It just keeps getting better. Shortly after our Shavuot service, I was asked “Do Reform Jews really believe that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai?” It’s an excellent question, one that goes to the heart of defining what it means to be a liberal Jew.
Though I tried answering the question while standing on one foot, I did not succeed. It is nearly impossible to provide a reasonable answer in a matter of minutes. However, I did promise this individual that I would address his question by bringing to bear texts that directly speak to the matter of Torah and Revelation.
At different times in the history of Reform Judaism, rabbis have articulated the principles that are the foundation of our movement. Specifically on four occasions in North America, the bedrock beliefs of Reform Judaism have been debated and ratified by the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis: in 1885, 1937, 1976, and 1999. Included in each platform has been a definition of our relationship to Torah.
This past Friday night, during our Shabbat service, we engaged in a wonderfully rich and engaging study of these textual sources. We only got as far as 1937 – so it is with pleasure that I say we will continue our conversation tonight during our Shabbat service. I hope you will join us. And if not, please engage in your own reflection as you read these passages:
Torah and Reform Judaism
Columbus Platform (1937):
God reveals Himself not only in the majesty, beauty and orderliness of nature, but also in the vision and moral striving of the human spirit. Revelation is a continuous process, confined to no one group and to no one age. Yet the people of Israel, through its prophets and sages, achieved unique insight in the realm of religious truth. The Torah, both written and oral, enshrines Israel's ever-growing consciousness of God and of the moral law. It preserves the historical precedents, sanctions and norms of Jewish life, and seeks to mould it in the patterns of goodness and of holiness. Being products of historical processes, certain of its laws have lost their binding force with the passing of the conditions that called them forth. But as a depository of permanent spiritual ideals, the Torah remains the dynamic source of the life of Israel. Each age has the obligation to adapt the teachings of the Torah to its basic needs in consonance with the genius of Judaism.
Centenary Platform (1976):
Torah results from the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The records of our earliest confrontations are uniquely important to us. Lawgivers and prophets, historians and poets gave us a heritage whose study is a religious imperative and whose practice is our chief means to holiness. Rabbis and teachers, philosophers and mystics, gifted Jews in every age amplified the Torah tradition. For millennia, the creation of Torah has not ceased and Jewish creativity in our time is adding to the chain of tradition.
A Statement of Principles of Reform Judaism (1999):
We affirm that Torah is the foundation of Jewish life.
We cherish the truths revealed in Torah, God's ongoing revelation to our people and the record of our people's ongoing relationship with God.
We affirm that Torah is a manifestation of (ahavat olam), God's eternal love for the Jewish people and for all humanity.
We affirm the importance of studying Hebrew, the language of Torah and Jewish liturgy that we may draw closer to our people's sacred texts.
We are called by Torah to lifelong study in the home, in the synagogue and in every place where Jews gather to learn and teach. Through Torah study we are called to (mitzvot), the means by which we make our lives holy.
We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of (mitzvot) and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community. Some of these (mitzvot), sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.