The Politics of Reform

Letter From Inner Israel

The Day of Atonement by its very advent at sunset on the eve of the tenth of the lunar month of Tishré atones for sin and involves repentance—regret for sin, resolution not to repeat it—prayer, and fasting. Not the rites of the day, the prayers of the day, and not the act of refraining from food, drink, and sex, but the advent of the day itself bears that remarkable power. Jews who otherwise do not practice the rites of Judaism observe the prohibitions of the day and find their way to the synagogue.

The advent of the holy day, this year on September 30th, called to mind the practice of many synagogues of giving seats beside the holy ark, where the Torahs are guarded, to persons whom the synagogue community wishes not only to honor but to set as living icons, as models of virtue, before the sight of the assembled faithful.

No one familiar with the aesthetic glories of Orthodox Christianity will take offense at the resort to living icons. But then, the repertoire of candidates will convey a signal too. Last year a Reform synagogue in New York City, Central Synagogue, announced on Yom Kippur that it was planning a special Shabbat service in honor of Marion Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund. In response to that choice, a congregant—a longtime friend of mine—framed better than I have seen anywhere else the objections to the left-wing political Judaism that Reform synagogues promote,...

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