Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

A Universalist Jewish Agenda: Living Creatively and Responsibly

Rabbi Jay R. Brickman
Summer 1999

To The Editors:  

In my efforts to foster a "Jewish Universalist Agenda," I have had a number of exchanges of correspondence with Ralph Dombrower. We are in general agreement that the drift of Reform Judaism to an increasing emphasis upon ritual and ethnicity is unfortunate and directly antithetical to the goals for which Reform Judaism was established. We are in disagreement as to what remains when these elements are stripped away. The affirmations by which Mr. Dombrower defines Reform in his article "Can Classical Reform Judaism be Revived in the 21st Century?" (Issues, Spring ’99) do not in any way differentiate Judaism from Ethical Culture or Unitarianism. Incidentally, his last point, "no conclusions about a hereafter," may have characterized some extremists among early Reform rabbis; my reading suggests that most believed in a hereafter. The opening meditation before Kaddish in the Union Prayer Book reads: "Only the body has died and has been lain in the dust. The spirit lives in the shelter of God’s love and mercy." They believed as well in a personal God, in the power of prayer, in the chosenness of the people of Israel.  

Mr. Dombrower is incorrect in identifying my theological position as fundamentalist. I do not believe in the objective reality of Biblical events. I believe the Bible to be an imaginative saga which depicts in symbolic form important insights into the human psyche and how individuals best relate to the social order and to the universe at large. Jewish existence involves sensing oneself a participant in this saga. It demands some familiarity with Jewish religious literature and a modicum of ritual performance. The focus of course is living creatively and responsibly. My quarrel with the ethnicity factor is that it has been stressed at the expense of our religious orientation. That there is and should be a natural affinity between Jews is not only an essential element of traditional teaching, but one that was not challenged by most early leaders of Reform.  

Rabbi Jay R. Brickman  

P.S. Those interested in knowing more about the Jewish Universalist Agenda are invited to contact me at 8041 N. Linksway, Milwaukee, WI 53217.  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.