Sunday, June 25, 2006

My soul hates your new moons and your seasons

I have a confession.

You know those people whose practice is not Orthodox by any standard, but who know deep down that Orthodox Judaism is the only authentic Judaism? (Call them "Israeli", or "Sephardi", or "Chabad donors", or whatever label you like.) I'm realizing that I'm the opposite. My Jewish practice may appear to 99% of the world (for these examples, let's say my non-Jewish co-workers) to be ritually stringent -- I take days off for holidays no one has heard of, I hurry home on Friday afternoons to go pray, I never eat meat out -- but deep down, I know that it all really boils down to ethical monotheism, and Classical Reform basically had it right.

Let me be clear: Classical Reform explicitly repudiated a number of religious practices, on the individual and communal levels, that I uphold, and that I intend to continue to uphold. My personal practices would have David Einhorn spinning in his grave. However, I make a distinction between my values (by which I make decisions about my own actions) and my meta-values (by which I coexist with people operating under value systems that differ from mine). (Of course it would be more convenient if everyone agreed with me, but I have to live in the real world.) While my own values and practices may not be in line with Classical Reform, the metric by which I assess others' values and practices is.

I don't eat shrimp, and I don't observe the 2nd day of Shavuot, and I have solid reasons for both of these practices, and consider these practices to be obligatory (for me). I know Jews who eat shrimp and/or observe the 2nd day of Shavuot, and I still consider them to be good people and good Jews. I can disagree with them insofar as we have basic tenets in common, but if their practice comes from a different set of axioms, I can't make a universal claim that their practice is wrong.

In contrast, I will make the claim that a Jew (or a non-Jew) who steals or murders or furthers economic injustice is wrong. If they have a value system that permits these things, then I think their value system is wrong.

Thus, like the Pittsburgh Platform (and like the Mishnah, but more strongly), I make a sharp distinction between mitzvot bein adam lamakom (commandments between humans and The Place) and mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro (commandments between humans and their fellow humans). And I don't really make such a distinction between Jews and non-Jews. That is, I consider people (Jews or non-Jews) to be obligated by mitzvot bein adam lamakom only to the extent that they consider themselves obligated (in whatever value system they're using), and I consider all people (Jews and non-Jews) to be obligated by mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro regardless of whether they think so. "There will be one Torah and one law for you and for the stranger who lives with you." --Numbers 15:16

The Pittsburgh Platform (founding document of American "Classical Reform", adopted in 1885) often gets a bad rap, especially from people like me. But, to be fair, a lot of stuff in there is pretty good. For the rest of this post, I'm going to go through the Pittsburgh Platform section by section and comment on it. These comments will be primarily on the text itself, and not on the implementation. The Reform movement's implementation has had some problems; as Gates of Prayer itself admits on page 324, "Our failings are many -- our faults are great." But I'm not going to focus on the failings of Classical Reform in execution; beating a dead horse is considered rude. In a later post, I'll write about how the contemporary Reform movement fails to live up to its own ideals (which, on paper, are swell).

1. We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite, and in every mode, source or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of the indwelling of God in man.

So right off the bat, God is described as both transcendent ("the Infinite") and immanent ("the indwelling of God in [hu]man[kind]"), and there is a hint here (which I'm surprised isn't more than a hint) of exclusive monotheism -- all religions are experiencing the same God, even though the language is different.

We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea as taught in our Holy Scriptures and developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages.

Judaism's conception of the God-idea (God is One, we are created in God's image, etc.) is pretty cool. But is it "the highest" (holy brothers and sisters, mamash gevalt)? I don't think I've studied other religions enough to make that claim, nor do I think there's a point in trying to pick a winner. But it's good enough for me to stick with.

