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Chaveirim y'karim, dear friends,

 

I recently got published on-line and then I even made it onto a podcast … and now I want to share it in this forum.

 

In fact, I began to open the discussion of my essay on Shabbat morning during services, because it was relevant to this past week’s Torah portion. 

 

In short: I wrote an essay that was published in the Times of Israel. The essay is called, "The anguished dilemma of a Reform rabbi." I wrote it, initially, to highlight the hard swing toward universalism which has been occurring in the Reform movement over the last two decades but has taken a particular hard (left) turn over the last few years. 

 

One of the great Reform theologians, Eugene Bororwitz (z”l), of the 20th century spoke about the idea that we Jews come to universalism from a particular place - namely from covenant and Torah. Jonathan Sacks (z”l) spoke similarly in his teachings. 

 

We are a particular people with a particular message, which at times, is universalistic. So what does that mean in simple terms: We have our own set of traditions, rituals, rites, and beliefs i.e., holidays, Shabbat, prayer, …) but we also adhere to values which make room for and command care for our neighbors, regardless of their heritage or tradition (ie., love your neighbor as yourself, open your hand to the poor…). Furthermore, Judaism is lived in community. While we care for the individual, the community sets norms and has needs.

 

My essay was done and ready for publication. And then the Hebrew Union College issued a decision that they were breaking with the school’s tradition and would begin to admit and ordain rabbinic students who are in committed relationships with non-Jews. And so I made some edits to include that policy shift as emblematic of my exact point. 

 

To be clear: I am not discussing the validity, sanctity, presence of interfaith marriages in Reform congregations. The average Reform synagogue in our country has no fewer than 50% interfaith couples/families and I have a career of welcoming those families and supporting their work to build Jewish homes and of course, will continue to do so. 

 

That being said, I am among a group of Reform rabbis who believe that, given the role of the rabbi, a rabbi in a committed relationship must be with a fellow Jew. Much the way the Talmud preserves a minority opinion, so too, it is critical to give voice to the mix of views on this topic. Again: that is not a judgment against interfaith marriage - it is a statement about the role of the rabbi and what it means to be the ‘symbolic exemplar’ of Judaism for his/her community. 

 

My essay has received criticism and support and I have spoken with Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the URJ and Dr. Andrew Rehfeld of HUC about a host of matters over time and thankfully we have a very nice relationship understanding that we come from the same place as proud Reform Jews, ardent Zionists, and intentional learners. That being said, we do disagree at times about policy, program, and approach. They are in positions that reflect their Boards’ desires and lead accordingly. 

 

About a week after my essay’s publication, I received an invitation to be on a podcast with Jonathan Silver of the Tikvah Fund. I like that podcast very much and have recommended various resources of Tikvah at times in this space. You can find my interview with Jonathan Silver at the Tikvah Fund or wherever you go for podcasts and I would be very happy to discuss and reflect on it with you all. 

 

Friends, this is a sensitive subject. What is playing out in the Reform movement is a discussion and debate about rabbinic leadership and what makes for the fullest form of deeply engaged Jewish home life. 

 

The Reform movement is facing a crisis of leadership as fewer applicants are working their way toward the rabbinate and I have every reason to believe a part of this decision is to resolve the “pipeline problem.” I believe the better solution is to create committed, serious, engaged, observant Jews. If we are serious about our heritage and tradition, we can create meaningful spaces for Jews and their families (which of course will include non-Jewish spouses given our demographics). And this is not an either/or proposition - we can walk and chew gum simultaneously. There is no reason we can’t observe Shabbat and care about human rights. Studying Hebrew does not remove the opportunity to work in the soup kitchen. Quite the opposite - grounding in understanding Jewish practice only shows us to be serious about Judaism. Where we go wrong - or astray - is thinking that “Tikkun Olam” Judaism or having Judaism your way” will keep our people whole. 

 

Judaism and the Jewish people survive because we are communal and we are particular. Our universalism and care for the individual are absolutes but if Jewish life in the last nine months has taught us anything, it ought to be that we need each other and our sacred texts, rites, and sources give us the grounding to understand who we are. 

 

Give a read to the article. Give a listen to the podcast

Let me know what you think. 

 

I’ll plan on creating a chance to study some of this during our year of learning together - in the meantime, reach out as you want: to agree, disagree, or just “check in.” I’m always open for a conversation. 

 

L’shalom, 

 

Rabbi Mark Cohn,  10 July 2024

 

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DECEMBER 2024 JOURNEY TO ISRAEL with Rabbis Wallk & Cohn, featuring Tour Educator Haim Aronovitz

 

I've had several people show interest in a planned trip to Israel in December 3-10! Check out the itinerary, the cost, and the Zoom meeting (July 25th @ 7:30pm). If you can't make the meeting, be in touch (rabbicohn@tsholom.org) and I am more than happy to answer any questions!!


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