…JTS’s Jack Wertheimer is back on the attack against the non-Orthodox, this time with What Does Reform Judaism Stand For? in this month’s Commentary.
Something must be done about that man, if only by having him join the roster at Cross-Currents, so that his incisive pieces can be written off as just so much Orthodox triumphalist, exclusivist tripe, which can’t quite so easily be done now that he’s the JTS Provost publishing in Commentary.
Perhaps I’ll have other occasion to comment at greater length on the article, but for now I’ll suffice with one comment. He writes:
In a remarkable statement issued last summer, Rabbi Yoffie distinguished the Judaism practiced by Reform from other forms of Judaism in these words: “If you take it all upon yourself as an obligation rather than as a choice, you’ve reached the point at which you’re no longer a Reform Jew.”
Here, at last, is a candidly non-inclusive position. What it suggests is that in today’s Reform, red lines continue to exist to the Right: for a rabbi or a congregant to flirt with the basic concept of religious obligation, or venture too close to traditional Jewish observances, is to rule oneself out.
What of red lines to the religious Left? Are there any limits there? True, the movement disapproves of such outlying phenomena as the Society for Humanistic Judaism with its denial of a personal God, or Jews for Jesus. But, as we have seen, it has accommodated all sorts of other innovation under the rubric of legitimate Jewish expression, and has been remarkably silent on what it would consider beyond the pale.
The reference to Humanistic Judaism jogged my memory, causing me to delve into my voluminous files under “R”, for Responsa, Heteredox (I’ve thought from time to time of drawing on my vast archives and expertise to pen a monthly column titled “A Review of Periodical Heterodox Responsa Literature,” to compete with Rabbi Bleich’s long-running Tradition feature, but the I realized: who would read it?) What I retrieved was a CCAR responsum from 5751 regarding a secular humanistic congregation seeking admission to the Reform congregational body, UAHC.
Briefly, the question before Responsa Committee was this:
Reform Judaism has been an open-ended and variegated movement. It is historically flexible, but how far does flexibility go? Can it accommodate the philosophy and liturgy of this particular Congregation?
The responsum sets outs to answer this difficult query and, along the way to its resolution, engages in a great deal of very subtle lomdus, which I found fascinating. To share the wealth, I’ll quote an illustrative snippet of this, (and will, of course, withhold [almost] all other comment, respectful as I am of other religious traditions):