Tag Archives | denomination

Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool. Limmud NY is mentioned in this post. For my Limmud NY 2010 wrap-up post, go here.

If it’s on Facebook, you know it’s official. So officially, I’m “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” Labels are a big thing for me and I finally figure out why at Limmud NY this year.

I went to a panel called “One-Foot Judaism,” in which three rabbis–Renewal Rabbi David Ingber of Kehilat Romemu, Orthodox woman Rabba Sara Hurwitz of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Reform Rabbi Leon Morris of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning–were asked a series of fairly big and random questions. Some questions came from the audience and one came from me. Knowing full well what Leon would say (he and I have had this conversation a few times), I asked,

How useful are labels? Are they a helpful shorthand for describing a person or are they detrimental and limiting? Are they good, bad or harmless?

Sara and Leon answered, but David did not. Leon said what I expected him to say, that it’s both good and limiting and that he struggles with it, but embraces the word Reform. Sara said something that Leon and I later remarked to each other was exactly what we’d been thinking, but had never actually found the words for. For Sara, the word Orthodox enables her to be who she is. Today, there is nothing remarkable about a woman being a rabbi, unless she is Orthodox. So Sara is who she is and is remarkable because she is an Orthodox rabbi. That a label can enable you to be someone special sounds very powerful to me, as a totally atypical example of a Reform Jew.

So now back to “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” When I first attended Limmud in 2008, Facebook said I was “Jewish – Reform.” Between Limmud NY 2008 and Limmud NY 2009, it said “Jewish – Observantly Reform Litvak.” Now that Limmud NY 2010 has come and gone, what shall my labels be in the coming year?

I’m pretty happy with the words Reform and Pluralist right now, but there a few little things itching at me. Let’s take the word Denomination for a moment. For many, the words Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Renewal are all denominations. But I’d conflate Reform as a denomination with Reform as an organized movement, something which I’m adamantly not a part of.

So if I’m not a member of a denomination and if I’d even go so far as to say that I think the denominational system is at least a little bit intellectually bankrupt, does that mean that I’m *gasp* Post-Denominational? Does it make me Post-Reform?

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Positive, independent self-definition: Something I can’t do at the moment.

Blogger’s note: The following post is only half of a real thought. I haven’t thought of/found the other half yet.

Required reading: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out and Reformim at the Conservative shul

In my junior year of high school (I’m estimating here), I think I can safely say that I was at my most entrenched position in the Reform Movement. I was on the board of trustees of a URJ synagogue, I was the president of a NFTY youth group, I was about to spend a second summer at Kutz,  I went to one of the RAC‘s L’taken seminars and I went to the URJ Biennial. I was really into this stuff.

And back then, one of my Reform obsessions was using positive statement to define Reform practice. I heard a lot of, “Reform Jews don’t do X” or “Reform Jews don’t believe Y.” And I was on a little crusade to come us with positive statements like, “Reform Jews do A” and “Reform Jews believe B.” The merit of such a crusade within the Reform sphere is a discussion for another time–though I won’t be surprised of the comments on this post get into that discussion anyway!

I find myself in the midst of two similar lines of thought now, one very different from the one I remember from high school and one only subtly so.

1. The one that’s only subtly different–Non-URJ Reform

Reform Jews began life (I’m talking 19th century Germany) by defining how they were not like other Jews, hence the negative statements of identity I discussed above. As time went on, we were able to move away from that and begin to define ourselves positively and independently, by what we do, rather than by what we reject. I think I’m facing that entire struggle all over again on a personal level. If, as I announced in this recent post, I am a Reform Jew, but not a URJ Jew, I am forced to go back to the beginning of the entire Reform endeavor. I must now begin again by defining myself in opposition to the URJ, through negative statements and must work my way up to the kind of ideological and intellectual self-sufficiency that will allow me two begin again the project of positive, independent identity statements.

2. The one that’s very different–Indie Minyans

I’m spending a lot of my time these days not only places that aren’t affiliated with the URJ, but in places that aren’t affiliated all. I’m talking about the organization I work for and I’m talking about places I pray, places like Chavurat Lamdeinu, Kol Zimrah and Kehilat Hadar. One of my problems in all of these places, as someone who is a little obsessed with ideology and intellectual honesty, is that I have trouble identifying the ideology. In many cases, there probably isn’t one, which I guess is okay, but it still troubles me. And in trying to articulate why I go to these places, I find myself relying on negative statements about traditionally-structured synagogues.

As Larry Kaufman pointed out in the comments on this post, “Half the fun of going to indy minyans is thumbing your nose at the shul you walk past on the way.” I recently met someone at a party who made me want to tear my hair about because this was essentially the level discourse that she achieved in explaining her love for indie minyans to me. Maybe it angers my because it hits close to home and I have some fun with thumbing my nose too. But that bothers me a lot and that’s a type of fun I want to get away from.

Whew. Moadim l’simcha.

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