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Remembering the Vision of American Judaism’s Original Reformers

Allan C. Brownfeld
Summer 1999

Reform Jews across the United States are now engaged in a discussion of the new guiding principles adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in May 1999.  

The statement of principles encourages observance of traditional rituals like wearing skullcaps and keeping kosher and goes so far as to encourage Reform Jews to "make aliyah," or emigrate permanently to Israel.  

The Washington Post (May 26, 1999) summed up the new declaration as an "historic change in the movement’s principles...redefining it in more traditional religious terms and reversing the direction of what has long been the most progressive and popular wing of American Judaism." The original reformers, the Post declared, "outlined a way for Jews to blend into modern American life" while "the new charter erases this mandate."  

To understand how far Reform Judaism has gone in rejecting the tradition of its founders it is important to reflect on the philosophy enunciated by the original reformers of the 19th century, both in Europe and in the United States.  

First Temple  

The first reform temple was founded in Hamburg in 1818. The number of prayers recited in German was increased and all prayers referring to the coming of the Messiah or the Return to Zion were omitted. By the 1830s, a new generation of university-educated rabbis arose in Germany and were increasingly committed to the reformation of Judaism. The most important of these was Abraham Geiger (1810-74). In A History Of The Jewish People, H.H. Ben-Asson writes that, "His aim was to find general principles for differentiation between fundamental and marginal principles in Judaism. He therefore called for a scientific approach to the general question of Jewish tradition. In his view, the essence of Judaism was the religious-universal element. All the remainder was the fruit of historical conditions...Those injunctions and customs that were not an essential part of Mosaic Law, but the product of later periods, and, therefore, unsuited to modern society, should be abolished."  

A major reformation of Judaism began to occur in the U.S. as well in the early years of the 19th century, Reform Jews in America rejected Jewish nationalism long before the appearance of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat in 1896. As early as 1841, at the dedication ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav Posnanski declared that "this country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this house of God our Temple."  

The most important advocate and organizer of the American Reform movement was Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900). Wise was born in a small Orthodox community in Bohemia and studied for certification as a rabbi both in traditional rabbinic schools and at the universities of Prague and Vienna. He came to the U.S. in 1846 and accepted the spiritual leadership of the Orthodox Congregation Beth-El in Albany, New York, where he began almost immediately to institute reforms which led in 1850 to a division of the congregation.  

Sydney Ahlstrom, in A Religious History of the American People, writes: "A major cause of the schism was a controversy with a Presbyterian in which Wise won the approval of Theodore Parker, the Transcendentalist, but not his own congregation. In fact, like Parker, Wise was becoming a free religionist, interested chiefly in the ‘permanent’ element’s of religion, not in its ‘transient’ historical forms...Eight days spent in the national capital in 1850 completed his conversion, and, as his biographer observes, Washington became his Jerusalem."  

Away From Traditional Practice  

Later, Wise Became rabbi of Congregation Bene Yeshurun in Cincinnati, where he founded the English and German weekly papers, The American Israelite and Die Deborah. Three years later, having led his congregation almost entirely away from traditional practices, he published his revolutionary Minhag America (American Ritual). In 1873 he founded the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a body which by 1880 was described by Nathan Glazer in American Judaism, as "closer to being the dominant organization in American Jewish life than any other organization has ever been." Wise was the leading force behind the founding of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875, and he served as its president until his death.  

Reform Judaism was designed to eliminate from Judaism those secondary aspects which promoted a separatistic concept of "Jewish peoplehood." It emphasized the universal ethical and spiritual principles of the Prophetic tradition and sought to end the notion of Jews as "a people apart."  

Isaac Mayer Wise and his contemporaries were, in many ways, similar to those who led the Reformation in Christianity. They recognized very clearly the conflict between the Prophetic and universal interpretation of Judaism and the desire of many Jews to maintain the separatistic and nationalist content in the lives of Jews and to use Judaism to serve that narrow purpose.  