Mordecai Kaplan devotes Chapter IX of Judaism as a Civilization (which, apparently, no one reads anymore -- there are no Google hits for "Religious-Culturist" or "Secular-Culturist" outside of Mah Rabu) to a "Critique of the Reformist Version of Judaism". (He insists on "Reformist" for grammatical reasons, because "Reform" as an adjective is only correct in the original German. In a footnote he says "The term 'Progressive Judaism' would have been a more exact equivalent of 'Reform Judentum.' 'Liberal Judaism,' if not a happier designation, is at least good English.") Don't worry - "Neo-Orthodoxy" gets its own critique too. (Kaplan doesn't recognize Conservative Judaism as a coherent religious philosophy in its own right; he says that those who identify as "Conservative" are basically either Reformist or Neo-Orthodox. Plus ca change.)

Some of Kaplan's critiques are dead-on, but are more directed at the implementation of 1930s (and earlier) Reform Judaism than at the concept. But he also addresses the statement in the Pittsburgh Platform under discussion:

Reformism admits that the God-idea, as taught in Scripture, has always been "developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages." If this be true, then it was not always the Jews who evolved the most spiritual conception of God. On the contrary, they found it necessary to bring their traditional teachings in line with the moral and philosophical progress achieved by others. Such progress, according to the Reformist way of thinking, necessarily involves a better understanding of what God means and a deeper insight into his [sic] nature. The conclusion is therefore inescapable that there were frequent periods in the history of the God-idea when the Jews had to learn from the Gentiles.

So yeah, I'm not into the Jewish superiority part. But I'm still into the Jewish "God-idea".

We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended midst continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation, this God-idea as the central religious truth for the human race.
This is an important point. On the surface it sounds like the opening sentence of a Federation appeal, until you realize that the thing that has been kept alive for all these centuries through all these tribulations, and is implied to be worth preserving, is not "the Jewish people" or "Jewish identity" or "Jewish continuity" or even "Judaism", but the "central religious truth" of monotheism. Jews are a vehicle for preserving the essence of Judaism; Judaism is not a vehicle for making Jewish babies.

2. We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.
I would expand this beyond the Bible to include rabbinic and later Jewish "instruments of religious and moral instruction" (up to the present), but I agree with everything here. Here they say that the science-vs-religion debate doesn't have to be a debate: obviously, the classic works were wrong about a few things (including, I would add, some things outside the "domain of nature and history" and more in the domain of "religious and moral instruction"), but the big picture is strong enough that dismissing these things doesn't invalidate it. They also foreshadow the Slifkin affair.
3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.

4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.
These sections may be the most frequently quoted parts of the Pittsburgh Platform. ("only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify" has 71 Google hits, and "diet, priestly purity, and dress" has 105. In contrast, "highest conception of the God-idea" has 34, and "contrasts and evils of the present organization of society" has 36.) It's not surprising; it's human nature to focus on the elements that more people disagree about. These sections are quoted by contemporary Reform Jews explaining how the movement has changed, and they play a central role in the Conservative creation myth.

But even though I'm one of those contemporary Reform Jews (albeit an expatriate one) who disagrees with these sections, I'm going to be fair and say that I only half-disagree. These sections can be restated as a syllogism:

Major premise: If X does not "elevate and sanctify our lives" and "is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation", then X should be rejected.
Minor premise: "Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress" do not "elevate and sanctify our lives" and "their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation".
Conclusion: "Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress" should be rejected.

So I agree with the major premise, and merely disagree with the minor premise (and therefore with the conclusion). I agree that "ceremonies" have value if and only if they inspire us to be better people (whereas following "moral laws" ipso facto makes us better people). However, I think that some of the practices that Classical Reform rejected do in fact qualify under this test, and are therefore worth keeping around (and evolving). I won't say that they were wrong about what their "present mental and spiritual state" was in 1885; they would know that better than I would. But times have changed. In 1885, they faced a choice between maintaining particularistic Jewish practices and being full members of American society. In 2006, now that the melting pot has given way to the salad bowl, we can do both without contradiction. And before we trash the Classical Reformers for making the choice that they did, we should thank them for making our lifestyle possible. They did what they had to do to become fully American, and as mainstream American society expanded to include Jews, it became more multicultural, so that we no longer have to make the same choices.

