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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

17
THE REFORM SYNAGOGUE: PLIGHT AND POSSIBILITY

RICHARD N. LEVY

Having paid close attention to the Reform rabbi, we now turn to the Reform synagogue. Dr. Lenn has already alerted us to the presence of a sense of crisis. Rabbi Levy states the substance of that perceived crisis. He sees the Reform synagogue as a failure by any standard of achievement. But he holds that the Reform synagogue need not fail. This too is a measure of vitality and promise of Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Levy stresses the central issues of synagogue life: worship, education, community, social action. People find prayer difficult. The schools do not seem to educate. There is little sense of community. The synagogue appears to underline the alienation, and not the integration, of its members. Clearly, what Rabbi Levy says about Reform synagogues is apt to apply to all synagogues of the same modern type, and that type surely predominates. His solution is the creation of a synagogue-community upon the basis of a shared perception of the world. When a true sense of community is discovered, then the several tasks of the Reform synagogue can successfully be carried out.

Some may find this solution formal, not substantive. For prior and necessary to the formation of community is the presence of the raw material, of the constitutive elements, of community. These are commonalities of belief, practice, perception. How can people work together who have nothing in common but a desire to work together? What will be their shared agenda? If individually they do not believe in prayer, will they collectively find prayer expressive of their human circumstance? What indeed will prayer express? Rabbi Levy, like Dr. Fein in the following paper, will answer that the yearning for community and the affirmation of "some kind of Jewishness" together do form foundations for the building of community. Perhaps so. Yet communities rarely are more than the sum of their parts, the individuals who come together. Yearning without fulfillment, like "Jewishness" without Judaism, in this writer's opinion is apt to yield an empty exercise in collective confusion. The primary issue of Reform Judaism, for rabbis and lay activists alike, is to recover the Judaism which is to be reformed, to regain access to

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