Friday, September 18, 2009
Rosh haShanah Evening 5770 (18 September 2009) - A Religion of Deed, Not of Creed?
Rosh haShanah Morning I 5770 (19 September 2009) - A Creed without God?
Kol Nidrei 5770 (27 September 2009) - I Am a Jew Because
Yom Kippur Morning 5770 (28 September 2009) - And Now, What Do You Believe?
However, what is most exciting is the huge stack of "I believe" cards filled out by my congregation.Finally (1/3/11), I have posted them in a crawl above. Run your cursor over the text to freeze it temporarily. Thank you to Ellen Berman for typing in all the text.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I have felt her live again in me, more living than myself.
I am a Jew because, born of Israel and having regained her,
I wish her to live after me, more living than in myself.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands of me no abdication of the mind.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel requires of me all the devotion of my heart.
I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the word of Israel is the oldest and the newest.
I am a Jew because the promise of Israel if the universal promise.
I am a Jew because, for Israel, the world is not yet completed; men are completing it.
I am a Jew because, above the nations and Israel, Israel places man and his Unity.
I am a Jew because above man, image of the divine Unity, Israel places the divine Unity, and its divinity.
I just found it in the original French here:
Je suis juif, parce que, né d'Israël, et l'ayant perdu, je l'ai senti revivre en moi, plus vivant que moi-même.
Je suis juif, parce que, né d'Israël, et l'ayant retrouvé, je veux qu'il vive après moi, plus vivant qu'en moi-même.
Je suis juif, parce que la foi d'Israël n'exige de mon esprit aucune abdication.
Je suis juif, parce que la foi d'Israël réclame de mon cœur toutes les abnégations.
Je suis juif, parce qu'en tous lieux où pleure une souffrance, le juif pleure.
Je suis juif parce qu'en tous temps où crie une désespérance, le juif espère.
Je suis juif, parce que la parole d'Israël est la plus ancienne et la plus nouvelle.
Je suis juif, parce que la promesse d'Israël est la promesse universelle.
Je suis juif, parce que, pour Israël, le monde n'est pas achevé : les hommes l'achèvent.
Je suis juif, parce que, pour Israël, l'Homme n'est pas créé : les hommes le créent.
Je suis juif, parce qu'au-dessus des nations et d'Israël, Israël place l'Homme et son Unité.
Je suis juif, parce qu'au-dessus de l'Homme, image de la divine Unité, Israël place l'Unité divine, et sa divinité.
Edmond FLEG, Pourquoi je suis juif, 1928.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
He begins by saying that although there have been many attempts to create a Jewish creed - there is no authoritative body that could issue or sanction it. However, it's not like we haven't had authoritative Jewish ideals for centuries - originally postulated by individuals then ratified by succeeding generations and, generally, retrofitted into ancient texts. His second point is that we have no need for a creed. He notes that the Jewish attitudes and practices of conversion are eminently practical - and by practical he means practice based. He says, "For the preparation of the convert, therefore, no other method of instruction was employed than for the training of one born a Jew. The aim of teaching was to convey a knowledge of the Law, obedience to which manifested the acceptance of the underlying religious principles; namely, the existence of God and the holiness of Israel as the people of His covenant." Especially to the modern "atheistic" Jew, it seems a bit of a sidestep to say that following the practices implicitly includes certain beliefs.
In his historical survey - a must for any wissenschaft scholar, he has some useful summaries:
The first creed he finds is from Philo:
Philo enumerates five articles as embracing the chief tenets of Mosaism: (1) God is and rules; (2) God is one; (3) the world was created; (4) Creation is one; (5) God's providence rules Creation.
He explores the use of the Ten Commandments as creed - up through his contemporary, Isaac Mayer Wise.
But then goes back to Saadiya Gaon:
Saadia's "Emunot we-Deot" is in reality one long exposition of the main tenets of the faith. The plan of the book discloses a systematization of the different religious doctrines that, in the estimation of the author, constitute the sum total of his faith. They are, in the order of their treatment by him, the following: (1) The world is created; (2) God is one and incorporeal; (3) belief in revelation (including the divine origin of tradition); (4) man is called to righteousness and endowed with all necessary qualities of mind and soul to avoid sin; (5) belief in reward and punishment: (6) the soul is created pure; after death it leaves the body; (7) belief in resurrection; (8) Messianic expectation, retribution, and final judgment.
and, course, hits Maimonides (although he does label this as Mamonides as a young man):
The most widely spread and popular of all creeds is that of Maimonides, embracing the thirteen articles. Why he chose this particular number has been a subject of much discussion. Some have seen in the number a reference to the thirteen attributes of God. Probably no meaning attaches to the choice of the number. His articles are: (1) The existence of God; (2) His unity; (3) His spirituality; (4) His eternity; (5) God alone the object of worship; (6) Revelation through His prophets; (7) the preeminence of Moses among the Prophets; (8) God's law given on Mount Sinai; (9) the immutability of the Torah as God's Law; (10) God's foreknowledge of men's actions; (11) retribution; (12) the coming of the Messiah; (13) Resurrection.