I wish Classical Reform had been more self-reflective, and, over time, applied its methodology to itself. For me, "They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation" is an excellent description of prayer services with responsive readings and choirs. If Classical Reform still took itself seriously, then these elements would be axed in favor of practices more in line with "the views and habits of modern civilization". Instead, Classical Reform has become a small-o orthodoxy, maintaining its practices for the sake of tradition. For this reason, people have their directions all wrong when they label proponents of kashrut, Hebrew, etc. (such as myself), as the "right wing" of Reform. The "right wing" is those who hold onto antiquated practices (organ music, sexism, whatever) because that's the way we've done it, while the "left wing" is those who recognize the necessity of evolving and adapting to changing circumstances.

So anyway, even if the implementation went bad, I agree with the major premise that ritual practices cannot be seen as ends in themselves and must serve a greater goal, and should be rejected if they obstruct that goal. This position should not be mistaken for the straw-man position that each individual should be determining his/her own practice in a vacuum (rather, the way that ritual practices can "elevate and sanctify our lives" is often in the context of a community), or for the straw-man position that individuals/communities should determine their practice by picking and choosing individual practices from a list (rather, these practices can better "further modern spiritual elevation" when they are part of a coherent system, whatever that system is). I'm not actually making any claims here about the process by which it should be determined which practices are to be observed and how, but only about a goal that should be kept in mind during that process.
5. We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.
Ok, here's one where they messed up. In my Tisha B'Av post last year, I pointed out that they were far too optimistic about how close we are to "the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace". (They weren't alone. Physicists of that time also thought they were almost done discovering the physical laws of the universe.) It's going to take longer than we initially thought.

As Kaplan points out in his critique, both the paradigms of "nation" and "religious community" are too narrow to describe the Jews; I won't belabor this point, since the synthesis has long since killed off the thesis and the antithesis as Kaplan's "civilization" paradigm became mainstream. Nor will I belabor the reasons why "a return to Palestine" turned out to be necessary and a good thing. (I'll cut them some slack, since they were writing before the Dreyfus affair. I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.)

As for "a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron", I think they just didn't get the joke. Of course no one really wants to physically rebuild the Temple and start slaughtering animals in it. But that's not the point. It's a metaphor, which their literalist reading failed to pick up.
6. We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past. Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission, to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who cooperate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.

Great! No argument there. While the Jews have a mission to redeem the world, this mission is not limited to the Jews.
7. We reassert the doctrine of Judaism that the soul is immortal, grounding the belief on the divine nature of human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness.


This sounds nice, but I have no idea what it means. Maybe it made sense in 1885.

We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward.

Oh snap! Not only are these beliefs false, but to add insult to injury, they're "not rooted in Judaism". As I said under #1, (Kaplan and) I think that being rooted in Judaism is neither necessary nor sufficient for a belief to be correct or worthwhile. And the rest of the text of the Pittsburgh Platform seems to suggest that its authors would in general agree, so this zinger may be a bit disingenuous, but it's a point worth making anyway. And I still agree with their rejection of bodily resurrection and of heaven and hell.

Writing about this, I have an uncontrollable urge to sing The Who:
"On top of the sky there's a place where you go if you've done nothing wrong
If you've done nothing wro-o-ong
And down in the ground there's a place where you go if you've been a bad boy
If you've been a bad bo-o-oy
Why can't we have eternal life, and never die?"

And then I realize that this contradicts earlier policy statements in this area: "Hope I die before I get old." Kashya Daltrey a-Daltrey. This also means I should finish this post soon.
8. In full accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic legislation, which strives to regulate the relations between rich and poor, we deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society.

