Passover — Affirming Freedom (March 2013)

Reform Judaism has brought us out of Egypt, out of internal exile. Since the emergence of Reform, religious freedom has become part of our Jewish heritage. As we are about to celebrate Pesach, the festival of freedom par excellence, let us remind ourselves how privileged we are to be free in our thinking and in our acting as Jews.

Our stress on freedom has been vindicated. There were those in ihe eariy days of Reform who chose to see it not as a path to God, but as an escalator to assimilation. Contemporary demographic trends predict the predominance of the Reform movement within the coming generations. The reason for this is primarily our affirmation of freedom in matters like women’s rights in Judaism and the question of marriage in the open society. Both feminism and intermarriage are inescapable realities of contemporary Jewish life. But those who deny women the right to freedom and equality (as we’re vividly seeing in Israel today) and those who ostracize Jews who have exercised their freedom in choosing a spouse also push such people away from our community.

By affirming freedom, not just in theory but in practice, Reform Judaism has enabled an ever-growing section of the Jewish community to remain inside it, thus safeguarding both continuity and growth. No wonder that many women who want to be regarded as equals and the majority of those who contemplate conversion to Judaism or are in an intermarriage, turn to Reform.

However, our struggle for freedom in not yet over. Reform may have brought contemporary Jewry out of Egypt, but it has not yet brought it to Sinai. Having attained its fruition as a religion of modernity, Reform Judaism must now focus its efforts on inner quality and Jewish authenticity. It is not enough to offer freedom. We also have to show purpose.

Traditionally, on the second night of Pesach, the Festival of Freedom, we begin to count the days to Shavuot, the Festival of Revelation. Revelation without freedom is impossible. Freedom without Revelation is meaningless.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett