The Future of Reform Judaism



Remarks by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie to the URJ Executive Committee on March 15, 2010

Last week a Reform Movement breakfast was held at the CCAR Convention in San Francisco, cosponsored by the CCAR, HUC-JIR, and the URJ. I was asked to speak about the institutional future of the Reform Movement and about my broad vision of the Jewish future–and to do this in six minutes.

What I said was this: I am optimistic about the future of our Movement and its institutions. No institution, of course, is inherently valuable. The Union, the College, the Conference, and the synagogue itself are not important as organizations; they are important only as vehicles to promote the modern, progressive Judaism that is the key to our Jewish wellbeing.  And right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. Because the future does not lie with the charedim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism.

 

The future, I believe, lies with us. Yes, we have our issues, and our Movement will look different from what it was before the economic crisis. But it needs to be here, and it needs to be strong.

 

So this not a time for counsels of despair. Our friends in the Conservative movement are struggling with major issues of institutional decline; and let’s not misread the reality in the Orthodox world, either. Two weeks ago I rode home on the train with a Rosh Yeshiva; we studied a little gemara, spoke some Hebrew, and then he said: “You know, we lose a lot of our young people too.” Most North American Jews who make a choice still choose us. Despite the challenges, the Union, the College, and Reform congregations remain reasonably stable and healthy; we are better positioned than ever before to lead North American Jewry in the years ahead.

But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? My answer is “yes.” We do not have a common theology, and that’s a good thing. But we can talk about the defining characteristics of Reform Judaism.

 

We view the Jewish tradition as growing, evolving and always changing, and we celebrate creative change in all areas of ritual and practice.

 

We assert that the equality of women in Jewish life is non-negotiable.

 

We draw the boundaries of Reform so as to include rather than exclude, and we welcome gays, lesbians, the intermarried, non-Jewish spouses and all who bind their fate to that of the Jewish people.

 

We embrace Jewish worship that is creative, dynamic, vibrant and participatory.

 

We see tikkun olam as an essential element of our Reform identity – in fact, as the jewel in the Reform crown.

 

And we believe in real partnership between rabbis and lay people as essential to our Jewish future.

 

This particular mix of practice and belief exists nowhere else in the Jewish world. Some say that Reform Judaism has disappeared in an undifferentiated mass of non-Orthodox Jews. Nonsense. Our rabbis and lay leaders know who we are and what we have to offer.

 

And every week I hear from these leaders new ideas that are daring, exciting and stunningly creative. Let’s acknowledge our problems, but no gloom and doom, please. Our congregations at their best are doing things we would not have imagined possible ten years ago.

 

There is also much that our institutions are doing that is hopeful and positive.

 

When disaster struck in Haiti, Reform Jews provided relief at a level that no other movement could even dream of. This is what we always do: look at New Orleans, where we extended our hand to the broader community while assuring the survival of our own congregations. And if the time comes, God forbid, that others need our help, we will be there to keep them alive as well.

 

Despite the recession, virtually every bed in our camping system was filled last summer. For the coming summer, camp registration is stronger than ever, and our Israel registration is at its highest level in ten years.

 

And this too: At a time when all Jewish institutions must be nimble, lean and adaptive, the Union and the College have become just that, restraining spending and quickly restructuring. And our congregations have done exactly the same thing, as they address their own fiscal realities.

 

There is much else that could be mentioned. The work of the RAC. Our curricula and Torah texts. The unified Center for Reform Judaism that we will establish in New York. None of this would exist without a Movement. And the vital protections that we provide for our congregations and clergy, such as placement and pensions, work best when our Movement is strong.

 

I have no illusions, of course. Funding our congregations is very difficult, and funding our Movement is more difficult still. And there are many things that we do not do well enough. For the Union, NFTY needs to be far stronger, young adult outreach far better and our congregations need more help with marketing, fundraising and technology. We have to do more in these areas, and we will.

 

But in the final analysis, the key is not budgets or programs, but values.

 

The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform. And this will require College, Conference, Union and congregations working together to build a strong movement.

