Reform and Mitzvot

Some people, Jews and non-Jews, are sometimes confused by my avoidance of pork products, and willingness to eat shellfish; my wearing a mezuzah necklace, and having a mezuzah at my door, and my driving on the sabbath.

I don’t pretend that the Central Conference of American Rabbis speaks for me, even though they are the association of American Reform Rabbis, and I consider myself part of the Reform movement. However, I think the change between their platforms from 1885 and 1999 is very illustrative of the difference between my grandparents’ religious beliefs, and my own.

Reform Judaism certainly has gone through a progression over the last century with respect to its attitude towards the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Pittsburgh Platform 1885

3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.

4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism – 1999

We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of (mitzvot) and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community. Some of these (mitzvot), sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.


Commentary on Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism — 1999

The whole array of mitzvot. This paragraph reflects the most significant break from the Pittsburgh Platform. By committing ourselves to study “the whole array of mitzvot,” Reform Jews affirm that all the mitzvot of the Torah can call to us as they call to all Jews, though we may feel “addressed” by different ones at different times in our lives– – and by some perhaps not at all. When asked whether he put on tefillin Franz Rosenzweig is said to have responded, “Not yet,” implying that there is a difference between hearing the call of a mitzvah and being ready to respond to it in the affirmative.

As individuals and as a community. The experience of dialogue includes not only an individual’s response to a mitzvah but a community’s as well. For example, while only a few individuals in a synagogue may themselves keep kosher, they may vote for the synagogue kitchen to be kosher for a variety of reasons (that all Jews may feel comfortable eating there, to symbolize the members’ awareness that the mitzvot of kashrut appear in the Torah, to test out the experience of kashrut in a communal setting to see whether the mitzvot of dietary practice will call to them as individuals.).

I particularly like the quote of Franz Rosenzweig