Rabbi Richard S. Rheins had no idea how appropriate his comments to me would for this blog.
I’m in Denver this weekend so I headed to Temple Sinai last night for services. I was not encourage by what I saw when I arrived. I assumed this was just some large Reform congregation using Mishkan T’filah. But I was pleasantly surprised.
After services, I had a couple of questions so I introduced myself to Rabbi Rheins.
Question 1: On my way in, I spotted a rack of MTs off to the side. It seems this congregation owns a few copies of the light blue version of MT with no transliterations. So I asked Rabbi Rheins why the congregation had decided to purchase copies of both versions of MT.
Question 2: Services had been in a very particular style. There was little in the way of English readings, the service taking place mostly in Hebrew. Kabalat Shabat was cut short, but other than that, the services was structurally intact. Music Director Bryan Zive sang and played guitar the whole way through and seemed to have a thing for Josh Nelson and the like. In short, this service was about as far from Classical Reform as you could get and still be in the URJ mainstream. And then there was the the Torah service. So I asked what the thinking was behind the juxtapositions of a very non-Classical aesthetic and the very Classical practice of including a Torah service on Friday night. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. I was mostly curious about what had led to the combination.
It turns out that the answer to both questions was basically the same. Rheins pointed out that there was once a time when you could say generally what Reform congregations do and be right about most Reform congregations. But he added that if there’s anything you can say generally about Reform now, it’s that Reform Judaism provides a level of access for every Reform Jew, alluding, I suppose to the big tent.
What he meant is that there are members of Temple Sinai that need transliterations to follow the Hebrew. Yet there also members of the community that know their Hebrew and find the transliterations distracting. Likewise, some will come to Friday night services. Others will come on Saturday morning. Why only give Torah to those who come on Saturday morning. Perhaps, he said, some came on a Friday night, one of the only they’ll attend all year, just to say Kadish. How, he asked, can we watch them come and go without giving them some Torah?
So what Rheins was describing is a kind of ideal version of Reform Judaism. And his ideal for Reform is that it gives something to everyone, allowing people many points of entry for Jews from any background. That’s nice, and Rheins is certainly living that as in the ways that he can in the community he leads.
I hate to sound ungrateful and whiny, but poor pitiful me, I’m over-educated. I find that there is no longer a point of entry for me because I know too much, which is kind of absurd. Whine, whine, whine.