewish World)

" Welcome to the new Reform Judaism, committed to reclaiming Jewish tradition--but on its own, defiantly unorthodox, terms.

This decade, a return to traditional forms of worship, holiday observance and study has been quietly underway in Reform synagogues, schools and homes, even as the movement's radical decisions on patrilineal descent and soliciting converts were being loudly debated by the broader Jewish community."

Yudel's Line: I wrote this piece more than a decade ago. The new Statement of Principles echoes 1987's Call to Commitment. To many Reform Jews, this isn't news. Then again, the controversy over the principles brought stories in the New York Times, Salon, and almost everywhere else. While Eric Yoffie has a point that the way to increase observance is in the synagogue, not the rabbinical convention, the way to increase Jewish awareness is through the New York Times, not the Long Island Jewish World.