The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: Sacramento Bee

On June 5, 1999, the Sacramento Bee published an article
on Rabbi Mendy Cohen, who is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch
Hasidic movement and founder of Chabad of Sacramento. Cohen, like his
Lubavitch movement, has been a charismatic figure in the Sacramento
area and has aggressively made outreach efforts to area Jews with his
brand of Orthodox Judaism. Cohen stated: “There is no such thing as
Orthodox or Conservative or Reform. There is a Judaism that was given
to Moses on Mount Sinai, and he gave it over to generation after
generation. You don’t change the rules when it gets tough.” Cohen,
shortly after founding Chabad of Sacramento in 1994, decided to light
an 11-foot high menorah for Hanukkah on the steps of the California
state capitol. Despite some negative reactions in the local Jewish
community, the menorah lighting has been a success in recent years.
Chabad of Sacramento has been competing with area Orthodox and
Conservative congregations. It regularly draws 60-100 people for
services and hundreds for holiday services.


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The New York Times

On June 1, 1999, The New York Times published an article
of reflections on the Pittsburgh Principles. Rabbis Sheldon
Zimmerman, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion, emphasized that since American society reminds Jews of
their identity less frequently, the question for American Jews is
“‘Why be Jewish?’ No other generation has had to answer that
question.” Rabbis Paul J. Menitoff, the executive vice-president of
the Central Conference of American Rabbis, stated: “I think there’s a
change in the sociology of what we’re all about. Our parents and
grandparents were coming to this country and trying to become
Americanized. They wanted their kids to be as American as apple pie,
and they did a very good job.” Rabbi Menitoff also mentioned that the
younger generations are searching for their roots.


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Courier-Journal

On May 31, 1999, The Courier-Journal of Louisville
published an article on Congregation Keneseth Israel in Louisville,
which recently voted to give men and women equal roles in worship
services. Women in this Conservative synagogue will now be allowed to
read from the Torah during services. Rabbi Shmuel Mann, leader of
Keneseth Israel, stated: “I have ambivalent feelings, in the sense
that it’s tough for a congregation to go through this move, but
hundreds of Conservative congregations have done that over the last
25 years. On the whole I think it’s a positive move…It brings the
worship service more in line with the way we think and the way we
live our lives.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Times-Picayune

On May 27, 1999, The Times-Picayune reported on the
Pittsburgh meeting, mentioning that the Pittsburgh Principles
encourage immigration to Israel, welcome marriage to non-Jews who
“strive to create a Jewish home,” and encourage Jews to be
missionaries to those unaffiliated with any faith.


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

On May 27, 1999, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the
Central Conference of American Rabbis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
endorsed a measure by a vote of 324-68 to encourage Reform Judaism
toward the observance of more traditional rituals and practices, such
as keeping kosher, wearing a yarmulke, and praying in Hebrew.
Reform Judaism’s founding platform in 1885 eschewed many Jewish traditions
because they were viewed as obstacles to “modern spiritual
elevation.” Rabbi Michael Siegel, the newly elected president of the
Chicago Board of Rabbis, stated that, “a move back to the traditions
in religious life is taking place in America in general and the
decision by the Reform movement to include more Hebrew in its
services, and return to the tradition, is an indication of what goes
on around the country.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: New York Daily News

On May 27, 1999, the Daily News of New York reported that
the principles laid down in Pittsburgh by the Central Conference of
American Rabbis does not mandate actions for Reform Jews, but it
offers “guidelines for observing traditional Jewish practices, such
as wearing prayer shawls, following kosher dietary laws, studying
Hebrew and Observing Shabbat.” Cantor Rebecca Garfein of the Bronx’s
Riverdale Temple stated: “They’re looking for meaning and something
to hold on to in the age of globism, this age of technology, when
almost everything today is a push of the button. People are looking
for more meaning in their lives.” Rabbi Ronald Sobel of Temple
Emanu-El in New York was not so optimistic about the principles: “The
document itself is unimportant. What is troubling is the atmosphere
that has created this document [which is] a departure from historic
Reform Judaism that was unapologetically inclusive and universal,
[and that is] a step away from a Liberal Jewish religious life where
ethics and morality are consciously more important than ceremonies
and rituals.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The New York Times

On May 27, 1999, The New York Times published an article
on the contents of the Pittsburgh Principles. The document is divided
into “three broad sections of beliefs, in the worship of God, the
observance of the Torah and devotion to Israel.” The document
specifically addresses for the first time in a declaration of Reform
principles the issue of mitzvot, which are sacred obligations that
are observed more closely by Conservative and Orthodox Jews. The
document states that “some of these mitzvot, sacred obligations, have
long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern,
demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our
own times.” The document also addresses homosexuality, religious intermarriage, and recent converts. The Pittsburgh Principles are a
beginning point for further meetings to translate the principles into “concrete terms.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Detroit News

On May 26, 1999, The Detroit News published an article
entitled,
“Reform
Judaism Adopts New Platform.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Boston Globe

