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Commentary on Principles 2004

Commentary on Principles 2004



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Commentary on the Principles for Reform Judaism
Oct. 27, 2004

On the three occasions. Each o\ue001 the previous \ue001ormulations o\ue001 Re\ue001orm principles was occasioned by a perceived crisis in American Judaism. Most o\ue001 the 15 rabbis who met in Pittsburgh \ue001elt an overwhelming desire to make a clear distinction between themselves and the growing Conservative movement on one side, and the growth o\ue001 Ethical Culture on the other. While Isaac Mayer Wise o\ue001 Cincinnati had hoped to draw all American Jews together, writing a nearly traditional prayer book in Hebrew with English translation, Kau\ue001mann Kohler and the other more radical Re\ue001ormers on the East Coast pre\ue001erred a prayer book primarily in English. The promulgation o\ue001 the Pittsburgh Plat\ue001orm in 1885, which Wise called a \u201cDeclaration o\ue001 Independence,\u201d contributed to the separation o\ue001 Re\ue001orm and Conservatism. While the \ue001ramers o\ue001 the Columbus Plat\ue001orm and the Centenary Perspective intended their documents to supercede the 1885 Pittsburgh Plat\ue001orm, the 1885 condemnation o\ue001 Torah laws which \u201cregulate diet, priestly purity and dress\u201d continued to convey to many Re\ue001orm Jews throughout the twentieth century the belie\ue001 that some observances were \u201co\ue001\ue001 limits\u201d to them.

The major elements o\ue001 the 1885 Pittsburgh text which led to the need \ue001or a new document were its rejection o\ue001 \u201ca return to Palestine,\u201d its celebration o\ue001 \u201cthe modern era o\ue001 universal culture o\ue001 heart and intellect,\u201d its pre\ue001erence \ue001or the phrase \u201cGod- idea\u201d in place o\ue001 \u201cGod\u201d and the absence o\ue001 any positive mention o\ue001 speci\ue000c Jewish observances. By 1937, the immigration o\ue001 more traditional Jews \ue001rom Eastern Europe had overwhelmed the more acculturated German Jews, changing the \ue001ace o\ue001 Re\ue001orm Jewish practice. With the rise o\ue001 Nazism and with the political necessity o\ue001 a Jewish homeland more and more apparent, the CCAR (which came into being six years a\ue001ter the Pittsburgh Plat\ue001orm), created in the 1937 Columbus Plat\ue001orm, written largely by Samuel S. Cohon, a document which addressed many o\ue001 the lacunae in the 1885 Statement.

With the Second World War a memory but the e\ue001\ue001ects o\ue001 the Holocaust palpable to Jews around the world, the CCAR leadership \ue001elt a need to address the drastically changed conditions o\ue001 the latter part o\ue001 the 20th century. The relie\ue001 over the outcome o\ue001 the Six Day War o\ue001 1967 had been \ue001ollowed by the insecurity \ue001ollowing the 1973 Yom Kippur War, \ue001ueling \ue001ears \ue001or world Jewry\u2019s \ue001uture, particularly considering the steeply rising rate o\ue001 mixed marriage. The CCAR itsel\ue001 was wracked by a polarizing debate on whether to call on rabbis not to o\ue001\ue000ciate at such ceremonies. A\ue001ter an abortive attempt to create a Plat\ue001orm based on papers written by a sampling o\ue001 colleagues, Robert Kahn, President o\ue001 the Con\ue001erence, asked HUC-JIR Pro\ue001essor Eugene Borowitz to write a paper on the occasion o\ue001 the 100th anniversary o\ue001 the Union o\ue001 American Hebrew Congregations (1875). Refecting its time, the Centenary Perspective spoke o\ue001 the need to secure the survival o\ue001 the Jewish people, but con\ue000dently outlined what the Re\ue001orm Movement had taught the Jewish world in its hundred years, and called on Re\ue001orm Jews con\ue001ront the di\ue001\ue001erently perceived claims o\ue001 Jewish tradition by \u201cexercising their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis o\ue001 commitment and knowledge.\u201d It led to the phrase \u201cin\ue001ormed choice\u201d which along with \u201cautonomy\u201d became the watchwords o\ue001 Re\ue001orm Judaism.

