- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: The Jewish Publication Society (November 1, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0827609345
- ISBN-13: 978-0827609341
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,611,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections Hardcover – November 1, 2013
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Rabbi Kaplan’s accessible and compelling exploration of the makings, markings, and current state of Reform Judaism provides an informative, comprehensive tour for both those new to the subject and those familiar with it. Kaplan surveys contemporary scholars, American Reform leaders, and “everyday” people who have come to Reform Judaism from other traditions or have become more aware of their identities as Reform Jews to personalize his presentation of history, social anthropology, and theology. Kaplan also does a fine job of explaining facts and discussing experiences. With a focus on individuals who reside elsewhere than the Northeastern U.S. seaboard and his own current association with a synagogue in Jamaica, the often exaggerated points of geographic and cultural connections fall away and give this book a feeling of broadness. An ideal candidate for those who find intellectual nurture in books like Martin Gilbert’s Jews in the Twentieth Century (2001) or simply wonder what exactly is this thing called being Jewish means for many in the twenty-first century. --Francisca Goldsmith
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RJ's abandonment of Torah commands and rituals has allowed its spirituality to overflow, especially in the area of social justice. So, for example, RJ endorses and enforces full equality for women in its "denomination" of Judaism. And, it quickly overturned any biases toward gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered, as all these are people created in God's image. There are marriage or union ceremonies for gays in RJ.
The book testifies that there is a wide spectrum of belief and practices in Judaism, which I could not have imagined. It gives a blueprint for updating other religions in parallel fashion, and demonstrates what that change might look like, and how they might rationalize those changes, within the framework of a courageous reinterpretation of the Bible.
Rabbi Kaplan is troubled by Reform Judaism’s evident desire to try to be all things to all Jews. While Rabbi Kaplan embraces the religious pluralism that is arguably Reform Judaism’s strongest selling point, he also argues that pluralism is no excuse for avoiding serious scholarly and theological questions, and for clearly stating what it is that we believe in.
The Reform Judaism envisioned by Rabbi Kaplan would demand more of Jews like me affiliated with this denomination. Rabbi Kaplan acknowledges that Reform Judaism is based on individual religious autonomy, but argues that this autonomy “only works well if each person takes the time to carefully consider her religious choices.” But Kaplan’s primary argument is that the leadership of Reform Judaism has failed to set forth the kind of theological consistency and denominational self-definition required for individual Jews to make responsible choices. When we are left with instead is “ambiguity, contradiction, and doctrinal confusion.” No wonder that modern, liberal Jews like me often appear to be lost, and adrift.
Personally, I am not convinced that we can have both a big Jewish tent AND the kind of clarity of purpose that Rabbi Kaplan recommends. His desire to base Reform Judaism on an updated sort of 19th century ethical monotheism strikes me as problematic, requiring a kind of belief in God that doesn’t work for many post-moderns, and a move away from the Jewish “spirituality” that is popular in many circles today. Certainly it is possible for Judaism to embrace both the inward and outward directions of Judaism, but it is the desire to include everything within the big tent that is partly why Reform Judaism seems so amorphous to many.
But I agree strongly with Rabbi Kaplan that Reform Judaism cannot afford to continue to ask so little of us. And I agree strongly that it cannot be left solely to the individual to decide how to grow to be a wiser, more compassionate and more committed Jew. In short, I think Rabbi Kaplan is on the right track. I recommend his book to anyone interested in the future of American Judaism..