On May 24, 1999, The Boston Globe published an article on
the changes affecting Reform Judaism. Describing the Pittsburgh
Principles, Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish History at
Brandeis University, stated: “In many ways, it’s a little bit like a
political platform. It seeks to allow large numbers of people to feel
comfortable and tries not to alienate anybody. And in a voluntary
religious environment where you want as many members as possible,
that’s probably wise.” Rabbi David Wolfman, executive director of the
Northeast Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations,
stated: “We (as Reform Jews) feel very comfortable as
Americans and now we are reclaiming those traditions that have always
been ours. It doesn’t mean we’re going to become less liberal or less
progressive.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Jerusalem Post

On May 19, 1999, The Jerusalem Post reported that Los
Angeles’ University of Judaism graduated the first group of
Conservative rabbis to be ordained outside of New York. Four men and
four women made up the graduating class of the four-year-old Ziegler
School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, which is
affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Originally, Jewish Theological Seminary opposed the idea of a second
rabbinical school, but now tempers have “cooled down and officials at
both schools, though still competitive, expressed high esteem for
each other.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Denver Post

On May 17, 1999, The Denver Post reported that 100
volunteers from the Jewish community in Denver cleaned up the
paupers’ section of Golden Hill Cemetery, which contains the graves
of Jewish tuberculosis victims from the early 1900s who fled from New
York to Denver to seek treatment. Historian Ron Sladek stated: “In
those times, when people got on the trains to Denver, their families
would just kiss them goodbye and basically write them off for dead.
They knew they weren’t ever going to see them again.” The clean-up
continues a 10-year effort to maintain the paupers’ section of the
cemetery. Rob Rubin, executive director of the Synagogue Council of
Greater Denver, stated: “The dead cannot come back and thank us or
try to repay us for what we have done. Carrying out this mitzvah is
the most selfless act we can do.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: Los Angeles Times

On May 16, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published an
article on the Conservative rabbis ordained in Los Angeles. Rabbi
Lawrence Goldmark, president of the Southern California Board of
Rabbis, stated: “The signal is obvious. The West Coast, and
especially Los Angeles, has become one of the most important centers
of Jewish life in America.” Many Jewish leaders feel that “a
different kind of rabbi willing to break the mold is likely to come
out of Los Angeles schools.” The Reform movement, whose ordinations
in the United States have only been in Cincinnati and New York, is
also planning to ordain rabbis in Los Angeles in the next several
years.


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: Omaha World-Herald

On May 8, 1999, the Omaha World-Herald published an
article on a talk by historian Jonathan Sarna concerning the changing demographics of Judaism in the United States.
According to Sarna, the Jewish population in
America in the 1940s was 3.7 percent – now it is 2.2 percent. Israel
will soon displace the United States as the largest Jewish community
in the world, but American Judaism has spawned many new movements.
Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox are “sharing the stage” with
Jewish New Age, transdenominational, and other movements. Sarna
believes that this adds up to an identity crisis, in which the
options are assimilation, revitalization, and renewal. Sarna stated:
“The decisions we make will make the difference. The future belongs
to Jews with the vision and fortitude to shape the future.”


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: The Indianapolis Star

On May 7, 1999, The Indianapolis Star reported on the
growing trend of American conversions to Judaism. Rabbi Dennis Sasso
of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis stated: “During the
last 30 years, pluralism in this country has created a greater social
and cultural interaction among people of different faiths and
traditions. In that context, Judaism has become a meaningful option
for people who are searching.” Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, which
offers regular classes for those seeking conversion to Judaism, is
embracing what Gary Tobin, a San Francisco writer and Jewish
activist, has called a “proactive conversion,” a kind of marketing of
Judaism. This view of Judaism emphasizes Jewish identity as a people,
not just as a religion, and seeks to create a vital and welcoming
community. Rabbis have devised a Service of Acceptance for new
converts, a liturgy that is similar to a bar or bat mitzvah. For more
information on Jewish conversion, visit Jewish Outreach.


The Changing Face of Judaism

Source: Los Angeles Times

On April 26, 1999, the Los Angeles Times published an
article on Temple Beth Solomon in Arleta, California, which is the
only temple in the United States founded by and for deaf Jews.
Established in 1960, Temple Beth Solomon has served the community of
30,000 to 50,000 deaf Jews in this country who want to learn Torah
and study Hebrew. Ancient Jewish teachings barred deaf Jews from
undertaking bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies because the rabbis could
not communicate with them. Now, deaf Jews have the opportunity to
undertake bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, but they have to learn how
to speak Hebrew and how to do phonetic signing of Hebrew and learn
its signed meaning. Many of the students grew up in hearing temples
where they didn’t know what was going on. Temple president Roz
Robinson stated: “We (deaf people) own it, we run it. This is
about deaf people deciding what deaf people want. The idea that we
have our own synagogue, controlled by us, is really amazing.”