Word. This part is the punch line. Just like the Mishneh Torah (its rationalist predecessor), the Pittsburgh Platform begins with the "God-idea" and ends with the establishment of a just society. The purpose of religion is to get from one to the other. The Pittsburgh Platform and the Mishneh Torah don't agree on much in between, and what I would put in between differs from both. But I respect our differences about the intermediate steps as long as we agree on the end goal -- both the final goal of a world redeemed and the preliminary objective of preparing ourselves to act toward that goal (whether we accomplish that objective through ritual practice or by other means)

(Kaplan questions how much the Reform movement of his day was actually practicing what it preached. In a scathing endnote, he writes "Committees have been appointed and resolutions drawn up bearing on the strife between capital and labor. The Union Prayer-Book ... contains a trenchant statement on the question to be recited once a year. All these measures are, however, about as potent as whistling at a thundering express train. The frequent appeals for cooperation between workers and employers are mere verbiage. 'Cooperation toward what?' it has been asked. Each has his dominant objective: The employer asks for cooperation toward increased production; the worker toward increased wages. Just what, then, is implied in the appeal to cooperate?" Since then, the Reform movement has gotten better about this, though no one should stop where they are.)

In conclusion, let's keep working towards "the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace", even if it's farther away than we thought, and let's do what we need to do to "elevate and sanctify our lives" so that we can accomplish this.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for this; this is terrific.

    Jews are a vehicle for preserving the essence of Judaism; Judaism is not a vehicle for making Jewish babies.

    Bravo; well-said.

    I like your point also about what sanctifies and elevates our lives (and your point that while the Pittsburgh Platform's framers jettisoned some practices in which Jews like you and me find tremendous meaning, their major point -- that we should keep what enlivens and enriches us -- is solid.)

    I think you're right that the PP's framers believed us to be much closer to an ideal world than we really are, but I don't necessarily fault them for that. As you noted, they were operating within a dazzlingly optimistic framework -- and given the choice between believing we're almost there, and despairing that we'll never get there, I'll choose the former over the latter every time.

    As far as sacrificial worship goes -- are you sure nobody actually wants to rebuild the Temple and restore sacrifice to it? *g*

    Anyway. On the whole, this is fabulous, and I really enjoyed reading it.

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  2. Great Post!!! Huzzah Huzzah! Though, I must disagree about the zionism piece. While they may have been over-optimistic about the impending new world order, I'm not sure that their repudiation of settlement of palestine was off base. At least on this issue they were consistent. They supported liberalism and equality, in all realms. It is contemporary reform Jews (and other Jewish liberals) who've got their values crossed. I'm still perplexed by Jews who fight for equal protection for all under American law, yet insist that Israel be maintained as a Jewish state. Whatever their shortsightedness in the ritual realm, at least on this issue, classical reform was consistent.

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  3. a guy once tried "good for you for being datiyah--I'm not dati but I think it's the truth" as a pick-up line on me.

    He was also sleazy AND boring, but that opening was a really bad start.

    CoA-- how are you? summer's going well?

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  4. Fantastic, truly.

    You say:
    If Classical Reform still took itself seriously, then these elements would be axed in favor of practices more in line with "the views and habits of modern civilization". Instead, Classical Reform has become a small-o orthodoxy, maintaining its practices for the sake of tradition.

    I would say the movement is, in fact, applying the ideology to itself. The issue I have, and I think what may be your issue as well - is the speed at which this is happening.

    There are few Classical Reform hold-outs, at least as far as I've seen, and my prediction is that in twenty years, they'll all be gone. We have a segment of the population for whom Classical Reform is all they have ever known, and as such, is what they currently find spiritually moving. These people more than deserve a home in our communities (many of which they've created), and as a whole we should do more to honor these people, whether or not we choose to worship the way that they do.

    Just as much as you and I, with our personal worship preferences, are members of a given community, so is every proverbial alter kakker. We owe it to these people to continue to provide a Jewish home, and we must be patient as these communities change slowly.

    Small organizations such as havurot, especially when formed by a similarly aged group, will always have a much easier time creating and adapting quickly to an emergent paradigm than older, larger groups, especially when there are people who have belonged to said groups for most of their lives. It has been my experience that Jewish communities which I would describe as "forward thinking," including groups which affiliate with the Reform movement, are often slanted heavily toward my age group (Gen-Y, Millenial, whatever).

    You can't blame folks for being in a different stage of identity formation than you and I, but we can worship somewhere else in the mean time.

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  5. Like many committed Conservative Jews, I agree that “ceremonies have value if and only if they inspire us to be better people” but that some —- or, I would say, most —- ritual practices rejected by Classical Reform should be judged as valuable under this criterion.

