The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections

By Kraus, Matthew | American Jewish History, January 2015 | Go to article overview

The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections


Kraus, Matthew, American Jewish History


The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections. By Dana Evan Kaplan. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. 2013. 384 pp.

Author of numerous books and articles on contemporary Reform Judaism in America, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan combines his scholarly pedigree and experience as a practicing Reform rabbi in Kingston, Jamaica, in a new work promising a "successful postmodern strategy for building community" (315). According to Kaplan, Reform Jews should rally around a central idea, namely, ethical monotheism, rather than reduce Reform Judaism to almost limitless pluralism. Kaplan defends this position by discussing Jewish history, theology, and recent developments in Reform Judaism. While his thesis is compelling, I did not find Kaplan's presentation especially satisfying. Nevertheless, the book should be of great interest to historians seeking to understand the current state of Reform Judaism.

The book is divided into eight chapters with an introduction and conclusion. In "Introduction: Understanding the New Reform Judaism," Kaplan defines Reform Judaism as a movement that actively harmonizes religious practices and beliefs within the context of a polythetic under standing of Judaism and modern culture of pluralism. The first chapter traces the early attempts to define the essence of Judaism to modern Reform Jews who eschewed such essentialization. In Chapter Two the author provides a competent, annalistic history of Reform Judaism from its origins in Germany through its flowering in America under the leadership of various rabbis of the two major Reform institutions, the Union of American of Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUCJIR). The survey makes no attempt at an overarching analysis, but one constant principle defining the history of Reform Judaism does emerge: Reform Judaism needed to change "in order to keep American Jews in the pews" (81). In Chapter Three, Kaplan traces the Reform Judaism's early negative view of ritual to its more recent positive embrace through the examples of kashrut, Shabbat, and marriage and divorce. This is where Kaplan is at his best, showing that an apparent return to tradition may in fact be an expression of contemporary ethical sensibilities.

The fourth chapter discusses three major breaks from Classical Reform: the 1999 Pittsburgh Statement of Principles; the new Reform Prayerbook, Mishkan TefUlah-, and the emergence of new rituals. I found Chapter Five's title "A New Reform Revolution in Values and Ethics" strange because women rabbis, inclusivity, and environmentalism can hardly be termed revolutionary ethics. They reflect a long-standing commitment to social justice and reflect broader trends in American society. Chapters Six through Eight offer recent case studies that explore the limits to Reform inclusiveness. At times Reform Judaism tends toward pluralism (conversion, patrilineal descent, the non-Jew in the synagogue), while at other times it opts for exclusivity (messianic Judaism, Jubus, and humanist Judaism). Some Reform Jews are engaging with more recent, innovative developments such as "the virtual congregational experience" and spiritual experiences through art, music, dance, Storahtelling, and "Adventure Religion and Wilderness Judaism" (275-286). In his conclusion, Kaplan makes a passionate plea for a coherent Reform Jewish theology. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.