LIB­ERAL JU­DAISM: AN AU­THEN­TIC — TAL­MU­DIC — RECOG­NI­TION OF CHANGE

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT -

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

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