Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reform Judaism and traffic laws

I don't usually quote myself, but I was just looking at an old sermon, one which tried to explain what Reform Judaism is really about. That it's not, despite how it's sometimes portrayed, "Judaism Light." And, I have to admit, I like the metaphor I use towards the end:

Compare it, for a moment, to traffic laws. What if I told you that, in reality, the government had never passed, and doesn’t have the authority to pass, any traffic laws? How would this affect your driving? Would you drive like an irresponsible maniac, just because you’re now legally allowed to do so? Would you continue to obey every traffic law, just because they’re printed on nice signs? We’d all probably still agree that the idea of traffic laws still makes sense. But, knowing how to behave on the road becomes much more complex. Sure, you could decide to follow the posted signs, as if they were authoritative. But, what if you found yourself on an empty highway? Would you still obey the posted speed limit? Would you feel bad if you didn’t? What if someone else told you that they never obeyed speed limits? That they drove however they wanted, whenever and wherever they wanted. Can we now say that they are wrong? That, in some way, they are obligated to drive more responsibly? Speed limits still matter; traffic laws still matter. But, agreeing on that is one thing. Knowing what to do behind the wheel, and knowing that it’s the right way to drive, has gotten much more complex.

That’s the world that we inhabit as Reform Jews. We know that our tradition has value. We know that its laws can offer us meaning and guidance. But, we also know that the tradition, and its laws, are neither perfect nor absolute. And, we can’t pretend that they are. To do so would be a violation of our own God-given intellect. And, very importantly, it would also be pretending that something that isn’t divine, actually is divine. And that is, in a word, idolatry. Knowing that the old truths aren’t perfect, but pretending that they are, is nothing to be proud of. It’s not “true religion.” It’s sacrilege. Being willing to face the truth, even if that truth is complicated, and sometimes unsettling, is sacred. That’s the key to our right, even our obligation, as Reform Jews to not blindly follow Jewish law. To do so is not inconvenient. To do so is a religious lie.

At the core of Reform Judaism is a rejection of extremes. A refusal to say that Judaism, and Jewish law, are useless, but also a refusal to say that they're perfect, and divine. 

If you want to read the whole thing, you should be able to get it here.

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