We can understand Progressive Judaism as one expression of liberal theology that recognizes reformism as an existential pact. We ought to revert the idea that reformism is not invalidating previous doctrines, but creatively re-inventing our covenant in the context of our time and space.
Looking back 250 years ago, Orthodoxy flourished in Medieval Jewry in the context of having to choose between integration or self-enforced segregation. It is interesting how Reform Judaism was already very much alive and active before Orthodoxy, although the term “reform” was not yet coined.
A great example that supports this thesis is the history of Hasidism, which was an originally-rejected, radical reformist division that inspired its own opposition movement (mitnagdim). Today, Hasidism appears to be a warm and welcoming division within Orthodoxy that incorporates technological innovations and excellent marketing strategies that appeal to their potential newcomers. Despite an Orthodox disguise, their fundamental core system is based on the Reform Jews themselves initiated back in 1700.
We ought to overcome terminologies in order to preserve our Jewish identity, avoiding the danger of being consumed by threatening fundamentalistic tendencies which blind us from seeing the essential and universal core of our faith. The discrepancies within the Jewish community should be celebrated and embraced with love and respect. Differentiation is what makes our uniqueness grow stronger.
Based on these premises, we, Progressive (and Reform) Jews will neither define nor explain ourselves against contemporary Orthodoxy. We will assume that Orthodoxy was created as a reactionary movement, which now denies its defiant nature and only harvests the benefits of such. The Reform Jewish movement is today a global network that vows to respect Jewish biodiversity in a positive and creative way, celebrating the challenge of unifying local identities while enhancing their uniqueness.
The ongoing pandemic and the upcoming festivity of Shavuot inspire us to embrace the challenges and opportunities that are unfolding to receive and become Torah in this newly-transformed world.
It was proposed by 20th century philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, that the Jewish people should love the Torah more than they love G-d. This almost blasphemous statement defies us to gather in deep reflection when we complete the Omer, the ritual of counting each day of the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot.
Counting days has become a familiar practice these days. Beyond the mitzvah of the Omer, the world is now shaped and defined by how long lockdown policies will last. We are all forced to wait, introspect, and count each day in this new reality which has caused all sorts of challenges for our families and communities.
It has never been more relevant to look after our families, protect the bereaved, feed the hungry, and cultivate faith and strength in our covenant with Jewish tradition and State of Israel. Like Noah had to quarantine before the flood was over, Moses also had to observe a quarantine in Shavuot in order for him to ascend Mount Sinai and be gifted with the Torah.
We are all Moses. The potential for ascension is within each of us. Whether we call it self-isolation or social distancing, we should embrace the possibility of growing a stronger and deeper bond with our Jewish values and to cherish the transformative quality that introspection can give us, in order to benefit our community and extended family.
Liberal Judaism is not expecting you to believe in a doctrine; We understand that our faith goes beyond theology. We ask that you get closer to your own Mount Sinai, that you strengthen a pact with your own roots and with Judaism as you understand it and that gives meaning to your soul. This is your story to write and will become the legacy for your children.
We understand Progressive Judaism as a spiritual spectrum where religious practice is an individual and personal learning experience that both shapes and is shaped by a community. We invite you, this Shavuot holiday, to define your very own spiritual pact with yourself. We hope that you can transform this isolating time into a re-birth of your Jewish identity, wherever you are, for us to say in our togetherness “Naase Ve Nishma”, we will do and we will listen. Because Torah is in every of our actions and our children listen to us not with their ears but with their eyes.
As the Shavuot story goes, we were gifted with the Torah once. But it is every year that we renew our covenant with G-d and our faith. The Torah was gifted to each and every one us. Study it, cherish it, practice it, and love it wholeheartedly. Because Torah is life, and you are Torah.
Chag Shavuot Sameach