In the study of the several main sectors, or movements, in American Judaism, we shall consider, first, a description of the beliefs of each movement, and, second, critical debates, carried on by participants, on central issues. In that way we are able both to review the important theological affirmations and to seek evidences of the presence of self- criticism, therefore of spiritual vitality, in each sector of the Jewish religion.
We begin with Reform Judaism for two reasons. First, Reform comes first chronologically. Second, Reform is most interesting to the student of modern and contemporary religion because of its own commitment to modernity and acute contemporaneity. Reform therefore tells us much about the expression of modern Judaism by people who are self-consciously modern, just as Orthodoxy reveals much about Judaism in the unself-conscious and rarely articulated encounter with modernity. If the latter is difficult to relate to the modern condition, the lessons to be learned from the relation are all the richer and more revealing. If the former is made complex by the ambiguities of religiosity and secularity, that complexity supplies excellent testimony to the condition of the modern person who attempts to spell out exactly what being modern means.
We begin with the account of Reform theology by Rabbi Agus, who will provide the same balanced and judicious picture of each of the movements in succession. His several papers are valuable because they both responsibly describe the main ideas of the several movements and provide a fair and consistent critique of each.
Reform Judaism seems to have been in ferment for the past decade; we have many essays on what is wrong with Reform temples,