Wise believed that, "The idea of the Jews returning to Palestine is no part of our creed. We, rather, believe it is God’s will that the habitable world become one holy land, the human family one chosen people." Judaism, he declared, was a world-wide religion: "The Jew’s nationality is not endemic; it is not conditioned by space, land or water. The Jew’s nationality...is not in his blood...It is all intellectual and moral, without any reference to soil, climate, or any other circumstance. The Jewish nationality...has been made portable."  

Theological Approach  

It is important to understand the theological approach which led the 19th century reformers to the conclusions they reached about the universal Prophetic Judaism in which they believed.  

The reformers took their inspiration from the Prophets who proclaimed that God is not only the God of this people, Israel, but is a universal God—the one God of mankind and that the values they proclaimed were applicable to all people.  

The sacred myth that holds the Jews to be God‘s chosen people has been central to Judaism from the beginning of ethical monotheism. According to this myth, God chose the Jews as His special people. He made a covenant with them whereby they were to worship Him and Him only. They were to obey His commandments, and in return, God would protect His Chosen People.  

The idea of God evolved from that of a tribal deity to that of universal God. The Book of Deuteronomy features a tribal deity, who is the God of the Exodus, and of the wilderness, depicted in a series of speeches given by Moses in Moab that God has a special purpose in mind for His people: "But the Lord has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own possession, as at this day." (Deut. 4:20).  

God’s Partiality  

God’s partiality to His people is a constant refrain. The tribal warrior God will stand by the Chosen People in their holy wars against other nations: "You shall not be in dread of them; for the Lord God is in the midst of you, a great and terrible God. The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. But the Lord your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. And he will ‘give their kings into your hands, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven; not a man shall be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them." (Deut. 6:21-24).  

Ferocity, not tolerance, in His name will be rewarded: "And if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth." (Deut. 28:7).  

Chosenness in Deuteronomy causes the national deity to exalt the superiority of His followers. Moses’ God commands the Chosen People to celebrate the superiority of Israel and exclude all other nations from God’s love: "When the Lord your God brings you into the Land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them; and show no mercy to them...But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Ahserin and burn their graven images with fire." (Deut. 7:1).  

By the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E., a spiritual revival which stressed compassion over ritual began to take place. The era of the Prophets slowly began.  

Mission Of Justice  

Beginning with Amos in 760 B.C.E., Hosea in 750 B.C.E. and Isaiah in 740 B.C.E., chosenness began to be associated with God’s mission of justice and righteousness. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." (Amos 3:1-2). "I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take thou away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream." (Amos 5:21-24).  

Isaiah begins the description of the vision which led him to prophesy by depicting a world permeated by God’s divinity: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of glory." (Isaiah 6:3).  

It is precisely this sense of holiness of which the people were deprived. During the seventh century Temple rituals all but excluded any but the priests from any role but that of observer in the sacrifices and worship. The prophets argued that everyone is allowed to worship God directly without mediation of the priests. This concept of holiness is important for the development of Judaism away from an attachment to a particular place as God’s domicile. Isaiah depicts a universal God who has chosen the Israelites to enact this concept of holiness, to carry out the mission of justice and mercy to others.  

With the help of the Prophets, the Chosen People realized that their obligation might be weightier than their privileges. This change in the concept of chosenness coincided with the transformation of the tribal God of the armies to a universal, transcendent God who symbolizes compassion. Amos was the first of the prophets to emphasize social justice and compassion. He informed the Chosen People that the covenant represented responsibility, not privileges "Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph." (Amos 5:15).  

Essence Of Judaism  

It was the Babylonian experience that distilled the essence of Judaism. The belief in God had become strong enough to survive the exile. In fact, the Israelites’ discovery that they could live in any land and still worship God marked the birth of their sense of being Jews. The loss of Jerusalem marked the end of the national tribal God as well as the temple cult. The God who loves all people desires not temple sacrifice, but compassion and social justice. The Babylonian captivity that started out as a catastrophe ended with a new understanding of Judaism and the acceptance of the idea of a universal God as well as the democratic institution of the synagogue. The exiles found that by worshipping the one God and practicing His law among their fellow men they could be good Jews in any land in the world.  