 

There is nothing easy about this task, but we Reform Jews always surprise the world with our resilience. We know that if you address the future through a filter of despair, pessimism and hopelessness, you will create a future of despair, pessimism and hopelessness. And therefore now–as this breakfast shows, as this whole convention shows–we will cast aside the bondage of habit, speak to the deepest needs of our members and inject our Movement with new energy, identity and purpose. We will address the future with optimism and hope. And Reform Judaism–our Judaism–will emerge stronger than it is has ever been.

 

Thank you for what you do. 
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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

About Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He speaks and writes frequently about Israel, religious life, social justice, and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. Read his full bio and writings on the URJ website.

16 Responses to “The Future of Reform Judaism”

  1. avatar

    I applaud what Rabbi Yoffie says, here and elsewhere (including his recent statement on (not) building (now) in Jerusalem), but I’m not sure what he means when he says Chabad “sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism.”
    From my observations, Chabad is portraying its Judaism as more authentic than ours, and funding its activities by putting minimalist Reform and secular Jews on guilt trips, while undercutting us by giving away that which our congregations have no choice but to charge for.
    Rabbi Yoffie also says, “Our rabbis and lay leaders know who we are and what we have to offer.” But we have to do a better job of making sure that our rank-and-file congregants and the unaffiliated Jewish world know that too, so we CAN fund our congregations and our movement as effectively as Chabad funds its programs and activities.
    And, when Rabbi Yoffie says, “in the final analysis, the key is not budgets or programs, but values,” we have to know that values are transmitted through programs, and programs are enabled by budgets.
    Thus, when he ends his message,”Thank you for what you do,” our response has to be “Thank you for what YOU do. How else can we help?”

  2. avatar

    We can be justly confident that Reform Judaism is new, improved and better than other streams of Judaism. After all, Reform Judaism does not hide from knowledge about science or history. Reform Jews use all that is known to better understand God, the Bible and religion. Reform Judaism is not mired in the past, not trapped in traditions from the ancient world which are no longer beneficial or which have become counter-productive. With all due respect for the rights of other to their own religious beliefs, Reform Jews should not shy away from a well grounded commitment to our faith as the right one. With that realization, we immunize our children against the missionary efforts of other Jews who would confuse being more committed, and more religious with following practices which a well reasoned analysis tells us are wrong or inferior to the way that Reform Jews do things.

  3. avatar

    I’m not sure what he means when he says Chabad “sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism.”
    Perhaps I can illuminate. About a year ago, Rabbi Yoffie related the story of a child who had not received a Jewish education or Bar Mitzvah Training, yet whose family wanted him to have a bar-mitzvah. The rabbi of the Reform congregation declined and the family turned to Chabad House which gave the child an Aliyah.
    Rabbi Yoffie inferred from this that Chabad did not set an adequately high bar for this.
    Personally, I disagree with Rabbi Yoffie – Perhaps we would lose fewer if we followed Chabad’s example of treating a Bar Mitzvah more like a point of entry that like a terminal degree.

  4. avatar

    Thanks, Rich, for illuminating. Your interpretation makes sense, and so does your suggestion of the Bar Mitzvah as a point of entry instead of a terminal degree.
    Obviously, though, the terminal degree phenomenon is not the desired outcome of the Reform bar mitzvah process, and I am perfectly comfortable with our congregations’ insistence on educational standards as a prerequisite for bar mitzvah. (If we want to analogize role models from other religious traditions, we might look at the Jesuit formula (I think it’s the Jesuits), give us the child and we will have the man.)
    As I have suggested before, the Jewish world, and especially the Reform movement, can learn a great deal from the Chabad business plan. What we have in common is a willingness to accept Jews from wherever they are on their Jewish journey — but Chabad does a much better job than Reform of trying to move them to a higher level of observance.
    On the other hand,Chabad turns more than half of the Jewish world into second-class citizens — women, plus Jews by patrilineal descent, plus Jews by choice whose conversions don’t pass muster.
    Regarding losing fewer, remember that those are not members we’re losing, but only hypothetical prospects. And to accept them on the terms that Chabad offers would be like selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

  5. avatar

    Ooh. Sounds like Chabad touched a nerve. Let’s talk turkey. In my golden ghetto here in NJ, the Reform synagogue charges 2400 for membership and bldg fund, 800 for religious school tuition (per kid) and a 900 “Bar Mitzvah fee” which no one including the rabbi could tell what it was for. They also charge you 375 for a DVD of the service. (mandatory) The rabbi has a lifetime contract, a salary of 6 figures, plus house, plus car, home maintenence allowance, car maintance allowance etc. Compare that to Chabad and another outreach program that offer hebrew school for 500 a year. The rabbi probably doesn’t live in a huge house, his wife cleans the classroom (as opposed to our temple where I never saw her, and god forbid they should stay after the oneg and clean) It simple really. You have turned religion into a business and the market has spoken.

  6. avatar

    Good observation C.B.

  7. avatar

    l’shalom
    I don’t believe that ‘Reform Jews,’ ‘Conservative Jews,’ whatever you want to call people, actually exist. I don’t know how else to put it.
    “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.”
    ritually-obsessed
    ethically-limited
    fundamentalist, ghetto, not to mention
    cut-rate, minimalist
    This man has a way with words; he has a description for what is wrong with everyone else.
    How could this piece of writing encourage me to feel at home in the Judaism of reform?

  8. avatar

    Judaism does not offer eternal life, freedom from sin, a state of grace or what have you. The rabbi can’t intercede for you with God, and Reform Judaism doesn’t like to emphasize God. So, we are left with what? An expensive building committed to “social justice”? And could someone please tell me what that is? From what I’ve seen, its a lot of time and money spent helping non-Jews in neighborhoods that our parents and grandparents moved from decades ago. “Because that’s what Jews do” I keep hearing. It sounds more like you have nothing else to offer to keep people interested and paying. Seriously, if my temple put in a pool, you’d start to see some people. How is it that the evangelicals can build megachurches on “love offerings” and we have to hire “programming consultants” and the like.

  9. avatar

    C.B.,
    I’m not sure how familiar with the mega-church format that you actually are, but as someone who worked both in a very large community church and as a Christian evangelist for many years before deciding to convert to Christianity, I can attest to a few things in particular.
    Firstly, churches often collect “love offerings,” but their primary source of income has, and will be until the foreseeable future, the tithing system, which traditionally asks for 10-percent of each member’s total household income at the end of each month. Sometimes these tithes are paid in full at the beginning of each year. Other times these sums are collected as they are earned. Either way, while the “love offering” system does often grant a church large in-flows of cash, their primary source of financial stability is already bolstered by the tithe system.
    On a side note, I’ll mention that not all churches are the same, but the tithe format is much older than this generation of churches, and it’s the predominant system.
    Secondly, you appear troubled because of the income of Reform rabbis and their staff in comparison to that of other movements. Having worked in religion for years, the system looks to change no time soon, and personally, I can’t see the harm in securing the well-being of a rabbi, if said rabbi continues to be a positive force for his or her congregation and communities. Interestingly enough, you criticize the “business” that you accuse the movement of becoming, but you do so after making a “price list” comparison of services offered by Chabad in relation to the Reform world. In short, you’re comparing better deals as a consumer. This smacks heavily of a business mentality itself.
    The prices can be steep, especially for someone like myself (a student, at the moment) who is often criminally short on cash. Either way, my experience with the Reform movement has been that they are comfortable with waiving costs in circumstances that require it, if the person receiving the grant is willing to give to the community, and not take the gift ungratefully.
    While I have my own feelings on the matter of “conflict” between Chabad and Reform, I am entirely sure that your own comments, C.B., were laced with language that seeks to be inflammatory while stumbling to the pratfalls of the very “business-minded” institution you condemn, as well as assumptions about the financial system of churches at large.
    Either way, thank you for your input. May civil dialogue continue.

  10. avatar

    John, It’s quite simple The Jewish community is complaining how we’re losing members. Members are complaining that the costs associated with membership are becoming prohibitive and are turning to a more affordable alternatives like Chabad. Temples complain how Chabad is taking members. Temples refuse to change “long-standing traditions” (that have nothing to do with the practice of Judaism) in order to save money and make membership more affordable and retain our brothers and sisters. And so it goes round and round. And believe me when I tell you, I can name three Reform temples within a 20 mile radius that, if you don’t pay, you don’t pray. What has happened to us?