[There will obviously have to be a lot more to say on Maimonides in this discussion.]
As an interesting side note, he finds a creed from the Karaite Jews:
In the order there given these are the articles of the Karaite faith: (1) God is the Creator of all created beings; (2) He is premundane and has no peer or associate; (3) the whole universe is created; (4) God called Moses and the other Prophets of the Biblical canon; (5) the Law of Moses alone is true; (6) to know the language of the Bible is a religious duty; (7) the Temple at Jerusalem is the palace of the world's Ruler; (8) belief in Resurrection contemporaneous with the advent of the Messiah; (9) final judgment; (10) retribution.
But, for me, it still seems limiting - and even self-defeating - to limit creedal statements to God. Of all the text above, the only one that I would put into a modern Reform creed is (6) from the Karaite statement - "to know the language of the Bible is a religious duty".
What is becoming clear to me, is that any creed that I would advocate would be more about our own commitments to Judaism - to its text and history - than about belief in that which cannot be proven. I am more interested in beliefs that call us to action - is that a way to put creed into a religion of practice?
Friday, July 17, 2009
The firm faith in and admission of acknowledged truths will best promote a correct course of life; for by being impressed with holy feelings we will be best able to withstand temptations and the inclination to sin inherent in man.
Leeser is on the more Orthodox side. [He also argues for a Jewish creed in two editorials here and here.]
The second, which I am further researching, is from the Reform (or Reformed) Community of Israelites of Charleston, South Carolina. In the seventh issue of the first volume (October 1843) of The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, Nathaniel Levin begins a series on the history of the Jewish community of Charleston. In issue number nine (December 1843), Levin speaks of the foundation of the Reform Community of Israelites and makes the following note about creed:
The most peculiar part of their ritual is the ten articles of faith adopted by the society, which emanated from enlarged, liberal, and enlightened views, for it was optional with any member of the society, either to believe, or reject them; for in the preface to their volume is this remarkable passage: "Let each one believe or reject what his heart and understanding (at once humbled and enlightened by divine goodness) may rationally dictate to be believed or rejected."
What more could you want in a Reform creed? Actually, I admire the idea - that the creed is there not to be accepted without thought, but as a starting point of a discussion. I believe with a perfect faith that ideas must be struggled with, rather than blindly accepted or blithely rejected.
Their creed embraced but ten articles, differing in almost every point with the creed of the great Maimonides. We have selected three of the articles for the perusal of our readers, which are as follows. Article 7. reads thus:
Article 10.—"I believe with a perfect faith that the Creator (blessed be his name) is the only true Redeemer of all his children, and that he will spread the worship of his name over the whole earth."More information on the Charleston community and what many consider the birth of the American Reform movement can be found in an article on the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life website.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention
On three occasions during the last century and a half, the Reform rabbinate has adopted comprehensive statements to help guide the thought and practice of our movement. In 1885, fifteen rabbis issued the Pittsburgh Platform, a set of guidelines that defined Reform Judaism for the next fifty years. A revised statement of principles, the Columbus Platform, was adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1937. A third set of rabbinic guidelines, the Centenary Perspective, appeared in 1976 on the occasion of the centenary of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Today, when so many individuals are striving for religious meaning, moral purpose and a sense of community, we believe it is our obligation as rabbis once again to state a set of principles that define Reform Judaism in our own time.
Throughout our history, we Jews have remained firmly rooted in Jewish tradition, even as we have learned much from our encounters with other cultures. The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.
This "Statement of Principles" affirms the central tenets of Judaism - God, Torah and Israel - even as it acknowledges the diversity of Reform Jewish beliefs and practices. It also invites all Reform Jews to engage in a dialogue with the sources of our tradition, responding out of our knowledge, our experience and our faith. Thus we hope to transform our lives through
- Middle English crede, from Old English crēda, from Latin credo (first word of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), from credere to believe, trust, entrust; akin to Old Irish cretid he believes, Sanskrit śrad-dadhāti
- before 12th century
2: a set of fundamental beliefs ; also : a guiding principle
However, I would recommend reading the whole section to put this quote into context. The chapter, you will note, is about God. Steinberg examines the idea of creed in a serious manner, but as an introduction into his discussion of God. I would suggest that we can create a creed that, while referencing God, is not solely a statement of theology (more on this later).
I would suggest that we go back to the beginning of the section -
For the past one hundred and fifty years a quiet debate has been going on among Jewish theologians over the question: Are there dogmas in Judaism? Does it have a set of beliefs, authoritatively formulated, which the individual Jew must accept if he [sic] wishes to be a communicant in good standing in the Jewish religion? (p. 31)
- and, placing the word "Reform" before each citation of Jewish or Judaism, take this as a challenge to ourselves: Is there a set of beliefs, authoritatively formulated, which the individual Reform Jew must accept if s/he wishes to be a communicant in good standing in the Reform Jewish religion (or better yet "a good Reform Jew")?
Can "informed choice" be a belief? The progressive nature of Jewish history? These are the areas that I hope to explore - and commonalities I hope to find.