Reform Judaism Today

Balancing tradition and innovation in the 21st century

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Outreach to interfaith families is another hallmark of the movement.  As intermarriage rates rose in the 1970s, the Reform movement instituted an outreach program. At the time, the goal was to keep intermarried Jews involved with Jewish life in some form.

Today, that outreach endeavor has evolved in response to a more complex set of issues facing the movement. Although many Reform rabbis will not officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies, interfaith families continue to search for meaningful ways to experience Judaism.

Enter the Ritual Revolution

At the same time, though, the Reform movement is becoming more traditional, in the sense of adding more Hebrew to services and incorporating more observances into the average family's Jewish life.  A generational split is emerging, with younger Reform Jews hungry for more traditional ways to incorporate Jewish meaning into their lives, while the older generation is more reticent to adopt new practices that may change the feel of Reform worship and lifestyle.

Scholars and leaders debate the long-term effect this phenomenon will have on the movement, some wondering whether it will create a rift between the "Classical Reform" on the one hand and a more Jewishly traditionalist group on the other. 

Movement leaders say that conversion rates, meanwhile, are rising dramatically. As more and more families choose this option, some wonder whether this will lead to alienation for interfaith families that choose not to convert. 

Others, however, think that the relationship between reaching out to non-Jews in a Reform context, at the same time that Reform Jews are re-connecting with traditional elements of the religion, might strike a fruitful balance that will sustain the movement in the future, especially as people reach out to the Jewish tradition for spiritual sustenance.

With the movement growing and changing, a serious shortage of professionals, including rabbis, cantors, communal leaders and educators, has emerged. Although concerns remain about whether this shortage will stunt the movement’s growth, recruitment efforts at the seminary are helping.  With 105 applicants for the fall of 2003, this year’s rabbinical pool represents the second largest group in the last 25 years, say the school’s admissions officials.

Another sign of vibrancy and progress, as well as the focus on more Hebrew and spirituality, is a pending new prayerbook. In development for more than twenty years, it is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2005. The book will reflect the dual trends in Reform Judaism, offering side-by-side pages with both traditional and alternative prayers. 

Reform Political Issues

The family, home, and synagogue aren't the only arenas in which Reform Jews are making a mark.  The public square and political arena are also familiar places for the movement.

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) continues, as it has since 1962, to advocate for a variety of issues that its leaders say are integral to a Jewish sense of social justice and "tikkun olam," or repair of the world.

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Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer who lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.