  11. avatar
    Chaim Yosef Miller Reply June 9, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    It`s sad that the Rabbi`s intent was taken into many different arenas for dialouge. It seemed to me that he clearly gave his definition of the future of Reform Judaism. And I sincerely hope those at the convention he shared that information with took it home and began implementing a future for thier Congregation`s. Sadly, he added what types of Judaism he felt would not benefit the future of Reform Judaism. Which is a defensive stance. Nevertheless, whatever any Rabbi writes or states, as a Jew no “Organized Branch” will dictate where and how I choose to observe. What I think is important is that Congregations and thier Rabbinical Staff start a process of peaceful dialouge to ensure continuincy of everyone`s definition of living a Jewish way of life. And we need to remember that can change several times in a life time. How sad we forget that this struggle is not about Temples, Branches of Judaism, location, and the like. This struggle is one that every neshomah will experience in it`s lifetime, many times. And my hope is that whatever Temple one choses for thier observance at any time in one`s life that Congregations and Rabbi`s will be welcoming. “Make welcome the stranger”. Directly speaking to the woman who needed to state the cost of her Community Reform Congregation`s Membership dues I have something personal to share. Of the three Reform Temple`s I have been a member of ALL have reduced membership dues for me because of being diabled and living on SSD. I was turned away from a Chasidic Shul I belonged to on Erev Rosh Hashana becuse they decided then and there as I stood in the doorway I wasn`t suited for thier shul. And it was because my cousin was a lead detective investigating child molestation charges on one of their Rabbi`s. We all have had a negative experience at some time. But no human will stand in the way of my living a Jewish way of life. Shalom and Good Health to all.

  12. avatar

    I will endeavor to comment on Rabbi Yoffie’s take on the Future of Reform over the course of several posts.
    For the present, I am absolutely astonished by Rabbi Yoffie’s assertion: “And right now, we need the Reform movement more than ever. Because the future does not lie with the charedim and the fundamentalists of the Jewish world; and it certainly does not lie with Chabad, which may do some good things, but which sells itself to our members as cut-rate, minimalist Judaism.
    “The future, I believe, lies with us. Yes, we have our issues, and our Movement will look different from what it was before the economic crisis. But it needs to be here, and it needs to be strong.”
    I don’t like the pejorative term “fundamentalists” nor do I don’t care much for the word “charedim.” If Rabbi Yoffie is referring to Torah observant Jewry, the relevant demographics would seem to demand that he back up his assertion with something in the way of facts.
    Given a birth rate amongst Torah Jewry that is several times higher than what passes for a birth rate amongst the Reform (which is on the level of Spain), and a divorce rate that is a fraction of what is presently ravaging Reform, and almost universal full day Jewish education for at least nine years at the margins and thirteen plus at the core, and an aggressive, yet sensitive outreach that gathers momentum by the day, are we not tempted toward the opposite conclusion?
    And what exactly are we to make of this admission by Rabbie Yoffie in the President’s Report to the URJ Board of Trustees (June 2010)?
    “We must begin the work of rebuilding our youth movement….We have seen the decline of our youth activities to dangerously low levels, and we are not now providing our kids with the staff and the resources that they desperately need. Without question, this is a difficult time for every area of the Union’s work, and every budget cut that we have made is terribly painful; but the youth movement has always been a fundamental area of Union responsibility, and it is essential that we reverse this decline….A related area of equal importance is the work initiated by the Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning to help our synagogues promote teen engagement following Bar and Bat Mitzvah. We know that if current trends continue, approximately 80% of the children who have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in our congregations will have no connection of any kind to their synagogue by the time they reach 12th grade. This is a disaster for our young people and for our congregations as well.”
    So if the Reform birth rate falls well below the point of sustainability not to mention the ravages that will take their toll on the next generation, already diminished as it is, where then does Rabbi Yoffie see the cause for his optimism?
    Apparently from here: “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform. And this will require College, Conference, Union and congregations working together to build a strong movement.”
    While I once again protest the slash and burn pejorative references to those Jews who are observant of the Torah’s mitzvahs, Rabbi Yoffie is essentially correct in saying that the great majority of North America’s Jews will not, at this juncture, choose to identify with Torah observant Jewry. His mistake is in believing that the great majority will come to Reform. The truth is that the mass of unaffiliated Jews will remain such, and that both they and their descendants will continue to assimilate themselves into oblivion.
    Not only will the unaffiliated Jewish masses not reverse Reform’s negative growth rate, their very existence is a massive accusation against Reform and what it symbolizes in their eyes.
    How so?
    That the unaffiliated masses don’t want any part of Torah Jewry is perfectly understandable, given its perceived restrictions and such.
    So why not Reform with its do your own thing culture? In what way would it inhibit their lifestyle?
    I’m going to say something shocking, and I expect it to be rejected out of hand by everyone across the board. Shocking as it may be, however, it is very much rooted in the reality on the ground.
    The reason that the unaffiliated masses will never come to Reform is because they don’t look upon it as authentically Jewish. Keep in mind that we are talking about Jews who, aside from maybe putting in a cameo appearance on the High Holidays, have nothing to do with Judaism (as in zilch, zero, nada) the rest of the year. And yet, their dismal Jewish performance notwithstanding, they look upon the Torah Jews as the bearers of Jewish tradition.
    And I know this to be so on a personal level. I grew up in a thoroughly assimilated environment in Westchester County, NY in the 50s and 60s. Aside from the local Orthodox Rabbi, I didn’t meet my first observant Jew until I was in law school.
    In the public school that I attended there were maybe 35 Jews out of 900 children, and none of them kept kosher or anything else for that matter. In fact, it would probably be accurate to say that most of the Jews and maybe even some of the Gentiles that visit this web site have a much stronger Jewish consciousness than any Jew living in the neighborhood in which I was raised.
    AND YET, these Jews, as pitiful an example of Jewry as one could find, these Jews considered the Reform Jews in the area to be goyim.
    Why?
    Many, if not most of these Jews would rather openly break every law in the Torah than change those laws to redefine their behavior as permissible. It could be that in their minds, even if only subconsciously, by taking the hit rather than changing the law, they are vicariously keeping the Torah. The masses are weak in their ability to do the things that the Torah requires of them and to resist doing that which the Torah forbids. The irony, of course, is that their collective greatness is their refusal to reduce Judaism to the level of their weakness.
    Who knows?
    Whatever the truth of the matter, Rabbi Yoffie would be well advised to look elsewhere to grow the Reform Movement.
    In a future comment on this thread I will attempt to bring to light several important trends not flagged by Rabbi Yoffie that will impact greatly on the future of Reform.