    My assumption is that all ritual mitzvot can (and should) inspire Jews to become better people, and I consider them obligatory unless confronted with good evidence as to why they fail at this; I also think that having a sense of an obligatory halakhah (that includes ritual mitzvot) can be quite good for inspiring Jews to become better people, and that the Classical Reform focus on autonomy is less good (though it can get us pretty far).

    I do really like platform planks numbers six and eight, though.

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  6. The focus on autonomy didn't actually come in until much later. It first appears in the Centenary Perspective (1976). The Pittsburgh Platform wasn't thinking about autonomy; it expected everyone not to keep kosher, not just people who make that choice (hence my critique of Classical Reform as small-o orthodox).

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  7. Plus ca change.

    No kidding! I'm quite impressed (and a little depressed) at the extent to which Kaplan's critiques of the various streams of Judaism still apply. Only the Reform movement has succeeded in largely overcoming a significant number of the defects that he pointed out. (Maybe that's because, as you note, his critique of the Reform movement had more to do with the practices of his day than with the movement's fundamental ideas.)

    As for "a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron", I think they just didn't get the joke. Of course no one really wants to physically rebuild the Temple and start slaughtering animals in it. But that's not the point. It's a metaphor, which their literalist reading failed to pick up.

    You've made this point a number of times in your blog, and it really grates on me. As far as I can tell, the Tannaim and their successors really did believe that the Temple would be rebuilt and the sacrificial order restored (it had happened once already!), and there were certainly Jews who retained that belief in 1885, as there are today. You can take the restoration of the Temple as a metaphor (I do, to a certain extent), but I don't think it's fair to say that the authors of the PP simply "didn't get the joke."

    I also think that it's time that we Jews got past the apologetics on either side of this issue and made more of an effort to appreciate the value that sacrifice had to our ancestors. I actually like the Conservative approach to references to sacrifice in the liturgy: retaining them, but converting those in the future tense to the past. We should be able to accept ancient modes of worship for what they were and to affirm their continuing relevance without reverting to fundamentalism.

    We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward.

    Is that where all those liberal rabbis got the idea that immortality of the soul isn't a "Jewish belief"? If so, it's a misinterpretation of the PP. In any case, I agree with you that the PP is off the mark on this one. What difference does it make whether or not an idea is "rooted in Judaism"? For that matter, what does "rooted in Judaism" even mean? Every culture both draws from and contributes to its environment. The authors of the PP may have wished to believe that there is an objective reason to embrace monotheism while rejecting the idea of heaven and hell, but the reality is not so clear cut. Choosing a set of beliefs is an inherently subjective enterprise.

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  8. 1. Thanks for coming out of the closet on having "Reform" ideology but praxis that doesn't conform to the current "Reform" orthodoxy. The rest of us are glad that you've opened the door.
    2. If the PP is being overly optimistic about the establishment of a just world order bimheira b'yameinu, aren't they just being pious? I think old-school Reform Jews should be praised for expressing confidence in the coming of the messianic era just like anyone else.
    3. An important question regarding the autonomy issue (and I don't have an answer; I'm posing it as a question) is: Is it possible that specific mitzvot have value for some people in terms of helping them bring justice into the world and be better people and don't have that value for others? If it is true that the mitzvot "work" differently for each of us then perhaps the idea of autonomy has a legitimate place. I do think the concept of obligation is important, too, and I'm not sure how to reconcile those.

    4. Re: the kashya presented by Daltry's lyrics... I am going to suggest an okimpta. When he says, "I hope I die before I get old" what he really means is "If getting old means that I will become intolerant of the younger generation, then I hope I die before I get old." So this statement only applies if Daltry eventually becomes intolerant.

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  9. Very well done. But I'm curious why you only focus your analysis on the the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, especially when you're comparing the values reflected in the Platform versus the ones you personally hold in 2006? How do you justify ignoring the changes that have occurred over the last 120 years, because I think it would be fairly difficult to find a member of the Reform movement today who would closely align himself with such a Platform? Why not also look at the Adoptions and later Platforms that were adopted later throughout the Reform movement's history, especially with regard to Hebrew, mitzvot, and Israel?