The prophets taught that the one God of the Israelites was the God of all the world. "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:6). And the Jews were to bring this message to all the peoples of the world: "Behold you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you." (Isaiah 55:1-15).  

The Aleinu prayer reveals the special vocation of the Chosen People. It begins by thanking God for choosing the people of Israel for this special destiny, and ends with the hope that one day all people will recognize the supremacy of the one, true God. According to the prophets, the Jews were to do more than "hope" that others might recognize God’s supremacy. They had a mission. They were to become God’s servants and spread His truth about justice and mercy. This is a divine election that goes far beyond narrow tribal theology: "Listen to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go forth from me, and of my justice for a light to the nations." (Isaiah 51:4).  

Light To The World  

The new mission of the Israelites whereby they would be a light to the rest of the world was the successor to the old view that Israel was chosen to know God’s truth. In the old view, Israel was in the privileged position of having access to the light of pure religion. Second Isaiah proclaims that the Jews were chosen to bring God’s truth to other peoples.  

Abraham Heschel, in his book The Prophets, presents a description of the prophets that is very similar to that of the Israelites as a light to the nations. While the prophets bring God’s message to the Israelites, the Israelites bring that same message to other peoples: "The ultimate purpose of a prophet is not to be inspired but to inspire people; not to be filled with a passion, but to impassion the people with understanding for God."  

Early Reform thinkers introduced the "mission people" concept, whereby morality becomes the Jewish mission, while ethnic and ritual dimensions of Judaism were de-emphasized. These ideas are simply a revival of the teachings of the prophets. Second Isaiah, who preached about the universal God and de-emphasized temple worship, spoke of the Israelites as God’s specially selected treasure. Selected for what? "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1).  

The prophetic ideal is a revolutionary advance over the days when victory in a war or defeat was considered a sign of greater or less potency in the gods of one of the peoples involved. To practice Judaism, the prophets argued, one needed no priestly caste with specialized knowledge of how to reach God. One needed only "to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly." One needed only a sense of the eternal values and of the sanctity and holiness of these values. This is universalism and ethical monotheism, which are the unique contributions made by Judaism to human thought, and the basis upon which the reformers sought to frame their faith.  

Ethical Laws  

Reform Judaism stripped Judaism of those characteristics which served the idea of a separate "Jewish peoplehood." What remained, and what they deeply believed in, was the Judaism of the prophets, a religion of universal and moral ethical laws from a God who was the God of all men, not simply of the Jews.  

Isaac Mayer Wise criticized the idea of Jewish nationalism and of an ethno-centric religion in these terms: "The false Messiahs who appeared from time to time among the dispersed and suffering remnants of Judah, had no religious purpose in view; all of them were political demagogues or patriotic fantasists with as much religious zeal as was deemed requisite to agitate the Jewish mind and to win the goodwill of the masses and its leaders for the proposed political end, which was the restoration of Jewish nationality and the conquest of Palestine. All of them failed miserably and left behind them plenty of misery for their thoughtless followers. And yet with that warning of history before them, the party of men called Zionists and the admirers of Dr. Herzl‘s Judenstaat propose to do the same thing over in our days...We cannot afford to let it go out into the world that we are in sympathy with a cause which we know will ultimately result in harm to the Jews even in this country...We denounce the whole question of a Jewish state as foreign to the spirit of the modern Jew of this land, who looks upon America as his Palestine, and whose interests are centered here."  

In 1885, Reform rabbis meeting in Pittsburgh adopted a set of principles which came to be known as the Pittsburgh Platform. The Reform program rejected Jewish nationalism. Its fifth paragraph declared explicitly: "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community." The platform emphasized that Reform Judaism denied Jewish peoplehood and nationalism of any variety. It stated: "We recognize in the era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching 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."  