  13. avatar

    Part 2
    Rabbi Yoffie says:
    “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.”
    It is quite clear that Rabbi Yoffie is putting all of the eggs of the Reform future in the basket of the great majority of North American Jewry which is presently unaffiliated. As I said in my previous comment on this thread, “The truth is that the mass of unaffiliated Jews will remain such, and that both they and their descendants will continue to assimilate themselves into oblivion.”
    But that aside, Rabbi Yoffie’s vision of the future is terminally circumscribed by the present because the majority of those that ARE choosing to live Jewish lives have, for a number of years now, opted for that halakhically-based, ritually-obsessed, fundamentalist, oldie but goody from the ghetto.
    My little riff on Rabbi Yoffie’s penchant for castrating Judaism with adjectives notwithstanding, I once again protest at his painting of Judaism with the broad strokes of negative innuendo. It’s simply not becoming of someone of his stature. While Rabbi Yoffie’s imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did he pull this rabbit?
    Shakespeare’s perhaps?
    On one point, however, Rabbi Yoffie is essentially correct. He says:
    “But what do we have to offer? Is there something distinctive about being Reform? My answer is “yes.” We do not have a common theology, and that’s a good thing. But we can talk about the defining characteristics of Reform Judaism.
    We view the Jewish tradition as growing, evolving and always changing, and we celebrate creative change in all areas of ritual and practice.
    We assert that the equality of women in Jewish life is non-negotiable.
    We draw the boundaries of Reform so as to include rather than exclude, and we welcome gays, lesbians, the intermarried, non-Jewish spouses and all who bind their fate to that of the Jewish people.
    We embrace Jewish worship that is creative, dynamic, vibrant and participatory.
    We see tikkun olam as an essential element of our Reform identity – in fact, as the jewel in the Reform crown.
    And we believe in real partnership between rabbis and lay people as essential to our Jewish future.
    This particular mix of practice and belief exists nowhere else in the Jewish world. Some say that Reform Judaism has disappeared in an undifferentiated mass of non-Orthodox Jews. Nonsense. Our rabbis and lay leaders know who we are and what we have to offer.”
    Reform IS a unique product that has a market niche, but the market isn’t what he thinks it is. While Reform’s program, as articulated by Rabbi Yoffie, is at full tilt in the direction of what is au courant on the Liberal Left, the Jewish community is no longer the liberal monolith that it has been longer than any one of us has been alive. For reasons of which all of us are aware, North American Jewry is beginning to reassess its undying loyalty to a Liberalism that the Radical Left (pardon the redundancy) destroyed years ago. This means that the trend line of the great mass of unaffiliated Jews, the same Jews that Rabbi Yoffie would like to bring out of the bullpen to save Reform from its self-inflicted demographic nightmare, is headed (ever sooo slowly) in the opposite direction from the “philosophy” upon which Rabbi Yoffie has staked Reform’s future. In the short term the effects will not be discernable. But long term it’s not god news for Reform.
    And while it’s true that those who wish their environmentalism, feminism, egalitarianism, and all the other constituent isms of the liberal pantheon to be sprinkled with the fairy dust of Reform will continue to answer “present” at the Reform roll call, those who are seeking serious spirituality as opposed to having their secular ideology validated, will look elsewhere.
    I have responded to what Rabbi Yoffie said. In my next post I will share some thoughts on what he didn’t say.

