…what do I mean?
David, could you elaborate a little more regarding the Reform intellectual community. What is it exactly and how does it stand apart (or not) from the rest of the Reform world?
Good question, ML. I’m glad you asked. I’ll answer it with a series of definitions, building up to a definition of the Reform intellectual community. In this post, I will attempt the lofty goal of defining four things: the Reform movement, Reform Judaism, Reform Jews and the Reform intellectual community.
The Reform movement is a collection of organizations devoted to building and supporting Reform communities, projects and concerns. This includes the Union for Reform Judaism, the organization made up of Reform synagogues in North America; the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the professional organization for Reform rabbis in North America; the Religious Action Center, a DC-based political lobby that works on initiatives that the URJ has officially supported; Hebrew Union College, the four-campus institution devoted to training professional Reform leaders, including rabbis, cantors and educators. To be sure, there are institutions that also comprise what I call the Reform movement outside of North America, such as the World Union for Progressive Judaism and Leo Baeck College, but I am most familiar with their North American counterparts, so I tend to focus on those.
Reform Judaism, however, is not the same thing as the Reform movement and much harder to define. I’m gonna make a stab at defining it, knowing full well what kind of bone-picking will commence in the comments.
Reform Judaism is an historical, intellectual push to re-form and re-standardize Jewish practice and belief, which has morphed into and blended with an ideology of autonomous, individual and personal choice about practice and belief. Notice that this definition carefully avoids any particular organization, while the first definition, that of the Reform movement, explicitly mentioned specific organizations. This is because Reform Judaism is an idea, while the Reform movement is a group of organizations ostensibly devoted to the promulgation of that idea.
Reform Jews are Jews who subscribe in whole or in part to what we have defined as Reform Judaism. Some of these people, in fact most of them, are also members of what we have defined as the Reform movement, but that is not necessarily the case. I am one example a Reform Jew who is not affiliated with the Reform movement. BZ, fellow Jewschooler and proprietor of the blog Mah Rabu, is another. There are also members of the Reform movement who are not actually Reform Jews, which is probably a whole other post, so I won’t go further into that here.
The Reform intellectual community is the group of Reform Jews (as defined above) who are actively thinking about and actively re-thinking what Reform Judaism is and who actively consider the implications of living as a Reform Jew. This fourth definition exists somewhere at the intersection of the above three–the Reform movment, Reform Judaism and Reform Jews. In this category, I include many in the Reform movement and some outside of it as well. BZ and I, as I said above, are good examples of members of this community who live outside the Reform movement. Rabbi Leon Morris (seasonal congregational rabbi and director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning), Rabbi Mark Washofsky (professor at HUC, author and chair of the CCAR’s responsa committee) and Larry Kaufman (frequent commenter here at The Shuckle, RJ.org blogger and URJ board member) are all good examples of members of the Reform intellectual community living largely inside of the Reform movement. The members of the Rethinking Reform Think Tank are a good example of a mixture of members of this community living both inside and outside the Reform movement. I do not include all Reform Jews (as defined above) in this community because many embody their Reform Judaism in a more passive way, which I say without judging them.
[As a sort of addendum, I’ll add this to my definition of the Reform intellectual community, which Larry Kaufman suggested below: Members of the Reform intellectual community may be working IN Reform, but unless they are also working ON Reform, I would not include them in the intellectual community.]
As you can see, the borders and membership of this community are broad and hard to define. However, I believe it is a real entity. Despite having declared myself apart from the Reform movement (as defined above), I am still a Reform Jew (as defined above), who believes in and tries to embody Reform Judaism (as defined above) and I consider myself a member of the Reform intellectual community (as defined above).