Thursday, October 22, 2009

Framing in the Forward

This week's issue of the Forward includes an oped on framing and liberal Judaism:

For liberal Judaism to thrive, it must develop frames to see itself as authentic on its own terms. Orthodox Jews aren’t doing anything wrong by viewing Judaism through Orthodox frames, but we as liberal Jews are missing an opportunity by failing to see Judaism through our own liberal Jewish values.

This framing problem manifests itself in subtle ways. When we refer to Jews of other denominations as “more religious” or “more observant,” we undermine our own standards of religious observance, and judge ourselves on a scale external to our own Judaism.

If you got to Mah Rabu via the Forward, welcome! Here are some other posts that address framing issues.


  1. A counter framing issue is the use of the word "egalitarian." In contemporary liberal Jewish discourse it means "equal gender roles in the context of prayer." Of course the word has a much broader meaning in the world of philosophy, politics, or political philosophy. I would have imagined an "egalitarian yeshiva" to give stipends equal in size to the salleries of the faculty and to be open to gentile faculty and students...

  2. I think your point is valid but you let yourself off too easily.

    There are plenty of sociological/communal positions, that have nothing to do with Reform ideology, in which there is an Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Unaffiliated spectrum with Orthodox Jews being "most" and unaffiliated Jews being least, and Liberal Jews being in the middle.

    Average number of years of Jewish education, attendance at public prayer, likelihood to light Shabbat candles (at any time of day), likelihood and frequency of visits to Israel, knowledge of Hebrew etc.

    There's nothing in Reform ideology that would mitigate against saying brakhot before eating (lots of other religions have similar rituals). If Orthodox Jews say brakhot frequently and Reform Jews infrequently, and Conservative Jews do it in between, then there is a variety of religiousity, common to many religions across the globe, in which Orthodox Jews are more religious than Reform Jews. I think there are many such examples (although there are probably counter examples as well).

  3. DW:

    Don't forget about name length! Reform Jews have longer last names, on average. So obviously there is a spectrum of literacy, with Reform Jews at one end and Malcolm X at the other end, with Orthodox Jews somewhere in the middle.

  4. DW-
    I agree that it's important to distinguish between issues on which the Jewish streams hold different positions, on the one hand, and issues on which the streams agree in principle but differ in practice, on the other.

    However, statistical averages regarding these issues are only useful if you're a sociologist, an actuary, or a gambler. Even if more Orthodox Jews than Reform Jews do X, that doesn't mean one can assume that any given Reform Jew doesn't do X, or that any given Orthodox Jew does. (Likewise, white Americans have higher average incomes than African-Americans, but the phrase "all levels of income from white to African-American and everything in between" wouldn't go over so well, and with good reason.)

    Furthermore, even the averages don't always follow the stereotypes. I've heard that a greater percentage of Reconstructionist-identified Jews respond on a survey that they keep kosher than Conservative-identified Jews. (Which makes total sense if you think about it for a minute...)

  5. I loved your article and your blog. I am seriously thinking of having a study group on your pluralism series.

    It has been very useful in framing discussions for me as a work on issues at my daughter's pluralistic ( actually and not in name only) day school.

    Off topic but I am not posting twice.

    Also about 13 years ago we used a very similar kiddushin - we never wrote it up.

    Nice to see others who care about the texts/halchot in detail and real egalitarianism.


  6. Most liberal Jews I know couldn't care less about Judaism. If you look into the Torah, you see how illiberal is Judaism. Gosh, we have to execute fellow Jews for collecting wood for fire on Sabbath.

  7. If you disregard the Torah, why do you even care that they're fellow Jews? Because they have last names that sound like yours?

  8. I wisecrack I occasionally use (though not often in public) is "I can't daven in Orthodox minyans; it makes me feel like a bad Jew. I mean, not by comparison; by association."

    Word verification: "morialsi". That's exactly why I don't daven in Orthodox minyans.

  9. Another subtle and somewhat "unconscious" form of this framing happens when we recite the names of the various Jewish "flavors" in a particular sequence other than alphabetical. There is no "spectrum" the different movements stress different aspects of what it means to be Jewish.