  14. avatar

    Part 3
    An Open Letter to Rabbi Eric Yoffie:
    Reform has entered its Glasnost era. Those who truly seek to experience Shabbat, the Yom Tovim, and anything else that are part and parcel of the “traditional Judaism” that you have dangled in front of their eyes in your push toward tradition will not be satisfied with half a loaf, and Reform by definition is philosophically incapable of delivering the other half. It’s the nature of genies that once they’re out of their bottles it’s quite impossible to stuff them back in again. Quantitatively the losses may ultimately turn out to be surprisingly small but qualitatively they will be your best people.
    You think not?
    The following links are to five of the most popular speakers in the Torah world today. They have had a tremendous impact on both religious and unaffiliated Jewry in North America, South Africa, Great Britain, and Israel.
    And each one comes from either a Reform, Conservative or totally assimilated background. Torah Judaism is enriched by their teachings, as it is by the many others who have made the Long March from your Movement and from the others. And there are hundreds if not thousands more, who by virtue of the Jewish genie that you have let loose from the bottle of Reform, who will one day come to join them as teachers of Klal Yisroel.
    http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-lawrence-kelemen/
    http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-dovid-gottlieb/
    http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-akiva-tatz/
    http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/jewish-inspiration/
    http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/crash-course-jewish-history-mp3s/
    Keep in mind that every point that I make here relates back to your contention that: “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.” The entire future of your Movement stands or falls on that premise.
    The links above are but a tease that serves as an intro to the most important thing affecting the future of Reform that you didn’t mention in your piece: the Internet.
    Unlike in previous generations where Traditional Judaism was out of sight out of mind to anyone not living in close proximity to one of several urban areas in the United States, today it’s big, bold, and in your face on the Internet, right where a good part of your target audience hangs out.
    The Torah’s Internet presence is absolutely overwhelming, and it is impossible for the mass of unaffiliated Jews not to trip over it in due time. I don’t know how many sites there are because there are new ones every week, and I simply can’t keep up, but we’re talking here in the hundreds.
    I took the trouble of going to every Reform web site listed on your drop down menu, and found nothing in the way of content. The only reform site that contains anything of interest to outsiders is this one, and even so it’s all chit chat. Some of it is fascinating to be sure, but it’s still just chit chat just the same.
    Here are three links:
    The first is Rabbi Zev Leff’s web site. I chose this because he is an individual who is not connected to any organization, and all of the content on his site was produced by him alone. This one site probably has more content than UJR, all of its affiliated sites, and all of its member Temples combined.
    http://www.rabbileff.net/
    Next is the Orthodox Union, and I chose it because it is the Orthodox organizational equivalent of the UJR.
    http://www.ou.org/
    And the third is Aish.com which is the web presence of Aish HaTorah, the famous kiruv yeshiva.
    http://www.aish.com/
    My purpose is not to have you sample the content but to do an INVENTORY of it, and you should make it thorough by clicking on all the various topical tabs etc. As I have already stated, these sites barely scratch the surface but they should still give you enough information from which you can extrapolate.
    If you do your due diligence in searching out Torah Judaism’s presence on the web you will no longer credibly be able to say:
    “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism. The great majority will choose the modern, liberal, Torah-inspired Judaism that is Reform.”
    And then there is the imagery/symbolism of Judaism.
