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Judaism Needs to Change Again

Quoting from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the first paragraph of his famous book God in Search of Man:

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.”

For most Jews, that is the state of Judaism today, and we have to find a way to make it relevant and meaningful to us or consign Judaism to the province of the Orthodox, whose effect on society will become more like the Amish than anything else.

“How Judaism Became a Religion”

Over the years Jews have had many different views about God. In the Torah, God is a family God to Abraham and his descendants. He is portrayed as a warlike, jealous, punishing and angry God. He destroyed the world with the Great Flood, with the exception of Noah’s ark. He punished the Egyptians with plagues and then hardened Pharoah’s heart so more plagues would be necessary. In the desert, he told the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites and all they owned, and then punished Moses for an indiscretion and didn’t let him enter the Promised Land.

In later Biblical books, God was constantly punishing the Jews for idol worship and destroyed the First and Second Temples for reasons that are not clear. Then He let the Romans disperse the Jews to the Diaspora for almost 2,000 years. This culminated in the Holocaust, which Orthodox Jews blame on many Jews leading secular lives. Read more »

Bat Mitzvah History Shows How Judaism Can Change

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first-ever Bat Mitzvah. Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (founder of the Reconstructionist Movement), was invited to read from a chumash (a printed book of the Torah) – not a Torah scroll – on a Saturday morning on 86th Street in Manhattan.  Read more »

Rethinking Conversion Policy

When one of the country’s leading Conservative rabbis states publicly his discomfort with a major policy of the movement, it warrants attention and consideration. In a Shabbat morning sermon, Elliot Cosgrove, rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, shared his thoughts about conversion, interfaith relationships, and the status of non-Jewish family members in Jewish families.

Rabbi Cosgrove said he has seen that love trumps religious affiliation, with the result being that few families are immune from the situation of a child coming home with a non-Jewish partner and wanting to be married in a Jewish ceremony. The policy of most Conservative synagogues requires the non-Jewish partner to complete a conversion program, often lasting a year or longer, but the rabbi feels couples see it as putting obstacles in their way. If the non-Jewish partner does not convert in advance, Conservative rabbis will not officiate at the wedding but encourage conversion after the fact. Read more »

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