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Toward a More Traditional Reform Movement?

A February 1, 1999 Jerusalem Report article covered the draft proposal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis' new platform of guiding principles for Reform Judaism. The proposal presents kashrut, Shabbat observance, the wearing of tallit and tefillin, and going to the mikveh as options for Reform Jews, and holds that "...the mitzvot of the Torah are our center." This proposal, which departs from the original 1885 platform of the Movement and later amendments, comes at a time when some members of the Movement and some HUC-JIR students are observing more tradition and practicing more ritual. Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, HUC-JIR President, explains: "I think there is a sense now of greater openness to tradition, to the Torah as the center of our being. [There is] an understanding that our challenge today is different from what it used to be. Our challenge today is how to live Jewishly." HUC-JIR is revising its curriculum, offering more study of tradition and text. Zimmerman remarks, "Without the grounding in tradition and text and religious search, we will be empty."



With the release of DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt in December, Moses and the exodus from Egypt have become mainstream news. The cover of Time magazine's December 14, 1998 issue depicts "a hero for our time" -- Moses. HUC-JIR Provost Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, interviewed in the Time magazine article on Moses, related how he used Moses as a personal inspiration. Cohen learned lessons that Moses had learned: The source of power is beyond humanity; power lies beyond the physical. Cohen further expounded on his excerpted references in the article and gave an explanation on why God did not allow Moses to enter the land of Eretz Yisrael. Cohen analyzed a passage in Exodus which switches abruptly from Moses' sister Miriam's death at Meribah to the community's demand for water. Rather than allowing Moses to mourn Miriam's death, the community "joined against Moses and Aaron." At that time, related Cohen, Moses had an internal struggle between his personal need to mourn and his role as a leader. His inability to balance these demands led to his "inappropriate behavior" -- he struck the rock at Meribah instead of verbally ordering it to yield water as God had commanded. Consequently, he was punished and never entered the promised land.


Reform Brit Milah

An article on Reform religious circumcision appeared in the October 19, 1998 issue of the TheReform Movement in Israel New York Times. This article covered the meeting of the national organization of men and women certified to perform ritual circumcision (bris or berit mila) by the Reform Movement. [There are 181 men (mohalim) and 25 women (mohalot) in the U.S. who have fulfilled the standards of the Brit Milah Board of Reform Judaism, a joint HUC-JIR, CCAR, and UAHC program.] In 1984 (a year after the passage of the Reform Movement's principle of patrilineal descent), the Reform Movement began training mohalimRabbi Lewis M. Barth, dean of HUC-JIR in Los Angeles and founder of the mohalim training program, is quoted in the article concerning the need for Reform mohalim: "There was concern that the Orthodox mohalim would not have a respectful attitude toward Reform Judaism or that they would not accept the Jewish status of a mother who had converted or a child whose Jewry came through the father." He describes the training program as teaching the religious, historical, liturgical and modern understanding of the ceremony; the program instructs doctors or medical professionals to become mohalim.


Reform Movement in Israel

Rabbi Michael Marmur, Dean of the Jerusalem School, is a frequent editorial contributor to the Jerusalem Post. In an October 16, 1998 article responding to critics of Reform Judaism, Marmur presents evidence indicating the strength of the Reform Movement in Israel: last year, approximately 100,000 people attended weddings officiated by Reform rabbis; 50,000 attended bar or bat mitzvah services at Reform synagogues; 10,000 attended Yom Kippur services at Reform synagogues. (These numbers do not include the growing Conservative Movement in Israel.) He sees the Reform Movement as having the potential to play an important role in the "urgent need for Jewish renewal" in Israel.