Identity, Religion

Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. Limmud NY is mentioned in this post. For my Limmud NY 2010 wrap-up post, go here.
If it’s on Facebook, you know it’s official. So officially, I’m “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” Labels are a big thing for me and I finally figured out why at Limmud NY this year.
I went to a panel called “One-Foot Judaism,” in which three rabbis — Renewal Rabbi David Ingber of Kehilat Romemu, Orthodox woman Rabba Sara Hurwitz of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Reform Rabbi Leon Morris of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning — were asked a series of fairly big and random questions. Some questions came from the audience and one came from me. Knowing full well what Leon would say (he and I have had this conversation a few times), I asked,

How useful are labels? Are they a helpful shorthand for describing a person or are they detrimental and limiting? Are they good, bad or harmless?

Sara and Leon answered, but David did not. Leon said what I expected him to say, that it’s both good and limiting and that he struggles with it, but embraces the word Reform. Sara said something that Leon and I later remarked to each other was exactly what we’d been thinking, but had never actually found the words for. For Sara, the word Orthodox enables her to be who she is. Today, there is nothing remarkable about a woman being a rabbi, unless she is Orthodox. So Sara is who she is and is remarkable because she is an Orthodox rabbi. That a label can enable you to be someone special sounds very powerful to me, as a totally atypical example of a Reform Jew.
So now back to “Jewish – Pluralist, Reform, etc.” When I first attended Limmud in 2008, Facebook said I was “Jewish – Reform.” Between Limmud NY 2008 and Limmud NY 2009, it said “Jewish – Observantly Reform Litvak.” Now that Limmud NY 2010 has come and gone, what shall my labels be in the coming year?
I’m pretty happy with the words Reform and Pluralist right now, but there a few little things itching at me. Let’s take the word “denomination” for a moment. For many, the words Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Renewal are all denominations. But I’d conflate Reform as a denomination with Reform as an organized movement, something which I’m adamantly not a part of.
So if I’m not a member of a denomination and if I’d even go so far as to say that I think the denominational system is at least a little bit intellectually bankrupt, does that mean that I’m *gasp* post-denominational? Does it make me post-Reform?

9 thoughts on “Post-Denominational, Pluralist, Reform, etc.

  1. Is “Rabba” a typo or some new term? I understood that she was using the title Maharat. I suppose “Rabba” could maybe be a transliteration of “her Rabbi” but I suspect that’s not what you’re going for… ?

  2. The Religious Women’s Forum Kolech decided at their conference last week [July 2009] to choose a Hebrew title for a woman ordained as a rabbi by an Orthodox institution, although no woman in Israel yet holds this position. The title chosen by a majority of conference participants is “rabba.”,7340,L-3748903,00.html
    Don’t know that it is necessarily related to Sara Hurwitz’s choice of titles. But seems likely to some degree or another.

  3. Just think — a few hundred years from now and we’ll *all* be post-denominational Jews, right? I know it’s cliche to think about what binds us together as opposed to what separates us, but I can’t believe we’re not going to wind up reconciled into one progressive movement that changes with the times… just like Judaism used to do until about 100 years ago.

  4. I used to half-joke I was Postmodern Orthodox. I think I’d like to believe I’m a member of a futuristic Judaism that I think likely to emerge in the future. i think the dropouts from Chabad and the charedi Baal Tshuva movements will have a lot of impact on the future Judaisms, the same way Orthodoxy’s dropouts reworked things back in the early 20th century. That, and with the Death of Bureaucracy being proclaimed by folks such as Rushkoff and Sieradski (cause one day they will be old and establishment), a loose network based Judaism will flip the 58th century structures on their head.

  5. On the Yeshivat Maharat website, Sara’s Story includes the following:
    “Rabba Sara Hurwitz currently serves as the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat and on the rabbinic staff of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.”
    In the Frequently Asked Questions section is the following Q & A:
    “Q. Are there any Orthodox women rabbis?
    A. Although there are some women in Israel who have achieved the title through their study with individual rabbis, Rabba Sara Hurwitz is the first, and so far only, American Orthodox woman to have mastered the texts and skills to be ordained by an American Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, NY.”

  6. Joel, the other difference between Sara and say, Mimi Feigelson (an Israeli woman with orthodox smicha who was also with us at Limmud NY 2010) is that Sara is making it a goal to turn the systematic, regular ordination of orthodox women a reality. Hence, the founding of the new Yeshivat Maharat.
    Sara has, believe it or not, a fairly clear and realistic plan for how to acclimate the liberal orthodox world to the idea of women in positions of rabbinic authority and a plan to create the women who will be in those positions.

    1. I just came back from Bangkok, where Maharat is the name of a street. Since many Israelis travel to Thailand, perhaps this title was chosen so that it would be familiar?

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