    Guess who owns it and guess what the impact of that ownership is and will continue to be on that mass of unaffiliated Jews that Reform so longs for. I know that the Wall and some other things are a sore point of contention for Reform, but for the purposes of this post I’m not interested in the politics of it all. I’m simply stating an incontrovertible fact as to where the public’s eye is drawn vis á vis the imagery and symbolism of Judaism.
    The irony of it all is that Reform is stuck with the same imagery/symbolism. It’s in your Temples and all over the web site. And what other choice do you have anyway? If not a matzah, menorah, lulav etc., then what? A recycling bag, a pushka that says Hati on it, and two guys holding hands?
    Below is a link to a representative image to which you have nothing to answer. The crowd is mostly made up of Sephardim and they are singing the Ani Mamim nigun that was sung in Auschwitz.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbCvrTy7HbI&feature=related
    Let’s be honest now.
    To whom do you think that uncommitted mass of unaffiliated Jews is going to emotionally respond? To those Jews who are singing the Ani Mamim or to the ones who ripped it out of the siddur?
    And that brings me to my final point.
    As Larry Kaufman is wont to say: “The Reform Judaism blog, is dedicated to sharing the news and views of Reform Jews,” and I try to adhere to the spirit of his point by doing my best to save my comments for either intellectual inconsistency or attempts to misquote or misconstrue the Torah, and not by commenting on Reform practice per se, with one exception that is, which I believe is crucial to whatever future Reform may have.
    For a movement that prides itself on the independence of its members to make their own “informed” decisions as to what they will claim as their own from the potpourri of mitzvahs and customs through which Reform’s rank and file must wade, it’s more than somewhat ironic that decision as to how one should pray was taken out their hands. Given the fact that over the years Reform has made most of Judaism optional, why not include the siddur?
    Many, many shuls have more than one minyan, with one using Nusch Ashkenaz and the other praying in Nusach Sefard (Chasidim) or in the real Sefard of the Sefardim.
    I have read enough posts on this blog to realize that in some of your Temples there maybe enough people who would prefer to pray in the traditional Nusach Ashkenaz. Why not give them that opportunity? It certainly beats losing them.
    And have you not heard of the Noahide community, which numbers in the tens of thousands of Gentiles that have walked away from Christianity?
    Take a look at what they are selling on their web site:
    http://noahidenations.com/
    The name of your original blog is The Future of Reform Judaism. I have endeavored to show that the entire premise upon which you stake this future is unsupportable, and Reform’s trashing of the traditional siddur is yet one more case in point.
    Aside from those who are content wallow in a lock step politically correct present, who else would want to sign on to a movement that has so eviscerated its prayers as to leave it devoid of all connection with its past and all hope for its future?

  15. Larry Kaufman
    Dues-Paying Reform Jew Reply October 18, 2010 at 11:00 am

    @M.Z. Mark
    You hold out for particular scorn Rabbi Yoffie’s statement:
    “While Rabbi Yoffie’s imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did he pull this rabbit?”
    Perhaps he pulled it out of the hat of Postville? Or pedophilia and its cover-ups? Or the kind of charitable fund-raising cited here http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-orthodox-charitable-sector-and-red-lines/ by the London Jewish Chronicle.
    As a Reform Jew who supports the movement through synagogue dues and direct contributions, I concede that the movement has its faults, and I sometimes question the kind of liberalism which spends my support dollars on a blog that allows outsiders to submit hostile criticism, denying the realities of Reform’s successes, and ignoring that a substantial number of Jews who identify as Reform are the children or grandchildren of people for whom Orthodox Judaism was oppressive, irrelevant,and spiritually lacking.
    It’s one thing to sit in your own house and criticize your neighbor, but it’s chutzpadik to come into your neighbor’s house and scold them for their lifestyle, decor, or whatever.

