Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool. Limmud NY is mentioned in this post. For my Limmud NY 2010 wrap-up post, go here.

If it’s on Facebook, you know it’s official. So officially, I’m “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” Labels are a big thing for me and I finally figure out why at Limmud NY this year.

I went to a panel called “One-Foot Judaism,” in which three rabbis–Renewal Rabbi David Ingber of Kehilat Romemu, Orthodox woman Rabba Sara Hurwitz of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Reform Rabbi Leon Morris of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning–were asked a series of fairly big and random questions. Some questions came from the audience and one came from me. Knowing full well what Leon would say (he and I have had this conversation a few times), I asked,

How useful are labels? Are they a helpful shorthand for describing a person or are they detrimental and limiting? Are they good, bad or harmless?

Sara and Leon answered, but David did not. Leon said what I expected him to say, that it’s both good and limiting and that he struggles with it, but embraces the word Reform. Sara said something that Leon and I later remarked to each other was exactly what we’d been thinking, but had never actually found the words for. For Sara, the word Orthodox enables her to be who she is. Today, there is nothing remarkable about a woman being a rabbi, unless she is Orthodox. So Sara is who she is and is remarkable because she is an Orthodox rabbi. That a label can enable you to be someone special sounds very powerful to me, as a totally atypical example of a Reform Jew.

So now back to “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” When I first attended Limmud in 2008, Facebook said I was “Jewish – Reform.” Between Limmud NY 2008 and Limmud NY 2009, it said “Jewish – Observantly Reform Litvak.” Now that Limmud NY 2010 has come and gone, what shall my labels be in the coming year?

I’m pretty happy with the words Reform and Pluralist right now, but there a few little things itching at me. Let’s take the word Denomination for a moment. For many, the words Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Renewal are all denominations. But I’d conflate Reform as a denomination with Reform as an organized movement, something which I’m adamantly not a part of.

So if I’m not a member of a denomination and if I’d even go so far as to say that I think the denominational system is at least a little bit intellectually bankrupt, does that mean that I’m *gasp* Post-Denominational? Does it make me Post-Reform?


10 responses to “Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc.

  1. I noticed that you referred to Sara Hurwitz as “Rabba”.

    If anyone’s interested, they can see her own use of the title on her last two blog posts here:

    Religion and State in Israel

    • It’s interesting, Joel, that in December Rabba Hurwitz was Maharat Hurwitz, with the new label making an unheralded debut with the new secular year. Can anyone point me to a discussion of the change?

      Obviously Rabba Hurwitz’s colleagues on the morethodoxy blog are willing to accept her right to use the title — and I daresay that most of us R’formim will accept it although we would be more comfortable with Rabbi.

      My father used to tell the story about Sam, who became very rich, and one day brought his parents down to the harbor to see his new yacht. Standing on the deck, and waving his nautical cap, he said, “Look, Ma! I’m a captain.” To which his mother replied, “Sammy, by me you’re a kepten, and by your pa, you’re a kepten. But tell me, Sammy — by keptens are you a kepten?

      David, whatever label you want to apply to yourself, I urge you to retain Litvak as part of it. Not that all that many people will understand it, but hamaveen yaveen, and it probably identifies you better than any of the other denominational or post-denominational adjectives do.

  2. Pingback: Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc. | Jewschool

  3. As far as the online Jewish world goes, I have not heard any discussion of Sara Hurwitz’s new use of the title “Rabba”.

    The Yeshivat Maharat website, “Sara’s Story” includes the following:

    “Rabba Sara Hurwitz currently serves as the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat and on the rabbinic staff of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.”

    In the “Frequently Asked Questions” section is the following Q & A:

    “Q. Are there any Orthodox women rabbis?

    A. Although there are some women in Israel who have achieved the title through their study with individual rabbis, Rabba Sara Hurwitz is the first, and so far only, American Orthodox woman to have mastered the texts and skills to be ordained by an American Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, NY.”

    Joel Katz
    Religion and State in Israel

  4. I also went to Sara’s Limmud sessions about women being Orthodox rabbis. After handily dispatching all the texts used to keep women away from rabbinic authority, Sara announced that the texts were all well and good, but the real issues is not text. The real issue is social norms.

  5. In _Adventures in Yiddishland_ Jeffrey Shandler cites historian David Hollinger:

    “Post-X’s” do not simply supercede “X’s”; as
    Hollinger notes, they “build upon, rather than
    reject” their respective “X’s.” (22)

    So, being post-Reform doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t Reform? It’s a thought.

  6. Pingback: Limmud NY Notes: An excuse to get four smart Jews to talk to each other | The Reform Shuckle

  7. Pingback: Limmud NY Notes: An excuse to get four smart Jews to talk to eachother | Jewschool

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