No Longer A Nation  

Professor Thomas Kolsky notes that, "The Pittsburgh Platform, the classical expression of American Reform Judaism, represented the fundamental beliefs of most American Jews at the time of its formulation. Late in the 19th century, American Jews no longer considered themselves a nation or a nationality. Comfortable in the United States, they felt integrated into America and defined themselves as a religious community. The theology of Reform Judaism was a religion with a universal message. Their faith was founded on optimism...and on an almost religious love of America as the promised land. Confident about their future in the United States, they objected to efforts to revive Jewish nationalism."  

Isaac Mayer Wise believed that Zionism was merely a reaction to the persecution of the Jews in Eastern Europe and was certain that the progress of political emancipation would demonstrate its folly. He believed deeply in the universal mission of the Jews to be a "light unto the nations," to disseminate the message of ethical monotheism and human brotherhood among the nations, not to be "a people apart." He dismissed Zionism as a mere aberration.  

In 1898, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution declared: "Zion was a precious possession of the past...as such it is a holy memory, but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion."  

The issuance of the Balfour Declaration convinced some Reform rabbis of the necessity to take strong measures to fight Zionism. Rabbi Louis Grossman, the president of the CCAR, reacted to this document by reaffirming the standard Reform viewpoint and by reiterating Reform’s opposition to the "idea that Palestine should be considered the homeland of the Jews," because "Jews in the U.S. were an integral part of the American Nation."  

Universalism Modified  

Slowly Reform Judaism began to change, to modify its universalism and move in the direction of accommodating both traditional practices and Jewish nationalism. In 1947, Nelson Glueck succeeded Julian Morgenstern, a committed advocate of the Classical Reform opposition to nationalism, as president of Hebrew Union College. In A History Of The Jews In America, Howard N. Sachar notes that, "He moved with alacrity in opening branches of the College in Los Angeles and Jerusalem. At his initiative, all rabbinical candidates were obliged to spend a year at the Jerusalem branch. The shift in emphasis reflected the changing sociology of the Reformers, as of American Jewry altogether. Abandoning its early fixation with prophetic universalism, Reform from the late 1930s on reflected the impact of the European catastrophe and Zionism." They tended, he declared, "increasingly to envisage Judaism in its older, ethnic context."  

In the years since the end of World War II, Reform Judaism moved steadily away from its own tradition of universalism and back in the direction of an ethno-centric religion which often appears to worship the "Jewish people" or the state of Israel, rather than God, the very approach to religion which the original reformers found so antithetical to the genuine prophetic vision of Judaism.  

Writing in Issues (Winter/Spring 1990), Professor Klaus Herrmann lamented these changes: "When the Independence Day of the State of Israel becomes a holy day in the Reform-Jewish calendar; when Reform-Jewish education is essentially little more than the propagandizing of our children and congregations, brainwashing them to regard the State of Israel as their genuine ‘homeland’; when our future rabbis are subjected to compulsory indoctrination at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem" the very essence of Reform Judaism has been destroyed. Indeed, all of the references to the "Return of the Jews to Zion" which were eliminated from the original Reform prayerbooks have now been re-introduced.  

Reform Judaism And Zionism  

In Miami, in 1997, the CCAR adopted a new platform calling clearly for the intertwining of Reform Judaism and Zionism. It declared that Jews constitute a people with "innumerable ties" to the State of Israel, and that Israel "serves uniquely as the spiritual focal point of World Jewry." Now, in the May 1999 declaration of principles, American Reform Jews are actually encouraged to abandon the United States and move permanently to Israel.  

Recent trends in Reform Judaism indicate a move away not only from the universal to the ethnocentric view of Judaism but also a move away from the various changes the reformers made in traditional Jewish practice, changes which they hoped would make Judaism relevant to the modern world and, in addition, would enable Jews to remain committed to their religious faith as well as to their lives in the larger society.  