The onset o\ue001 the 21st Century suggested to the leaders o\ue001 the CCAR that a new statement o\ue001 principles would be appropriate. The rise in mixed marriage and the embrace o\ue001 Jews o\ue001 patrilineal descent (children o\ue001 one Jewish parent who were raised as Jews) had changed the demographics o\ue001 the Re\ue001orm Movement, contributing to a growing desire \ue001or increased learning, spiritual expression, and guidelines \ue001or Re\ue001orm ideology. Women\u2019s increased infuence in the Movement (\ue001rom three women ordained in 1976 the number had grown to over 250 by 1999) had changed much o\ue001 the language and approach o\ue001 Re\ue001orm, and the Movement had pioneered in opening doors o\ue001 Jewish li\ue001e (including ordination) to gay and lesbian Jews. Despite all these changes, and the growing desire to build more study and observance into their lives, rejection o\ue001 many observances by the 1885 Pittsburgh Plat\ue001orm continued to provoke tension between Re\ue001orm Jews who agreed with that statement and those who wished to practice the rejected rites. The patrilineal decision had also increased tensions between Re\ue001orm Jews and those in other movements, who \ue001elt that Re\ue001orm had been callous to the practices o\ue001 klal yisrael, the community o\ue001 the Jewish people as a whole. Faced by all these \ue001actors, as well as a growing concern over the \ue001uture o\ue001 Re\ue001orm Judaism in an Israel that seemed much more secure at century\u2019s end than it did a generation earlier, the CCAR undertook a two-year process o\ue001 discussion and consultation with its entire membership and with signi\ue000cant numbers o\ue001 laypeople to create a new Statement o\ue001 Principles. While earlier dra\ue001ts \ue001ocused the statement around Ten Principles, the dra\ue001t \ue000nally adopted was organized around the themes o\ue001 God, Torah and Israel, similar to Columbus and the Centenary Perspective. Pittsburgh was chosen as the site \ue001or the vote in the hopes that the name \u201cPittsburgh\u201d would now be permanently associated with a document that showed how much the Movement had changed since 1885.

Dialogue. I\ue001 \u201cautonomy\u201d was the key word o\ue001 the Centenary Perspective, \u201cdialogue\u201d is the key word o\ue001 the Pittsburgh

Principles. While Pittsburgh 1885 relied on the language o\ue001 Hegel (\u201cthe approaching o\ue001 the realization o\ue001 truth, justice and peace among all\u201d) and Kant (exalting a \u201cGod-idea\u201d and the binding nature only o\ue001 the moral laws), the Pittsburgh Principles uses the language o\ue001 dialogue (inspired by the early 20th century German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig): in the second paragraph o\ue001 the Preamble (\u201cinnovation with tradition, diversity with commonality\u201d, etc.), in the God section (\u201cWe encounter God\u2019s presence, we respond to God daily\u201d), the Torah section (\u201cGod\u2019s ongoing revelation to our people and the record o\ue001 our

people\u2019s ongoing relationship with God,\u201d \u201c We are called to Torah, We are committed to the ongoing study o\ue001 the whole array o\ue001 mitzvot and to the \ue001ul\ue000llment o\ue001 those that address us\u201d) and the Israel section (\u201cWe reach out to all Jews\u201d). The pre\ue001erence \ue001or the language o\ue001 dialogue over autonomy may also refect the infuence o\ue001 the relational vocabulary typically pre\ue001erred by women over the more \u201cgo-it-alone\u201d language typically used by men.

