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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

16
THE LIMITS OF LIBERAL JUDAISM

JAKOB J. PETUCHOWSKI

If Dr. Lenn is persuaded that the crisis of Reform Judaism is chronic and typical, but not malignant, Professor Jacob J. Petuchowski nonetheless argues that it is a crisis of faith, with important implications for the future of Reform Judaism. For in his view the limits of Reform have been reached. So far as he can see, those who do not believe in God--in any terms--should not be asked to regard themselves as religious and indeed should not become rabbis. Since, as Dr. Lenn has shown, a considerable segment of the Reform rabbinate as well as of lay people evidently finds difficulty in appropriating religious language and perspectives, that would seem to be a significant fact.

Professor Petuchowski is clear on this point: any form of Judaism must begin with concrete affirmation of a religious perspective on the world. Among Reform Jews, however, are those for whom the method of Reform, the liberal approach which denies dogma and authority, has taken the place of the substance and meaning of Reform.

Yet the student of American Judaism, not wishing to participate in the argument, has a different question: Why should people who profess atheism still wish to affiliate with synagogues and even become rabbis? That fact is conceded by Dr. Lenn and Professor Petuchowski, who may evaluate it differently. What do we learn about American Judaism and about the situation of the American Jews? And what do the religious forms sought by Reform rabbis suggest about the self-proclaimed atheism of the atheists? Surely matters are not so simple. To be sure, it is within the Reform movement that diversity of belief and unbelief finds its most congenial home. But that, it would seem, is implicit in the Reform stance. The reason is that Reform Judaism preserves within itself the most acutely contemporary and therefore ambiguous data of all for the study of American Judaism.

In 1928, on the occasion of the Berlin conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, some of the leaders of German Liberal Judaism presented a festschrift to the World Union's President, Claude G. Montefiore ( Festgabe für Claude G. Montefiore, Berlin, Philo Ver-

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