In related news, I've been reading Douglas Rushkoff's Nothing Sacred.
Nano-review so far: I like the big ideas, but the small factual errors are driving me batty.
But here's an insightful excerpt that dovetails with Rooftopper Rav's post, about what went wrong with Classical Reform:
Traditionally, the rabbis' main function was educational. They spoke to the congregation in the synagogue only twice a year, before Passover in order to remind Jews of specific rules and again before Yom Kippur to explain the meaning of repentance. Otherwise, their job was to teach Torah study in a classroom around a big table. Occasionally, their knowledge of Jewish law would enable them to resolve a local dispute. Religious services were led by the cantor, who stood at a table in the middle of the room, surrounded by congregants and other laypeople.
By changing the role of rabbi to that of a minister and putting him on what amounted to a stage in front of the room, reformers inadvertently led congregants to think about their own role in services very differently. Rabbis were now intermediaries between Jews and the God and laws with which they had always enjoyed personal relationships. Instead of focusing on the community of congregants with whom they were worshiping, Jews faced a stage and listened to the words of their rabbi, engaged in responsive reading, or followed along in rabbi-led rituals.
Congregants couldn't help but regress into a more childlike relationship to their rabbi and the religion he ministered. They transferred parental authority onto the rabbi and expected him to exemplify the piety to which they themselves could only strive. This served only to isolate rabbis from the spiritual communities on whom they could once depend for comfort and support.
Relieved of personal, adult responsibility for their religious practices, Jews tended to perform rituals and observances in a more perfunctory fashion. The religion became less participatory and more talismanic. Traditions like the mezuzah on the doorpost or a skullcap on one's head now served not as a point of mental focus, but as a hollow, rote performance or compulsive superstition. Religious education stressed how to behave, but very rarely delved into why.
"Talismanic" is the best description I've seen for the approach to physical ritual in some Reform (and other) Jewish communities. The Classical Reform leaders tried to be iconoclastic by eliminating tefillin and such, but the masses still had a need for ritual objects, so they ended up fetishizing things like the Torah trimmings (we spent lots of time in Sunday school learning about the crowns, the belt, etc.). So the result, after this attempt at iconoclasm, is the same reliance on physical objects, but the situation has worsened, because the ritual objects are now up on a stage in the front of the synagogue, rather than wrapped around one's arm and between one's eyes.
Of course, Orthodox communities are no better. Some new minhagim surrounding kiddush seem to border on transubstantiation. I've seen people make kiddush on a cup of wine, then pour that cup back into the bottle, mix it up, then pour for everyone from that bottle, to make sure everyone gets some of the wine that had been "blessed". And there are other variants that also ensure that the transubstantiated wine makes its way to everyone. This is unnecessary! Jews don't bless the wine; we bless the creator of the wine. The blessing does not change the status of the wine; it changes the status of the person who makes the blessing (or the people who respond "amen" to it), so that s/he becomes permitted to consume the wine. Therefore, there's no non-superstitious reason against someone making kiddush on his/her own cup and everyone else responding "amen" and drinking from their own cups.
It is not in heaven, to say "Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us and tell it to us so that we may do it?" And it is not across the sea, to say "Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and tell it to us so that we may do it?" The thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.