In the weekly “Lifeline” message that we just published from Project Genesis, I decided (after consulting with Rabbi Mordechai Dixler, the program director) to remove two paragraphs. Project Genesis is about encouragement, helping people to explore Jewish spirituality. It wasn’t the place for me to be, perhaps, a little too honest. So here is what I left out, which was originally found right before the closing line:
As we all know, there has been a school of thought which flourished in the Jewish people within the past 200 years, that questioned whether the Torah indeed contained great, supernatural wisdom — rather than simply reflecting the human understanding of G-d in an ancient era. They supported permitting people to pick and choose, to “roll your own Judaism.”
Beginning over twenty years ago, when the Jewish federations in America began to recognize that Jewish affiliation seemed to be fading and our numbers decreasing, they began to commission studies of the Jewish community. Within the past five years, though, a dividing line previously ignored, in favor of multiple “Jewish denominations” and other artificial distinctions, became so clear as to be a focal point of all recent surveys. In terms of Jewish demographics and the Jewish future, there is little difference between any Jewish groups — with one exception: those where the Torah’s requirements are given priority over our own opinions and understanding, and those where the opposite is true.
2 Replies to “The Unpublished Paragraphs”
Without a Reform movement, in your opinion, would all Jews continue to be observant or would just some lose their identity anyway? In other words, do you even need another movement in order to lose ranks?
There is no question that Jews are quite able to leave observance without an official movement in which to do it. It is equally true, however, that today an American Jew can claim to be a perfectly “good” “religious” Jew without observing the Sabbath (for example). The average “secular” Israeli practices more basic Jewish observances — lighting Shabbos candles, eating kosher (at least) at home, conducing a Passover seder and fasting on Yom Kippur — than the average active member of the Reform movement.
If the Reform movement were to suddenly vanish at this time, those who are not observant today would not suddenly adopt observance, and some would undoubtedly give up on their Jewish identity entirely. But those who are Reform are in any case lost to the Jewish nation within several generations — the current Jewish membership of Reform Temples is comprised almost entirely of individuals with Orthodox great-grandparents; the descendants of the original Reform founders are (with very few exceptions) no longer present. And those few who, as a result, returned to observance would have a dramatic impact: if current trends continue, the 110,000 adults who adopted observance (according to the recent Pew survey) will have more Jewish grandchildren than all 1.8 million self-identified Reform Jews.