LIBERAL JUDAISM: AN AUTHENTIC — TALMUDIC — RECOGNITION OF CHANGE
Geoffrey Alderman ( Comment, July 4) correctly identifies that Liberal Judaism considers “righteousness in action” to be of more importance than matters of ritual but goes on to quote highly selectively from me — and indeed Reform’s Rabbi Romain — to claim that Liberal Judaism is merely concerned with the “public mood” and “the times”.
Judaism has never stood still. Its history is one of continuity and change, and its genius is its capacity to take account of people’s needs and to respond to changes in knowledge and circumstances. All strands of Judaism show evidence of constant development in belief and practice, whether the Oral Law, the decisions of the sages, or something else.
Further, Alderman implies that the Liberal Jewish prioritisation of the injunction “to seek justice” is at odds with tradition and ritual. The founders of Liberal Judaism sought to ensure that practice accorded with conscience and intelligence.
If Liberal Jews are “becoming more traditional”, they are not doing so at the expense of Liberal Jewish leadership in, for example, matters of public policy, including fair pay and quality training for those who care for the most vulnerable in our society, and equal marriage.
It is the strength of Liberal Judaism that it confronts the challenges of our time, and, while valuing truth above tradition and human needs above legal technicalities, also encourages its adherents to sanctify their lives with the habit of study, the discipline of prayer and the performance of rituals of beauty and meaning. It rejects cruel and discriminatory traditional practices, of which mamzerut is one.
The belief that every person — man and woman, Jew and Muslim and, yes, straight and gay — is created in God’s image is not merely a reflection of the current public mood but a restatement of the core values of Judaism itself. Rabbi Danny Rich Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism Montague Centre, Maple St, London W1
I always enjoy reading Geoffrey Alderman’s column, especially the sense of anticipation. Is he going to be sensible and thought-provoking this week, or swivel-eyed mad? Last week was a new departure; I think he was enjoying just being mischievous.
The essence of Progressive Judaism is just that. It is both authentically Jewish, and progressive in its interpretation of revelation. It requires continuous thought and effort to work out how to make traditions and halachah relevant to Jews trying to live in the modern world (as opposed to those whose response is to turn their back on it).
I’m sure Geoffrey Alderman is right that some people need moral certainty. But for others the rules in the Torah are in some instances incompatible with modern life, and we have difficulty applying them to the moral complexities of today. To take one very obvious example, how many of us would ask the elders to stone our wayward and rebellious sons (Deuteronomy 21)?
This illustrates what I have felt for some years, that Progressive Jews are the true descendants of talmudic rabbis, questioning and arguing rather than accepting blindly.
But of course the other part is being authentically Jewish, and if Liberal Jewish communities now find there isn’t enough Hebrew or Jewish observance in the forms devised by the original founders of the Liberal movement, then good for them. David Jewell Member of Bristol and West Progressive Jewish Congregation Duchess Road, Bristol