Judaism Unbound Episode 89: Reform Judaism Today and Tomorrow - Rick Jacobs


Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about what the Reform Movement looks like today and how its leadership is thinking about its future. The discussion explores the role of congregations in Jewish life, opportunities for growth and innovation in the Reform Movement, the principle of "audacious hospitality," and the changes that are on the horizon as we enter an age of digital technologies. [1]

If you'd like to download this episode, click here

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

Image Credit: UU World Magazine

(0:01 - 20:12): To begin the episode, Rabbi Rick Jacobs identifies the transitional moment in which not only Reform Judaism, but religion more generally, finds itself today. He then expresses the Reform Movement's commitment to both congregational life [2] and other forms of Judaism outside of synagogues. [3] Jacobs emphasizes the ongoing need for innovation in Judaism, both within synagogues and beyond their walls.

(20:13 - 41:42): Jacobs applies the lens of sustaining and disruptive innovation to Reform Judaism. In particular, he identifies how the ways that congregational leaders think can be conducive to Jewish innovation or present barriers. [4] He takes a look at the shifting role of Jewish denominations, questioning whether "denomination" is the best word to describe the movement he leads. Jacobs talks about the 23 congregations that have newly affiliated with the Reform movement, a phenomenon that can be overlooked in communal conversations about the shrinking, merging, or closing of congregations. 

(41:43 - 1:05:29): One of the defining phrases of Jacobs's tenure as President of the Union for Reform Judaism has been "audacious hospitality." Jacobs introduces this phrase and explains why it is crucial to contemporary Jewish life. [5] He also explores shifts that are occurring within Reform Judaism (and Judaism more broadly) due to the increased capabilities of digital technology. [6] To close the episode, Jacobs provides his insights on the central role of social justice to Judaism, reflecting on what that means for the intersection of Judaism and politics. [7]

[1] To access Rick Jacobs's full bio, click here. Visit the website of The Union for Reform Judaism by clicking here.

[2] Jacobs reflects on his organization's change in name from Union of American Hebrew Congregations to The Union for Reform Judaism. For more on the founding of the UAHC, and its evolution into the URJ, listen to Episode 87: Reforming Judaism and Episode 88: Reform or Revolution? which both feature Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

[3] In particular, Jacobs highlights Reform summer camps as an important development within the movement and beyond the scope of congregational life. Learn more about the founding and growth of the URJ's summer camps by reading A Place of Our Own: The Rise of Reform Jewish CampingAnd for some information on innovations in the Reform Jewish camping world, start here.

On the Other Hand Podcast.jpg

[4] Jacobs identifies the Riverway Project of Temple Israel of Boston as an example of innovative thinking that reconceptualizes past models of membership and belonging. Learn more about it by clicking here.

[5] Toward the beginning of this part of the conversation, Jacobs lifts up the legacy of Alexander Schindler, a predecessor of his as President of the URJ. To learn more about him, and the work he did to move the URJ toward increased acceptance of interfaith families, we recommend "A Patrilineal Jew Mourns a Great Rabbi," an article written by Susan Katz Miller, a past guest on Judaism Unbound. 

[6] Podcasts are, of course, part of the story of these new digital forms of Judaism. You can listen (and subscribe) to Jacobs's podcast, entitled On the Other Hand, by clicking here.

[7] For a piece by Jacobs that examines how one can imbue Jewish ritual with a commitment to social justice, see "How to Talk Politics at your Family Seder Without Killing Each Other."