BZ, otherwise known in the meatspace as Ben Dreyfus, is known in the jblogosphere for comprehensive posts. But his latest is nearly all-encompassing. It is the longest blog post I’ve ever read. If you’re interested in Reform Judaism, you had better get yourself over to Mah Rabu and read this post. It is important.
Everything after this will refer liberally to the BZ’s post and may be incomprehensible without having read the post.
I think that BZ is hitting the nail on the head with his categories of Reform observance. The categories he outlines are Halachah, Agadah, and Minhag. He notes that while Reform Jews (whether they call themselves Reform or not, he says, noting his NHC buddies as examples) may be Reform Jews in any one or two of those senses, it would be hard to be Reform Jew in all three senses. I’d like to try and define myself using these three terms.
I think we can agree that I’m a halachic Reform Jew. We need look no further than my frequent writings about tzitzit for examples of that fact. I am an agadic Reform Jew in my support of a broadly egalitarian form of Reform Judaism and in my belief in the importance of tikun olam (the social action version of tikun olam). But am I a Reform Jew in the sense of minhag? I compose frequent tirades against structural elements of Reform liturgy and I have come to prefer a liturgical aesthetic more along the lines of Carlebach and (off-beat) chazanut than along the lines of Debbi Friedman and either organs or guitars. I think BZ has me pegged when he discusses a Reform Jew who is Reform only in halachah and agadah, but not in minhag. The anomaly here is that BZ is talking mainly about people who didn’t grow up Reform in this category, whereas I grew up Reform, but have come to find our minhag distasteful and ill-conceived.
So this is an internal Reform-vs.-Reform tension, which comes down to Reform Jewry as ethnicity vs. Reform Judaism as ideology.
And it’s not the stereotypical “tradition and change” dialectic; one example of a practice based on minhag might be praying in English, while a practice based on informed autonomy might be praying in Hebrew.
Yet in this attempt to exemplify what the Reform ethnicity and the Reform ideology is, BZ has already run into some trouble. The minhag at the Reform synagogue I grew up at included much more Hebrew than the norm in the movment. Meanwhile, one could use informed autonomy to decide to pray in English.
But, BZ, I’m sorry to say that you lose me when you get to the Reform Jewish narrative stuff. I can kind of sense what you’re grasping at, but it’s gonna take another post to explain what you’re after there. That part really had me struggling.
I’m sure I’ll think of more to say about this post soon enough. A real game-changer of a post, I think. Good job, Ben. And thanks for the link. And the challenge. SER and MT compared? I’m more than a little gung-ho for that idea now.