Eliezer Finkelman
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A love letter to Jews who aren’t me

The challenge: Find something good to say about the Jewish movements he doesn't agree with

This is a love letter to other movements.

I take part in a Facebook group in which all sorts of Jews discuss topics in Judaism. The discussions generally stay respectful and fair, but occasionally respondents manage to play denominational warrior and disparage their rival movements in Judaism. One of the moderators of this group reacted by inviting us to write up what we admire about the other movements.

This seems like an excellent invitation to me.

The invitation makes a fine corollary to Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s quip, “It does not matter what movement of Judaism you are affiliated with…as long as you are ashamed of it.”

So here comes my love letter to other movements of Judaism, the ones I do not agree with. I shall try to keep this essay free of irony and snark; please read it as sincere.

I have enormous admiration for those rabbis, many of them Reform rabbis, who took courageous action during the struggle for civil rights.

Secularization has not been a disaster. We have advanced as we take in the reality of other human beings, and as we learn to appreciate wisdom from a variety of cultures. Reform Jewish thinkers have faced the challenge of this pluralistic world with courage.

Scientific knowledge expands exponentially in the modern period; facing science honestly as a source of knowledge often challenges our received beliefs. I admire Reform Jewish thinkers who have not shied away from those challenges.

Conservative Judaism has faced the challenge of egalitarianism with daring. Slowly, as the name of the movement suggests, and for many, not eagerly, the movement has brought egalitarianism to its logical conclusion.

I admire those thinkers, many of them Conservative Jews, who have the courage to read the sacred texts of Judaism without the filtering questions, “Am I allowed to believe that?”

I admire those historians, many of them Conservative Jews, who read the texts of halakhah carefully, trying to figure out what the author of the text actually meant, rather than looking for support for preconceived ideas.

Haredi Jews make a commitment to the Jewish future that no other Jewish movement can match. They have Jewish children. They educate those children to stay Jewish. If the demographers see a hopeful future for Jewishness, haredi Jews deserve much of the credit.

Jewish renewal figures try to approach prayer with an enthusiasm that I admire.

Devotees of the Musar Movement take the goal of personal growth with utmost gravity.

The movement for Humanistic Judaism encourages Jews to continue their Jewish journey even after they have encountered seemingly convincing challenges to theistic formulations.

I cannot help getting a charge out of the accomplishments of Jewish scientists — even those who might recognize no connection to Jewish practice, belief or culture.

In this essay, I have not praised the beliefs and practices of Jews who generally agree with me. I occupy my own place in the spectrum of Jewish practice and belief. I generally approve of, and agree with, my own beliefs. There exist, however, no reasons to suppose that I have arrived at correct answers any more accurately than anyone else. So I ought to be wise enough to admire the rich fruits of other beliefs and practices.

Louis Finkelman teaches Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. He serves as half of the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.



About the Author
Louis Finkelman currently resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Until recently, he taught Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, and served as half the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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