Defining terms


The same Reform reader says:

What I suspect are your beliefs arenít ďnormativeĒ in the United States nor in Israel. I wonít hold your non-normastive approach to affirming your Judaism against you. Particularly if you, although thinking that I am wrong, donít hold my (closer to normative) approach against me.

I tried to figure out what he’s saying and I can only imagine that he thinks “normative” is a function of popularity. That idea is one I’ve seen Reform leaders articulate in various ways – “What does Judaism have to say about abortion?” “Well, 95% of mainstream Jews believe in a woman’s unconditional right to choose.” To me, that answer sounds wholly unresponsive to the question. I suppose, however, if you just believe people made the thing up from whole cloth and continue to make it up as they go along, there is some kind of argument to be made there – but then how is it a faith at all?

Judaism is Judaism. And Judaism, which has had a definition for lo these many centuries, allows for lots of diversity within clearly defined parameters. If you have the need to add a prefix to Judaism, it means it is something different (kinda like “legal ethics” or “journalistic ethics” are unique exceptions to plain old ethics – okay, maybe not really like that, it’s just something I like to say about journalists and lawyers) from plain old Judaism and couldn’t be accommodated within the parameters of Judaism.

One of our problems is that we haven’t been able to reject the “Orthodox” label foisted on us. It makes it sound like an alternative, rather than what it is – just people trying to adhere to Judaism rather than trying to change it. Just as bad – it separates us from other Jews who think that there are “types” rather than just Jews.

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