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Liberal Judaism Is Our Future

David E. Powers
Fall 2006

Jews question everything. That is among our greatest strengths. While we enshrine history and heritage, Judaism has resisted efforts of conservative authorities foolishly to enact the past. When great religious bodies tried to impose an ancient view of astronomy upon Galileo — and through him, the world — Judaism was silent and gave no support to the forces of ignorance. When fundamentalists put a man on trial in Tennessee for teaching truth and urging students to use their minds, Judaism took no brief with the conservative religionists who sought to uphold mythological religious doctrines as if they were science. Perhaps this is why we find great Jewish scientists making profound discoveries about medicine and physics — the art of healing and the art of understanding the nature of the world — but we find, as best as I can discover, zero conservative fundamentalists among the intellectual leaders and great minds of history.  
One might think that backward thinkers would get the idea and abandon the barricades against truth and progress. Even if we look to the religious Nobel laureates of the world, we find Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, two minds who taught tolerant and progressive religion. Although I have profound quarrels with the behavior of Mother Theresa, she never urged that science and knowledge remain in dark ages. Gandhi adored his tradition, but he abhorred those who grew intolerant because of it.  
Expanding Vision  
Religion does not have to be conservative. In fact, when religion is at its best, it is not conservative. Rather it urges people to expand their visions, to see the world more broadly, more generously, mere tolerantly. It might even be fair to say that conservative religion is an oxymoron, an internal contradiction that plays havoc with what religion should do. Religion needs to make us feel in place in the world, to understand our being in terms of a greater plan, to grow and to invent and to discover. Conservative religion would urge us to find answers in the past, answers that have long been discredited for giving us slavery, Crusades, a Holocaust, oppression of women, and the laughable notion that the earth is the center of the universe. Conservative religion enshrines dark ages of ignorance and bigotry. Real religion looks forward to find answers in the darkness where light is yet to shine, where new insights will emerge, where new hopes can brighten dark days.  
Embrace Our Future  
Where are we? Where do we stand? Jews have always respected our history but longed to embrace our future. Historically Judaism has accommodated every modernity we have encountered and found ways to march forward. There are rare pockets of Jewish resistance to modernity, but I suggest that they are aberrations that will preserve neither our people nor our faith. Our faith deserves preservation, and it is by the hands of modern Judaism that we will write the Torah and the commentaries of the future.

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