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Congregation Beth Emek
From the Rabbi's Study
February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar 5775
I'm Very Reform

I hear this all the time. "Rabbi, I grew up very Reform."


This is what I want you to know:


I am very Reform. I observe Shabbat. I pray regularly. I study Torah. I observe Kashrut.


I think that makes me very Reform. I am flummoxed when I hear people describe themselves as "very Reform," when what they mean is, "I don't do much that's Jewish." That's not very Reform, or even a little Reform.


I am proud of my chosen path of Jewish observance. To be a Reform Jew is to approach Judaism seriously, to believe that being Jewish means being obligated. Reform Judaism is not a license to abandon one's Jewish duties; it is a commitment to consider those duties with sincerity and to live Judaism with integrity.


What, then, distinguishes my practice from more traditional approaches to Judaism?


My Shabbat is real, but it is not bound by traditional definitions of work. I set my own parameters for Shabbat observance.


My prayers are authentic, but they are often different from the text of traditional Jewish prayers. They are filled with creativity and a joyful approach to spirituality, rooted in Jewish language and beliefs.


My study of Torah is intense and regular, but it applies all the tools of critical scholarship to understanding Torah in its historical context, written by people in a particular place and time.


My practice of Kashrut is personal and ethical, and not defined by traditional prohibitions. It elevates my life by rigorously adhering to ethical standards.


None of these ways of being Jewish would be regarded as "Halachically" observant, that is, adhering to Jewish law. I make no pretense of being Halachically observant. It is precisely this exercise of personal autonomy that makes me a Reform Jew.


But none of that amounts to a lack of commitment, or a failure to take Judaism seriously.


One who fails to take Judaism seriously is not very Reform.


I am very Reform.


I hope you will be, too.


Rabbi Larry Milder