Trans\ue000orm our lives. While Pittsburgh 1885, refecting the optimism o\ue001 its time, heralded \u201cthe modern era o\ue001 universal culture

o\ue001 heart and intellect,\u201d the Columbus Plat\ue001orm and Centenary Perspective took more critical views o\ue001 contemporary society, based on the sobering experiences o\ue001 the 20th century. Earlier dra\ue001ts o\ue001 the Pittsburgh Principles saw Judaism as \u201cthe scale by which we shall judge the modern world, \u201c and called on Re\ue001orm Judaism to \u201ctrans\ue001orm through holiness the lives o\ue001 individuals, the Jewish people and ultimately humanity.\u201d While the \ue001ramers o\ue001 this document recognize the \ue001requently corrosive aspects o\ue001 a popular culture too o\ue001ten \ue000lled with violence and degrading language and imagery, they were also aware o\ue001 elevating intellectual and artistic aspects o\ue001 contemporary culture, as well as the importance o\ue001 the \ue001reedom protected by North American political systems. Unable to celebrate Pittsburgh 1885\u2019s \u201cuniversal culture o\ue001 art and intellect,\u201d the CCAR in 1999 looked to Jewish learning and practice to elevate the lives o\ue001 contemporary Jews to the plain o\ue001 holiness.

Kedusha, Holiness. The meaning o\ue001 the Hebrew root Ko\ue001-dalet-shin is separateness, but in such classical citations as the

Burning Bush (\u201c The place on which you stand is holy ground\u201d) and Isaiah\u2019s vision (\u201cHoly, Holy Holy is Adonai o\ue001 Hosts\u201d), the word takes on a sense o\ue001 the unique presence o\ue001 God, whose nature is separate, di\ue001\ue001erent, \ue001rom human beings, yet who enables us to draw near. This document speaks o\ue001 many ways in which we can draw near to God. Bringing the Godly into our lives can trans\ue001orm us \ue001rom creatures de\ue000ned by a secular, material, society into those who can \ue001ul\ue000ll our destiny as being shaped b\u2019tzelem Elohim, in the image o\ue001 God. (see below)

We a\ue000frm. Why a\ue001\ue000rm and not believe? A movement may a\ue001\ue000rm in that it teaches that something is right or true. Believe speaks

o\ue001 that which takes place within the individual. That a movement a\ue001\ue000rms a given statement or value does not mean that those who cannot or do not believe it are, ipso \ue001acto, outside the movement. Each resolution o\ue001 the CCAR and each publication o\ue001 a prayer book by the CCAR represents a\ue001\ue000rmation o\ue001 values or truths. These principles \ue001ollow those precedents as well as the precedents set by the earlier plat\ue001orms.

The reality...o\ue000 God. This contrasts especially with statements and a\ue001\ue000rmations regarding ideas o\ue001 God or concepts o\ue001 God. The

1999 a\ue001\ue000rmation o\ue001 \u201cthe reality...o\ue001 God\u201d conveys the conviction that, beyond the word as symbol, in the current vernacular, \u201cthere is a there there.\u201d Many \ue000nd it easy to discuss God intelligently positing various attributes to God and making God the root o\ue001 and reason \ue001or one value or another without necessarily believing that such a God exists. In that sense, the word \u201cGod\u201d has a power\ue001ul emotive impact, and it may be used to add weight to a philosophical, ethical, political or social argument even i\ue001 the speaker or writer does not \ue001eel the reality o\ue001 God in his or her own li\ue001e. This statement says that God\u2019s existence is an ultimate source o\ue001 \u201cmeaning and purpose\u201d in the li\ue001e o\ue001 the Jew and the Jewish people.

Thus, while a\ue001\ue000rming \u201cthe reality...o\ue001 God\u201d might seem superfuous and obvious, it is not. Without \u201cthe reality...o\ue001 God,\u201d the sections on Torah and Israel rest solely on \ue001oundations o\ue001 taste or majority vote or popular wisdom. \u201cGod\u2019s ongoing revelation\u201d, \u201cour people\u2019s ongoing relationship with God\u201d, \u201cGod\u2019s eternal love...\u201d and [our being singled out] \u201cto be witnesses to God\u2019s presence\u201d all are predicated on the reality o\ue001 God. The clear implication o\ue001 the Statement o\ue001 Principles is that Torah and Israel take their signi\ue000cance \ue001rom their source in God.

