Our Movement’s Principles -
Speaking To You or For You?
How do you define Reform Judaism, when asked by friends or co-workers? Do you find yourself defining our movement in terms of what it is not? “We don’t do A, B, and C,” and “we don’t believe X, Y, and Z,” and “we’re not Orthodox or Conservative.” Since these descriptions are decidedly unsatisfying, The Jacob Project spent an afternoon taking a closer look at what the Reform movement is, and what we do believe.
Using the 1999 “Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism,” (view it for yourself on the CCAR’s website) we each marked which Principles spoke “to” us and which spoke “for” us, i.e., which ones we agreed with and felt proud of, and which ones put words in our mouth we just couldn’t swallow!
Naturally, one person’s “to” was another person’s “for,” so our exercise led to an absolutely vibrant discussion and exploration of our beliefs, values, and experiences. Among the Principles we debated: “We continue to have faith that, in spite of the unspeakable evils committed against our people and the sufferings endured by others, the partnership of God and humanity will ultimately prevail;” “We affirm the importance of studying Hebrew, the language of Torah and Jewish liturgy, that we may draw closer to our people’s sacred texts;” and “We are committed to strengthening the people Israel by making the synagogue central to Jewish communal life, so that it may elevate the spiritual, intellectual and cultural quality of our lives.”
Thankfully, the Statement of Principles provided us with a more affirmative way to define our movement. However the diversity of opinion expressed at our gathering raised some questions: Who defines what Reform Jews affirm, believe, and are committed to? Is our identity handed to us by our Reform rabbis and leadership, or do we create it ourselves? Do these Principles truly reflect why we choose to identify with the Reform movement? Do the creators of the Statement have the right to speak for all of us?
Like other documents and texts that ‘define’ us, the Statement of Principles can be seen as a vehicle for dialog and exploration—for engagement. Without dialog, can there be community? Without exploration, can there be discovery? Perhaps engaging is what it means to be a Reform Jew. If so, isn’t it the responsibility of our Reform leadership to create vehicles like this Statement, which motivate us to address and struggle with who we are and what we believe?
We ended our gathering with the prayer that appears at the close of the Statement of Principles:
Baruch she-amar ve-haya ha-olam. Praised be the One through whose word all things came to be. May our words find expression in holy actions. May they raise us up to a life of meaning devoted to God’s service And to the redemption of our world.
Hope you’ll join us next time.
- Nickie Roberts
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