The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 declared that, "The Mosaic legislation was binding in ancient times in Palestine, but today its moral laws alone are binding. Ceremonies that elevate our lives are to be accepted, but others can be rejected. The Mosaic and Rabbinical laws which regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress, originated in past ages and with ideas foreign to our present life. Their observance in our day is apt to obstruct rather than to elevate the modern spirit."  

Classical Reform Judaism was genuinely an indigenous creation of the combination of American democracy and Jewish idealism. It understood that the great contribution of Jews and Judaism to the world is something far different from the narrow goals sought by those who would set Jews apart, either in a state of their own or in narrow religious ghettos of the spirit, which would make of Jews what Herzl called a "normal" people. To become "normal" is, of course, to abandon the unique Jewish role set forth by the prophets and by the architects of Reform Judaism.  

Jewish Contribution  

In his best-selling book, The Gifts Of The Jews, Thomas Cahill understands far better than many Jewish commentators exactly what the Jewish contribution to the world has been. He writes: "Because of their unique belief—monotheism—the Jews were able to give us the Great Whole, a unified universe that makes sense and that, because of its evident superiority as a worldview, completely overwhelms the warring and contradictory phenomenon of polytheism. They gave us the Conscience of the West, and the belief that this God who is One is not the God of outward show but the still, small voice of conscience, the God of compassion, the God who ‘will be there,’ the God who cares about each of his creatures, especially the human beings he created ‘in his own image,’ and that he insists we do the same. Even the gradual universalization of Jewish ideas, hinted at in the story of Ruth...was foreseen by Joel, the late prophet who probably rose after the return from Babylon: ‘And it shall come to pass afterward that I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people see visions. Even on slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my spirit."’  

Cahill declares that, "The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside—our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact—adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history, future, progress, spirit, faith, hope and justice—are gifts of the Jews."  

The Jewish tradition, as the reformers understood, was not static. Much of the Bible reflected an ancient worldview of tribal gods which were not the unique Jewish contribution to religion, but a holdover from the past. Thus, in the Book of Joshua, God commanded the Israelites to put all Canaanites, even children, to the sword. In the Psalms the poet regularly urges God to effect the brutal destruction of the poet‘s enemies. This is hardly the god of the Prophets.  

Evolving Consciousness  

"The story the Hebrew Bible has to tell," notes Thomas Cahill, "is the story of evolving consciousness, a consciousness that went through many stages of development and that, like all living things, sometimes grew slowly and at other times in great spurts. We can, however, believe that the experience on which the story is based is inspired—that the evolution of Jewish consciousness, taking place as it did over so many centuries, was animated and kept warm by the breath of God...But however miraculous Jewish survival may be, the greater miracle is surely that the Jews developed a whole new way of experiencing reality, the only alternative to all ancient worldviews and all ancient religions. If one is ever to find the spirit of God in human affairs, one must find it here...Humanity’s most extravagant dreams are articulated by the Jewish prophets. In Isaiah’s vision, true faith is no longer confined to one nation but ‘all the nations’ stream to the House of YHWH ‘that he may teach us his ways’ and that we may learn to ‘beat our swords into plowshares.’ All who share this outrageous dream of universal brotherhood, peace and justice, who dream the dreams and see the visions of the great prophets, must bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that without God there is no justice."  

In response to the recent steps within Reform Judaism to move back in the direction of Orthodoxy and an ethno-centric religion, there is some indication of a rebellion among Reform Jews who continue to adhere to the vision of the original reformers.  

Discussing the original draft of the new statement of Reform principles, Rabbi Robert N. Seltzer, professor of Jewish history at Hunter College of the City University of New York, wrote in Reform Judaism that it "fails to convey the distinctive ongoing contribution of Reform to modern Judaism, a sifting through the tradition, choosing practices that are consistent with the canons of rational thought or the best of modern knowledge and the hard-won place of Jews and Judaism at the center of modern Western society."  