The emphasis on God\u2019s reality in this document is another step away \ue001rom a time when modern, educated, sophisticated Jews \ue001elt discom\ue001ort or embarrassment at taking God\u2019s reality seriously. Likewise it grounds Jewish peoplehood, culture and teachings in the existence o\ue001 God and God\u2019s covenant with the Jewish people. The sacred texts o\ue001 Judaism all point to the reality o\ue001 God.

We a\ue000frm the...oneness o\ue000 God. Judaism\u2019s great emphasis on harmony and equilibrium
Shalom fows \ue001rom the continuing a\ue001\ue000rmation o\ue001 God\u2019s oneness. Were there competing gods, competing sets o\ue001 ultimate values

all o\ue001 which were authentic, multiple measures o\ue001 right and wrong and good and evil, then the world would be, in its essence, a battleground. By insisting on the unity o\ue001 God, the Jewish commitment to a universe and not a multiverse becomes possible and necessary. We understand that we may not always know the ultimate values or truths, but by rejecting the idea that there are ultimate values and truths o\ue001 God that are in confict, we create a model o\ue001 unity and harmony. That model fows \ue001rom the oneness o\ue001 God.

One o\ue001 the many possible meanings o\ue001 \u201cthe...oneness o\ue001 God\u201d is uniqueness or singularity. We are taught that the Torah speaks
in human language, which is the only language we know. Thus there are many precedents in Jewish teachings \ue001or noting that

God\u2019s love is not precisely love as we know it, God\u2019s holiness not exactly holiness as we know it, and so on. Yet our tradition teaches that, in the words o\ue001 Leviticus 19:2, \u201cYou shall be holy as I am holy.\u201d God\u2019s uniqueness does not imply that we cannot be \u201cgodly\u201d in our deeds.

God\u2019s oneness is a\ue001\ue000rmed also in the Shema, the central statement o\ue001 Jewish belie\ue001. The Christian idea o\ue001 a \u201cGod in three persons\u201d has never \ue000t the Jewish understanding o\ue001 God\u2019s unity, one o\ue001 the \ue001undamental reasons why \u201cJewish Christians\u201d or \u201cMessianic Jews\u201d have never been considered believers in Judaism.

An eternal brit. Jewish tradition holds that at Mount Sinai God gave the Jewish people a covenant rea\ue001\ue000rming the promise to

Abraham (Genesis 15) o\ue001 an eternal people and an eternal claim to the Land o\ue001 Israel, to which was added the obligation to observe the mitzvot o\ue001 the Torah. This brit is celebrated in many ways: on a boy\u2019s eighth day with a brit milah, the covenant observedthrough the rite o\ue001 circumcision, on a girl\u2019s eighth day or other occasion with a brit bat (a covenant observed \ue001or a daughter; sometimes other terms are used), or aroundShavuot at a young person\u2019s Con\ue000rmation o\ue001 the Jewish people\u2019s vows at Sinai.

Creation, Revelation and Redemption. The Third Dra\ue001t o\ue001 the Principles used the \ue001ollowing language: \u201cRe\ue001orm Judaism

embraces the story o\ue001 the Jewish people which tells o\ue001 three great encounters with God: Creation, our redemption \ue001rom Egypt and our standing together at Sinai. These encounters, re-enacted throughout the Jewish year, lead us to seek our own relationship with God, however di\ue001\ue001erent our belie\ue001s, experiences and questions may be.\u201d The prayers or blessings surrounding the Shema incorporate these three themes as aspects o\ue001 God\u2019s uni\ue001ying presence in the world. Re\ue001orm Jews interpret the phrase \u201cstanding together at Sinai\u201d in di\ue001\ue001erent ways. For some, it is a metaphor expressing the belie\ue001 that the Jewish people entered into a covenant with God together; \ue001or others it suggests the mystical experience o\ue001 Jews receiving the Torah together. Some Re\ue001orm Jews dislike the phrase entirely because it suggests a \ue001actual, geographic basis \ue001or an event which they see as primarily a spiritual reality. Despite these varied views, the Re\ue001orm Movement created Con\ue000rmation as an opportunity \ue001or young Jews to receive Torah on Shavuot.

