This post was kindly written by my Blog Colleague Rabbi Rebecca Schorr of the blog Frume Sarah. It gives a short, but comprehensive view of some core principles that define the Reform Movement. This is by no means complete, but it addresses some questions we’ve had via a few posts on Out of the Ortho Box.
I will reiterate here: respectful and engaging dialogue is encouraged. Please feel free to read previous posts and conversations, or head over to OOTOB to see exactly what I mean. I absolutely encourage discussion, disagreement, etc. I don’t only publish comments that are positive and/or agree with me. HOWEVER, snark, nastiness, or lashon hara of any kind will be immediately deleted.
Thank you to Rabbi Schorr for agreeing to write this.
The question of “Who is a Jew?” is one that dates back to Biblical times. As a people, lineage was necessary in order to protect the integrity of different family lines as well as national identity. Though originally tracing genealogy through the paternal line, it was during Talmudic times that one’s status began to follow that of the mother. The Reform Movement, reflecting on the cultural reality of the high incidence of intermarriage, considered this social and religious dilemma on-and-off for more than sixty years before taking an official position that has come to known as “patrilineal descent.” This term is misleading because, in actuality, the Reform Movement requires that a child born to one Jewish parent MUST be educated in and reared as a Jew to the exclusion of any and all other faiths. Meaning – a child born to a Jewish mother but is baptized in the Church and identifies as a Christian would be considered Christian.
The Torah is our people’s account of our ongoing relationship with God. While most Reform Jews would reject the notion that God dictated every word to Moses, many of those same Jews would acknowledge that the author(s) of the Torah were truly God-inspired. Human authorship need not lessen the powerful lessons, laws, and messages that have sustained and enriched Jewish life for three millennia.
One of the hallmarks of Reform Judaism is the belief in personal autonomy. Struggling to maintain a livable balance between tradition and modernity, as well as in reaction to the Enlightenment, the early reformers championed the idea that with education, one is able to make informed choices about personal practices and beliefs. Furthermore, we are encouraged to engage in those ritual mitzvot that bring meaning and sanctity into our lives. Because of this, it is possible for a Reform Jew to keep kosher in a way that would meet OU standards but is doing it for reasons other than it is commanded to do so.
Reform Judaism is not monolithic. It varies from shul to shul, from home to home, and from person to person. Though a great number of Reform Jews identify with the Reform movement because they falsely believe that it’s a “as long as you feel good. do-nothing” way of being Jewish, it would be inaccurate to assert that the Reform Movement endorses an easy way out when it comes to beliefs and behaviours.