What’s that now? You say Reform Jews are not Orthodox? That’s true . . . I didn’t say Orthodox. I said “religious“.
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.
I’m a religious person. I have a very deep faith, and I Believe.
No Kool-Aid, compound lock-downs, or multiple wives (although, let’s be honest, think how much faster things would get done!).
Just plain old God, Torah and Israel (both Am/People and Eretz/Land): Judaism.
I’m heavily Reconstructionist in my leanings; I Believe deeply in the Power of Peoplehood, this Civilization that has managed to survive so much over the last 5000 years. For me, halacha (the Jewish Way) IS obligatory, not necessarily because God ordained it, but because our People have embodied it for 5000 years. It is a major part of what defines us as Jews, as opposed to, say, Unitarians. It is our DNA.
The word “halacha” (Jewish law, encompassing stuff from the Torah, Talmud and other various sources) is a lightening rod for controversy over here in the Reform Universe. “We are not a halachik movement!” (a movement that believes in strict adherence to halacha -True.) “Halacha is not obligatory!” (depends upon how you see halachah.) “Halacha is outdated, antiquated and useless to us as modern Jews.” (Wrong. IMHO.)
The root of the Hebrew term used to refer to Jewish law, halacha, means “go” or “walk.” Halacha, then, is “the way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, encompassing civil, criminal, and religious law. For a very detailed (and pretty accurate) run-down of the term “halakha” and it’s meaning/history see this Wikipedia entry. See this section for info on present-day views of halacha. I’ll quote one part:
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism both hold that modern views of how the Torah and rabbinic law developed imply that the body of rabbinic Jewish law is no longer normative (seen as binding) on Jews today. Those in the traditionalist wing of these movements believe that the halakha represents a personal starting-point, holding that each Jew is obligated to interpret the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish works for themselves, and this interpretation will create separate commandments for each person.
Those in the liberal and classical wings of Reform believe that in this day and era most Jewish religious rituals are no longer necessary, and many hold that following most Jewish laws is actually counter-productive. They propose that Judaism has entered a phase of ethical monotheism, and that the laws of Judaism are only remnants of an earlier stage of religious evolution, and need not be followed.
I fall squarely into the “traditionalist wing” of our movement. I am grateful that Reform Judaism has begun to embrace what I believe is an integral part of our DNA: The Jewish Way as it has been passed down through generations. Does that mean I think people who believe differently in the Reform movement are wrong? NOPE. To each his own, I say. Embrace what works for you.
However. I do believe learning, exploring, and making these decisions is obligatory. I cannot get on board with categorical rejection of all things Jewish. IMHO there are parameters. Future blog post. The evolutionary nature of halacha is what makes it possible to be a Reform Jew and believe in the binding quality of this system. If there were no way, built in, to accommodate modernity, that would be an issue. But I believe there is, on most issues. Citing Wikipedia again (I know! But it’s a factually accurate article):
Throughout history, halakha has, within limits, been a flexible system, despite its internal rigidity, addressing issues on the basis of circumstance and precedent. The classical approach has permitted new rulings regarding [things like -ed] modern technology. [For example – ed] These rulings guide the observant about the proper use of electricity on the Sabbath and holidays within the parameters of halakha. (Many scholarly tomes have been published and are constantly being reviewed ensuring the maximum coordination between electrical appliances and technology with the needs of the religiously observant Jew, with a great range of opinions.)
This is but one example of how the issues of modernity can be addressed within the structure of halacha. You or I may not follow those exact guidelines, but it is the process of making that decision that is important. Traditional Jewish law is our jumping-off point – it’s embedded in our DNA – and from this we can make informed, Jewish choices that reflect our lives today and what is meaningful to us. And this, I embrace.
Now. I’m not gonna say that I believe every single thing in modern life can be viewed through the lens of halacha. There are things I believe were codified at a time when said things were seen as a very real threat to our faith and survival, whereas today, not so much. Given what we now know about life, the universe, human nature, etc, IMHO there are things that are obsolete.
My next blog post will be examples of what I am talking about, both in regards to interpretations of things that are seen as “stuff Reform Jews don’t do” and things that I think are obsolete in today’s 2012 world. Look for it Thursday. And don’t hesitate to chime in with your thoughts!