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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘CCAR’

How I Lost My Liberal View of Reform Jews and Started to Fear Them

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Back around the year 2000, I was invited by my very good friend, Rabbi Judi Abrams, to come on board a new project of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), a comprehensive prayer book that would streamline and organize the countless versions of Reform prayer books that had been out there.

I use the title Rabbi in Judi’s case, even though it isn’t the policy of our publication to use this honorarium for non-Orthodox clergy, much less women clergy, because she has earned it. She is one of my non-Orthodox friends who truly love the Talmud and know how to learn. So, when she invited me to be the designer of the new prayer book, I grabbed it. I needed the money—this was at the bursting phase of the first Internet bubble, and all my online clients had been massacred. But the project also offered me an interesting fig leaf, which I could use to justify my collaboration: this was going to be the first Reform siddur in history to include the full Sh’ma Israel reading, all three passages.

Previous siddurim have omitted the middle passage, which warns us what would happen if we don’t obey the commandments. Those earlier siddurim also omitted the third passage, about the tzitzit, but that part introduces a reminder of how to keep the commandments in our everyday life—so that without the middle part it’s kind of pointless.

During my two years, on and off, working on the siddur project, I began to develop a theory that the Reform, despite their anti-halachic, or a-halachic stance, were still inside the rabbinic umbrella. Based on my encounters with the more learned in the movement (I also met many stereotypical Reform rabbis who couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag made of blatts of gemora), I began to think of the Reform, especially the rank and file, as amaratzim — (lingo for Amei Ha’aratzot) the equivalent of the uneducated masses at the time just after the destruction of the second temple. The sages, who originally abhorred and loathed those amaratzim, once the temple was gone and the dark Diaspora had begun, started to view them as inseparable from the rest of the Jewish nation.

I felt that, despite its abysmal relationship with classical and traditional Judaism, the Reform movement was not beyond hope. And I offered, on a number of occasions, the following illustration to support my view:

We were at a large editorial meeting, discussing the texts of the Eighteen Blessings, the silent prayer or “Amida.” The Reform versions of the Amida range from ridiculously cumbersome to infuriatingly PC—compared with the traditional text, which is smooth and elegant, even in the Sephard version, which offers several alternative phrases in a number of places. No question, the Reform Amida was begging for a streamlining job.

Then one of the editors, a female clergy, suggested we add a special shmoneh-esreh blessing for our suffering LGBT brothers and sisters.

Needless to say, my little brain was working overtime trying to find justifications for that one. Was there any way that I, as an observant Jew, could lend my name to a siddur that included a special prayer for folks who break a major commandment? Might as well add a blessing for folks breaking Shabbes and another, special one, for our brothers and sisters who suffer from trichinosis. I was done for—the Yanover family would be going without fish Friday night.

But then the moderator told this nice lady: “Bring me a pasuk,” meaning offer a verse in the entire Jewish Bible that would support and illustrate the above mentioned suffering.

He spoke like a Jew. Never mind the outcome (I was let go a few months later, because of my tendency to open my big mouth to my superiors, so I never found out) – the man approached prayer from within the tradition, not as a sworn violator of the tradition. There was hope.

That episode also cost me a job with a new Haredi magazine, a competitor to Mishpacha, which hired me for a scary amount of money as senior editor—only to let me go after my boss had discovered my notes online regarding my hope for the Reform.

Half of US Reform Rabbis Officiate at Intermarriages

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

While the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) does not have statistics on how many of its 2,000 Reform rabbis in North America officiate at intermarriages, when pressed, Rabbi Hara Person, director of CCAR Press, estimated “it’s about half.”

A testament to the prevalence of officially sanctioned intermarriage inside the Reform movement, is JTA’s Penny Schwartz’s story published this week, on a special publication coming out next month from CCAR, a Premarital Counseling Guide for Clergy, written by Dr. Paula Brody, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Outreach Training Institute, which includes an entire section for counseling of intermarried and conversionary couples.

The goal is to give clergy more tools to help couples discuss the meaning of their faith background, Brody told JTA.

Brody’s exercises delve deeply into both partners’ childhood experiences from their faith backgrounds to enable a couple to be able to discuss the sensitive issue of how they will raise any future children. “It means a tremendous amount to the person from a different faith background to know they are being recognized,” she told JTA.

In a highlighted section, Brody writes, “The Jewish community has been blessed to have had so many individuals from other faith backgrounds give the gift of raising Jewish children. Tremendous appreciation needs to be expressed by the partner, the partner’s family, and the Jewish community for giving this gift to Judaism.”

The manual also includes suggestions for follow up, a key factor that is now lacking, according to many observers.

Back in March, Dr. Brody held a series of workshops for clergy and professional staff based on the manual. In her notes describing the series she wrote:

“Most couples will seek out a clergy connection before their marriage. For interfaith couples, this interaction is often pivotal. How can clergy turn pre-marital meetings, whether with in-marrying or intermarrying couples, into opportunities for meaningful Jewish engagement, nurturing their Jewish choices and solidifying their commitment to creating a Jewish home for their family?

“This workshop will provide some useful tools to strengthen couples’ communication around faith issues enabling each partner to untangle the complicated threads that connect them to their family and religious background. The workshop will introduce clergy to the couples communication exercises and wedding planning suggestions available in the forthcoming CCAR publication.”

Schwartz writes that some rabbis set conditions – such as joining a synagogue or committing to raising future children as Jews – before they’ll officiate at an intermarriage. But Rabbi Lev Baesh told her he worries such conditions would turn off couples.

“It matters so much for a rabbi to say, ‘yes,’” no matter where the couple is in the process, says Baesh, director of the resource center for Jewish clergy for Interfaithfamily.com, a resource and service organization that supports Jewish life for interfaith couples.

Interfaithfamily.com is a resource center which believes that “maximizing the number of interfaith families who find fulfillment in Jewish life and raise their children as Jews is essential to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community.”

The website provides “useful educational information and resources, connect interfaith families to each other and to local Jewish communities, and advocate for inclusive attitudes, policies and practices.”

But while resources like Interfaithfamily.com seem vital for dealing with the ever growing problem of intermarriages, it is a far cry from openly sanctioning the creation of such marriages.

According to Schwartz, historically, CCAR has opposed its members officiating at intermarriages. In 1973, it reaffirmed that opposition, but also recognized that its members hold divergent interpretations, with each making his or her own decision.

A resolution proposed at CCAR’s 2008 annual convention called for dropping the official opposition. To avoid a polarizing debate on the hot button issue, the resolution was tabled.

Two years ago a task force on intermarried issued a report affirming that continuity is more likely for inmarriages. But there is a significant opportunity among intermarrieds, as well, the report noted, and called for strengthening outreach efforts and providing more resources to its rabbis. The new premarital counseling manual was an outgrowth of the recommendations.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/half-of-us-reform-rabbis-officiate-at-intermarriages/2012/07/04/

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