Judaism Unbound Episode 94: Reform Reflections


In the final episode of our series exploring Reform Judaism as a concept and as a movement,  [1] Dan and Lex reflect on the interviews that were part of the series [2] and consider whether the Reform movement could become an incubator of new ways of living Jewish life, even if those new ways did not look like traditional synagogue offerings, and whether Reform Judaism could become a "big tent" that could include those Jews and organizations that see themselves as non-denomination or post-denominational.

(0:01 - 16:44): To begin the episode, Dan presents the hypothesis, discussed a bit during recent episodes, that the Reform movement may be one of the best-positioned institutions to incubate new forms of Judaism on a large scale, due both to its size and its open-minded ideology. [3] Dan and Lex look in particular at synagogues, asking how synagogues can play a role in that incubation, along with questioning whether synagogues will be the most central location of Jewish practice in the future. They also compare and contrast manifestations of Jewish life that occur in large cities to those that occur in smaller Jewish communities.

(16:45 - 29:45): Repeatedly, the idea of social justice came up with our guests from the Reform Movement, as they emphasized it as one of Reform's greatest strengths. On a national level, the Reform Movement has created a wide variety of initiatives -- and even organizations like the Religious Action Center -- devoted to repairing the world. How could that spirit fully imbue local Reform institutions (like it has at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn), such that people know that social justice work need not be less central to Jewish life than prayer services? In another thread, Dan and Lex compare synagogues to, of all things, carrots.

(29:46 - 44:43): Lex puts forth a challenge to the Reform movement to reconsider its current policy banning individuals in interfaith relationships from becoming rabbis, cantors, or educators under its auspices. [4] Dan expands, focusing in on the message this sends to Jews in interfaith relationships: that while they may be welcome to participate in Reform spaces, their families still represent something less than what is considered ideal. [5] To close the episode, Dan looks back at the ways in which Congregation Beth Elohim brought the group Brooklyn Jews inside, put its leadership in charge of the entire synagogue, and kept Brooklyn Jews going as its own organizations, analogizing this story to the relationship between Disney and Pixar. [6]

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[1] URJ Biennial 2017 is December 6-10 in Boston. Learn more about all who will be presenting there and check out the full schedule by visiting its website. One speaker is our very own Dan Libenson, who will be presenting from 1:00-3:30 on Saturday, December 9th.

[2] Listen in to our previous episodes as part of this block on the Reform Movement: Episode 87: Reforming Judaism - Daniel Freelander I    Episode 88: Reform or Revolution - Daniel Freelander II     Episode 89: Reform Judaism Today and Tomorrow - Rick Jacobs     Episode 90: Audacious Hospitality - April Baskin     Episode 91: Is This The Fast That I Have Chosen? - Jonah Pesner     Episode 92: Reinventing Synagogue - Matt Gewirtz, Ben Spratt, Blair Albom     Episode 93: Community of Communities - Rachel Timoner

[3] For more on the Union for Reform Judaism as an institution, visit URJ.org, which features information about a wide variety of organizations and departments that call the Reform movement home.

[4] To learn more about this Reform movement policy, we recommend this 2013 piece featured in The Forward. To hear more about other institutions that have wrestled with similar debates, see this 2015 piece in The New Republic about the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College's policy (later in 2015 their ban was eliminated). The New Republic piece includes quotes from our co-host Lex Rofeberg (Lex Rofes when the article was published).

[5] Jew Too, a podcast highlighting the stories of Jews with loved ones of other religious traditions (parents, partners, and others), featured personal narratives from two intermarried rabbinical students in one of their episodes (one was Sandra Lawson, a past guest on Judaism Unbound). Listen in to this episode of Jew Too by clicking here.

[6] For more on the history of the Disney/Pixar relationship over the years, we recommend this article from Animation Alley and this book by Pixar founder Ed Catmull.