Rabbi Josh Brown has been teaching a three-week Adult Education class at Temple Israel entitled, “Prayer, Justice, Outreach as a Reform Jew,” in which he has been discussing Jewish history as seen through the lens of Reform Judaism.
“We’re going to look back through statements of Reform Judaism and see how it’s changed and see where it’s going to go in the future,” Rabbi Brown said. “We’ll be discussing the platforms of Reform Judaism throughout history that were agreed upon by the leadership of the Reform movement.”
Using different texts, including “A Vision of Holiness,” by Rabbi Richard N. Levy, which explores the Pittsburgh Principles, a statement of principles voted on at the 1999 Central Conference of American Rabbis convention, Rabbi Brown asks, “What’s compelling about being a Reform Jew today? What’s important? What documents are important?”
Rabbi Levy, who is the Rabbi of Campus Synagogue and Director of Spiritual Growth at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and attended the 1999 conference as the central architect of the Principles, writes about the debate over the Principles and how the rabbis decided on the language.
Rabbi Brown has also attempted to illustrate the evolution of Reform Judaism in America by going back to the beginning. In 1885 the Union of American Hebrew Congregations adopted the Pittsburgh Platform, the text of which attempted to lay out the core values of then-modern Reform Judaism, a text that Rabbi Brown calls both “descriptive and prescriptive.”
Using “The Four Ideological Pronouncements of Reform Judaism in America,” a text created by the American Jewish Archives, Rabbi Brown has explored the six central themes seen in the two Pittsburgh documents and two other documents, written in 1937 and 1976 respectively, and discussed how they have changed over the years. The themes include “The God-Idea,” “The Jewish People,” “Torah,” “Religious Practice,” “Palestine/Israel” and “The Mission of Israel.”
The purpose of this course, according to Rabbi Brown, is to shed a light on what it truly means to be a Reform Jew in modern society.
“We’re increasingly individualistic culture and if people knew what it truly meant to be a Reform Jew, they would be enthusiastic about being a part of the community,” Rabbi Brown said. “Most people don’t know what we stand for anymore.”
Rabbi Brown’s Grade 9 Temple Teen Night class, which has been discussing Jewish identity this semester and recently visited New York City to learn about the history of American Jewish identity, has been joining the adults for the course.
Adult Education classes begin at 6:30 p.m., after a family dinner, and end around 8 p.m. After Rabbi Brown’s three-week course ends on December 12, Rabbi Aryeh Azriel will lead a discussion the following week, on December 19, focusing on “Transformative Moments in Reform Judaism.”