Platform Not Outdated  

Rabbi Seltzer declared that the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform "is not outdated. In the modern spirit of tolerance, it acknowledges the legitimacy of all religions and especially the ‘providential mission’ of Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish philosophical spirit, it insists on the purity of the Jewish ‘God-idea’ and the progressive nature of a Judaism ‘ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of Judaism.’"  

Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, have welcomed Reform’s willingness to turn its back on its own traditions. President Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University, for example, said of the changes in the Reform movement that, "They have come a long way and that journey is to be applauded."  

The spiritual head of the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, also praised the new Reform platform. In the Aguda magazine, The Jewish Observer, he writes that the new Reform principles represent an "historic" beginning, a "new stirring in the hearts of Jews, and part of a "quest for truth and the search for meaningful Jewishness." The Forward (July 30, 1999), notes that, "The Perlow statement is important because Agudath Israel and the Reform movement have been at loggerheads for almost 20 years on a variety of issues, from the Reform movement‘s adoption of patrilineal descent to its drive for religious pluralism in Israel." By adopting its new principles, Perlow declared, "Certainly Reform is publicly admitting its failures."  

Turmoil In Religion  

In this century there has been much turmoil in a variety of religious communities. Roman Catholics abandoned the Latin Mass in an effort to bring religion closer to the people, and the Vatican has apologized for various forms of persecution engaged in by the church in previous eras. Many Protestant churches have abandoned their male-only clergy and welcomed women to the priestly function. Churches of all denominations have attempted to turn their backs on the willingness of their groups, in the past, to embrace slavery, or segregation, or anti-semitism. These efforts are, in large measure, attempts to reconcile the principles of faith with man’s continuing experience in a complex and ever-changing world. Reform Judaism may be unique in that its changes represent a return to the very ideas and practices the original reformers rejected so vehemently. Implicitly, it is a rejection of America itself, since it urges Reform Jews to abandon their country and emigrate to Israel, a country in which Reform Judaism is scorned and in which Reform rabbis cannot perform conversions, marriages or funerals. It is a retrogression from an expansive universal faith in God who is the God of all men, of every race and nation, to a tribal God, one to whom primitive man looked to help him conquer his enemies and to bestow power and prosperity to his particular group.  

Acceptance of the new principles by the CCAR in a vote of 324-68 does not end the debate. Rabbis are now expected to organize meetings and study sessions to translate them into concrete terms. Members of the clergy and congregants will be invited to write commentaries, and it is from these that the meaning of the principles will take shape.  

Which Path To Take  

At the dawn of the 21st century, American Reform Jews must decide which path to take. Do they want to advance in the spirit of the original reformers who had faith in America’s free and open society and proclaimed an expansive religious faith drawn from the prophetic vision of a moral and ethical world for all men and women, whatever their individual identities might be. Or, on the other hand, do they want Reform Judaism to move back to a more narrow, ethnocentric religion which abandons the changes which characterized the very essence of the Reform enterprise?  

Since we do, indeed, live in a free society, Reform Judaism in the 21st century will be what its adherents wish it to be. A real choice should be made. If it is not, the current drift from Reform’s very essence will simply drive away those who maintain their belief that Reform Judaism was something new, a break with the past, a vision of God and man extracting the genuine uniqueness and essence of the Jewish tradition, a vision of God and man drawn from the hopes and dreams of the prophets. Perhaps what will emerge is an effort to re-reform Reform Judaism so that this earlier vision will not die.  

Only time will tell us whether classical Reform Judaism, committed to one universal God and rejecting ethnocentrisin and separation for Judaism’s mission as a light to the nations, will survive into the 21st century. If it does not, men and women of all faiths who believe in a God large enough to encompass all of mankind with a vision of a moral and purposeful world will be the losers.

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