Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

15
THE REFORM RABBI

THEODORE I. LENN

Since the definition of Reform Judaism has been the work, primarily, of Reform rabbis, we had best turn now to a contemporary account of the Reform rabbinate and its view of itself. Dr. Lenn here summarizes the results of a major study of Reform rabbis. What is especially interesting in his statement is the evidence of a serious crisis of spirit, a critical period in the morale and self-understanding of the Reform rabbinate and of the Reform movement. The old answers to the persistent questions, what is Reform Judaism? what should Reform Jews and rabbis do because they are Reform? seem to have lost their power. In Dr. Lenn's report we see the very concrete result of that crisis in the words of the rabbis themselves. It is a crisis, but it also is an opportunity, as we shall see later an in Dr. Leonard Fein's parallel study. And perhaps the depth of the crisis seems greater to the observer than it does to the Reform Jew himself, for Dr. Lenn assures us, "Reform Judaism is not in a seriously painful and malfunctioning state. . . ." He sees the present situation as wholly precedented. Judaism has always been "in the throes of a life and death crisis period." His evidence may be seen by some to contradict his conclusion. In the next three papers we shall examine other opinions on the state of Reform Judaism.


The End Is Where We Start From . . .

Judaism may be perennial, but its work changes according to the cultural conditions in which the rabbis and their congregants live and think. And the cultural conditions, spurred by the rapid growth of the secular city, the piercing strides of modern technology, and suburbanization, have wrought their havoc on all our social institutions, including religion.

Ever since the Age of Enlightenment there has been a tension between the traditional religions of the West--Judaism and Christianity--and the secular world then beginning to merge: its science, technology, economics, politics, and, in general, its attitude toward

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