Even as we may di\ue001\ue001er in our understanding o\ue001 the Divine presence. Re\ue001orm Judaism does not command common belie\ue001. Judaism traditionally has permitted great latitude in conceiving o\ue001 and speaking o\ue001 God. This fows \ue001rom the \ue001act that one is not a Jew by virtue o\ue001 accepting a particular belie\ue001 as one is a Christian only i\ue001 one a\ue001\ue000rms the divinity and messiahship o\ue001 Jesus. Our tradition o\ue001midrash itsel\ue001 encourages the fow o\ue001 imagination and exploration into the varying stories o\ue001 God.

Re\ue001orm Judaism recognizes that our \u201cunderstanding o\ue001 the Divine presence\u201d is the result o\ue001 the interaction o\ue001 our texts, our in\ue001ormal tradition, our reason and our experience. Thus, because we have di\ue001\ue001erent experiences, because we exercise reason di\ue001\ue001erently \ue001rom one another, and because we understand texts di\ue001\ue001erently, we may come to di\ue001\ue001ering understandings o\ue001 God.

There is room in Re\ue001orm Judaism, then, \ue001or a variety o\ue001 understandings o\ue001 God\u2019s reality, including individuals who are not sure whether they believe in God or think that they do not believe in God. Jews who are members o\ue001 a movement that a\ue001\ue000rms God\u2019s reality suggest by their membership that they are willing to continue to wrestle with that reality as be\ue000ts their membership in the People Israel, \ue001rom the HebrewYi s r a e l which the Torah de\ue000nes (Genesis 32:29) as \u201cthe one who wrestles with God and human beings and has prevailed.\u201d

We a\ue001\ue000rm that every human being is created b\u2019tzelem Elohim, in the image o\ue001 God, and that there\ue001ore every human li\ue001e is sacred. This is the \ue001oundation o\ue001 the entire body o\ue001 actions called mitzvot bein adam la-chaveiro (sacred obligations to other human beings). The value o\ue001 each individual does not have to be measured and judged. Because each individual refects the image o\ue001 God, that person has claims on us in terms o\ue001tzedek and tikkun olam.

The longstanding Re\ue001orm Jewish commitment to social justice is based on this a\ue001\ue000rmation that every human being bears God\u2019s image. Thus, while we may sometimes experience other human beings as distaste\ue001ul or unworthy, the a\ue001\ue000rmation that each is a refection o\ue001 God\u2019s image is the basis \ue001or their claim on our compassion, justice and generosity.

We owe them such qualities not because o\ue001 their own merit, but because in dealing with them, it is as thought we were dealing
with God.
We regard with reverence...

Most early American Re\ue001orm prayerbooks retained the \ue000rst paragraph o\ue001 theShema (V\u2019ahavta, \u201cAnd thou shalt love...\u201d) but removed the Second and most o\ue001 the Third paragraphs. Some Re\ue001orm congregations are now re-instituting these sections. The Second Paragraph (V\u2019haya im shamoa, \u201cAnd i\ue001 you listen to Mymitzvot...\u201d) states that there is a relationship between the \ue001aith\ue001ulness with which the Jewish people observes themitzvot and the orderly conduct o\ue001 nature. This statement in the Principles a\ue001\ue000rms our obligation to preserve and protect God\u2019s creation, o\ue001 which we are a part. Contemporary insights into

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