  16. avatar

    @Dues-Paying Reform Jew who said:
    “You hold out for particular scorn Rabbi Yoffie’s statement:
    “While Rabbi Yoffie’s imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did he pull this rabbit?””
    If you are going to quote me then quote me in full. You left out the tag line.
    “While Rabbi Yoffie’s imagery conjured up all the usual suspects including “ghetto Judaism,” which is de rigueur on the canard hit parade, ethically-limited Judaism is a new one to me. From out of whose hat exactly did he pull this rabbit?
    Shakespeare’s perhaps?”
    So what exactly is your problem?
    I wasn’t commenting on Rabbi Yoffie as a person or Reform as a Movement, successful or otherwise. Moreover, I do not know why you felt compelled to say “I concede that the movement has its faults,” when I wasn’t busy pointing them out.
    Everything I wrote was in reference to Rabbi Yoffie’s take on Reform’s future, not the present. So if you haven’t yet paid your dues for the next 25 years you have nothing to be testy about because you’re invested neither in Rabbi Yoffie’s vision nor my rebuttal.
    Even reading my post as carelessly as you apparently did, you may have noticed the first paragraph in which Rabbi Yoffie said:
    “The great majority of North American Jews will not choose a Judaism that is halakhically-based; they will not choose a narrow, ritually-obsessed Judaism; they will not choose an ethically-limited Judaism; and they will certainly not choose a fundamentalist, ghetto Judaism.”
    In addition to editing that back end of my reply to Rabbi Yoffie’s statement above by leaving out the tag line you also managed to remove the first two lines:
    “I once again protest at his painting of Judaism with the broad strokes of negative innuendo. It’s simply not becoming of someone of his stature.”
    The words: narrow, obsessed, ethically-limited, fundamentalist, and ghetto Judaism or all pejorative.
    That being the case, would you call Rabbi Yoffie’s remarks positive innuendo? And even though, given the malevolence of your second paragraph, YOU would probably consider such references as perfectly acceptable, do you really believe that such characterizations are befitting someone of Rabbi Yoffie’s stature?
    And please keep in mind that my use of “innuendo” was charitable considering the explicit nature of his comments.
    As far as “ethically-limited Judaism” is concerned, although it’s true that I have never heard this little gem before, I do have an idea of what Rabbi Yoffie was referring to, and I can categorically state that there is no such thing.
    If you want to tell me that there are Jews that are ethically challenged, and that some of them are impersonating religious Jews in the same way that Mike Milken conned people into thinking that he was an ethical member of your Movement then we have no argument.
    My objection is to the implication that this ethical question is somehow limited to one camp.
    It’s not.
    Human weakness is an equal opportunity employer, and the reason that it’s not noticed as such is because the media and it’s fellow travelers are very selective in the adjectives they employ when reporting on Jews who have run afoul of what the Torah demands of them.
    If a Barney Frank or an Elliot Spitzer or the aforementioned Mike Milken attract the attention of the authorities they fly under the radar as Jews. They and the hundreds like them are ethically limited Jews who manage to avoid the stigma of the group libel known as ethically limited Judaism.
    Others may not be as fortunate when it comes to labels and libels, but they’re no more nefarious or culpable.
    You also said that: “a substantial number of Jews who identify as Reform are the children or grandchildren of people for whom Orthodox Judaism was oppressive, irrelevant,and spiritually lacking.”
    While that was certainly true a generation ago I’m not so sure the word “substantial” is presently being legitimately employed. These days it is more likely that an Orthodox student at Ais HaTorah et al. will have a Reform father or grandfather then the other way round.
    But in any case, what does this little tidbit have to do with anything that was in either Rabbi Yoffie’s original submission or my comments thereto?
    You seem to have missed the entire point because we were speculating as to the future of Reform which means grandchildren, not grandparents.
    And finally you said: “It’s one thing to sit in your own house and criticize your neighbor, but it’s chutzpadik to come into your neighbor’s house and scold them for their lifestyle, decor, or whatever.”
    A point well taken, but if I come to your house (with your permission) and you verbally assault me by calling me all kinds of insulting names am I required to stand there in silence?
    That’s what it was all about. It had nothing to do with lifestyle or decor.

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