    You can find these at http://rj.org/policies.shtml

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  10. It would be a mistake not to give a shout out to the good folks at the American Council for Judaism, who have bravely carried the torch for the Pittsburgh Platform all these years.
    I don't agree what everything about them, but I'm still gonna send in my annual contribution...
    http://www.acjna.org/

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  11. Shpnks:
    I'm familiar with the later Reform platforms, and yes, they reflect my ideology and practice better than the Pittsburgh Platform does. (As I mentioned, in a later post I'll write about how the Reform movement in 2006 doesn't live up to its ideals.) But the point of this post was to defend the Pittsburgh Platform, mostly because no one born after 1950 (myself included) has ever said anything good about it, so I wanted to point out all the parts that I do still agree with, even if I disagree with the most well-known parts.

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  12. General Anna writes:
    If it is true that the mitzvot "work" differently for each of us then perhaps the idea of autonomy has a legitimate place. I do think the concept of obligation is important, too, and I'm not sure how to reconcile those.

    In 21st-century America, on some level, autonomy isn't an ideal but an irrefutable fact. We do have the power to make choices about our religious practices, and no human authority has the power of enforcement. Even if we believe ourselves to be obligated, we still have the choice whether or not to carry out those obligations. Even if a community can enforce its norms, we still have the choice whether or not to be a part of that community.

    Even if we all consider ourselves obligated, there is not universal agreement on the content of this obligation, so some authority has to decide on the interpretation of Torah for the present time. This authority might be a central committee of rabbis, or the local rabbi, or the community voting democratically, or the individual, or a magic 8-ball.

    [Here, there is a spectrum with the Conservative movement at one extreme (there is a centralized body to determine halacha), the Reform movement at the other (the individual can determine halacha for him/herself), and the Orthodox movements in between. I love to point this out to refute the idea that it's always possible to order the movements the same way.]

    So even if you're deferring to an authority, you have autonomy about which authority to accept. It happens all the time in the Orthodox world, when people switch from one flavor of Orthodox to another.

    As for me, I interpret Torah autonomously by default, because there's no living authority out there that I want to defer to.

    The uninformed apathy that is present in the Reform movement should not be confused for its ideal of informed autonomy. Informed autonomy hasn't been implemented yet in the Reform movement, though it's alive and well in the havurah movement.

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  13. To state it another way, the conflict isn't between divine authority and human authority. Of course divine authority wins. But someone has to do their best figure out the practical ramifications of that, since we're not prophets and can't communicate directly with God. So the conflict is between autonomous human authority and heteronomous human authority.

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  14. As for "a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron", I think they just didn't get the joke. Of course no one really wants to physically rebuild the Temple and start slaughtering animals in it. But that's not the point. It's a metaphor, which their literalist reading failed to pick up.

    Actually, my Chabadnik nephew assures me that everyone whom he would consider to be "authentically" Orthodox does anticipate this. I've tried arguing that, in the Messianic age, everyone will be behaving ethically and will be imbued with a higher consciousness, so that animal sacrifice will no longer be necessary. I also brought up Rav Kook, who made essentially the same claim. While he was reluctant to dismiss Rav Kook, he claimed that every other authority with which he is acquainted insists that the temple will be rebuilt, and that animal sacrifice will be reinstated. Apparently, there is a sizeable contingency that believes this, even if it is restricted to the Hasidim and Haredim. Regressive, but there it is.

    Otherwise, I agree with everything. Great post.

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  15. In a later post, I'll write about how the contemporary Reform movement fails to live up to its own ideals

    Would love to see it

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  16. Oh right, I still need to do that. Well, I sort of did it here and here, and had already hit on some of it here. What else is missing?

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  17. This is one of the most beautiful and true-ringing things I've ever read. Totally intellectual, genuine, and faithful without being dogmatic. You have captured the true essence of Judaism--being a good person. Sorry to sound all mushy-gushy, but you've made my day and I absolutely have to get to know you better and read more of your posts.

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