Someone recently claimed on the iWorship listserve that among other generalizations one could make about Reform Jews, one could say that Reform Jews don’t believe in Olam Haba–The World to Come.
This used to be a big cornerstone of what I believed all Reform Jews must believe, as evidenced by a lot of the nonsense I said on this blog back when I was actively working on a new sidur.
I now know that most Reform Jews don’t believe in a personal Messiah. Many prefer the ill-defined “Messianic Age” (like me, for instance). I would say that many, if not most, believe in some sort of Olam Haba, whether its physical or spiritual and whether it involved the Messiah at all or not. But I have met a handful that openly acknowledge a belief in a Messiah or at least a high degree of openness to the idea.
So how does Mishkan come into this? Reform liturgy, it seems, is still replete with the Messiah, whether we really want him/her/it or not. Take Havdalah, for example. NFTYites and participants in Reform camps often cite Havdalah as their favorite ritual experience. And at the end, we sing all about hastening the arrival of Messiah, Son of David.
And then, in Kabalat Shabat, we’ve got L’chah Dodi. Gates of Prayer knew what the Reform Jews in the pews still know–most of us don’t believe in a Messiah. That’s why GOP and many of its Reform liturgical predecessors lacked two verses of L’chah Dodi that referred explicitly to the Messiah. (Never mind that they tossed out a few other totally inoffensive verses as well.)
Verse four of L’chah Dodi says:
At hand is the Son of Yishai (Jesse, David’s father), of Bethlehem.
Another verse puts it like this:
At hand is the Man, the Son of Peretz (Peretz being another of David’s ancestors).
It’s not too easy to metaphor-ize these verses. Either because of that or because no one wants to bother learning the “new” verses, I have yet to attend a single MT-using Reform service in which all verses of L’chah Dodi were sung.
Is this evidence of a new approach to the theologically distasteful in Reform movement liturgy? I think not. If it were, we’d find references to the restoration of Temple sacrifice in MT and mentions of the imahot out of it.
Yet, here’s the Messiah. Back in Reform liturgy. He’s not wanted in L’cha Dodi (except, apparently, by its editors). But he is wanted at the end of Havdalah.