THE AFFIRMATIONS OF LIBERAL JUDAISM


To be a Jew is to be the inheritor of a religious and cultural tradition.

To be a practising Jew is to accept with love and pride the duty of maintaining and transmitting that tradition.

To be a practising Liberal Jew is to transmit that tradition within the framework of modern thinking and morality; to live according to the prophetic ideal - to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God.

In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, there are thirty Liberal and Progressive Jewish congregations, large and small. All work together to uphold and spread their beliefs, combining rabbinic and lay resources, through the national organisation, the Union of Liberal & Progressive Synagogues.

The organisation was founded in 1902 by men and women committed to the ideal of a liberal philosophy. in order to ensure the continuity of Jewish faith, tradition, practice and ethics within a contemporary framework. They worked unsparingly to reinstil Judaism in the hearts of Jews through services, public meetings, sermons, writings and inspiring leadership. The movement they founded, the Jewish Religious union, was later renamed the Union of Liberal & Progressive Synagogues, now known as Liberal Judaism.

Today, we declare the basis of our faith which has enabled us to be part of the proud, developing and dynamic history of Judaism.


AFFIRMATIONS OF LIBERAL JUDAISM


Liberal Judaism is the growing edge of Judaism. It reverences Jewish tradition, and seeks to preserve all that is good in the Judaism of the past. But it lives in the present. It desires that Judaism shall be an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals, families and communities today, and that it shall make its contribution to the betterment of human society. It confronts unflinchingly the challenges of our time, welcomes gladly all advances in human knowledge, and responds constructively to changing circumstances. It values truth above tradition, sincerity above conformity, and human needs above legal technicalities. It is unafraid to engage in dialogue with other streams of Judaism, or with other religions, or with secularism. It is always ready to reconsider, modify and innovate. It is the Judaism of the past in process of becoming the Judaism of the future.

COMMON GROUND

We affirm our commitment to Judaism, the cultural heritage of the Jewish people, and the centrality within that heritage of the Jewish religion, which, since the time of Abraham, has proclaimed the sovereignty of the One God.

We affirm our commitment to the Jewish people, bearer of the Jewish religious and cultural heritage, and our duty to defend the civil rights, and to seek the material and spiritual welfare, of Jews and Jewish communities everywhere.

We affirm our commitment to the State of Israel, our duty to seek its security, aid its development support its absorption of immigrants, and further the fulfilment of the high ideals set out in its Proclamation of Independence.

We affirm our pride in Jewish history: a unique record of survival and creativity in many lands and diverse circumstances including times of unspeakable suffering which reinforce our determination that Judaism shall survive.

We affirm our devotion to Jewish literature- Bible, Mishnah, Talmud. Midrash and all great literary expressions of the Jewish spirit - as an inexhaustible source of wisdom to which we constantly turn for guidance and inspiration.

We affirm the Jewish conception of God: One and indivisible, transcendent and immanent Creator and Sustainer of the universe Source of the Moral Law, a God of Justice and mercy who demands that human beings shall practise justice and mercy in their dealings with one another.

We affirm the Jewish conception of humanity: created in the Divine Image, endowed with free will capable of sublime goodness but also of terrible evil, mortal yet with a sense of eternity, able to enter into a direct personal relationship with their Creator, and to restore that relationship when it is broken, through repentance (t'shuvah).

We affirm the Jewish conception of human history: a drama of progress and setback, triumph and tragedy, yet divinely destined to lead to an age when all will worship the One God, good will triumph over evil, and the reign of freedom, justice, love and peace will be permanently established throughout the world.

We affirm the Jewish conception of B'rit ("Covenant"): the special relationship that came to exist between God and our Hebrew and Israelite ancestors, and the responsibility which therefore devolves on their descendants, to be God's witnesses and servants.

We affirm the Jewish conception of Torah ("Teaching"): that at Mount Sinai as well as subsequently, through revelation and inspiration, reflection and discussion, our people gained an ever growing understanding of God's will, and that this is a continuing process.

We affirm the Jewish conception of Mitzvah ("Commandment"): that as Jews we are obligated to lead a life of exemplary ethical quality, to work for the betterment of human society, and to practise a devotional discipline of study, prayer and observance.

We affirm our commitment to Talmud Torah ("study of Torah"): the formal and informal education of children and adults in Jewish history and literature. thought and practice, and the Hebrew language, as the foundation of Jewish life and the precondition of its perpetuation from age to age.

We affirm our commitment to Judaism's ethical values, which include reverence for life, respect for persons and property, love of neighbour, practical kindness (g'milut chasadim) and charity (tz'dakah), social justice and peace, the conservation of nature, and the humane treatment of animals.

We affirm our commitment to the Jewish home as a "little sanctuary" (mikdash m'at), filled with the beauTy of holiness, in which the values and traditions of Judaism can best be exemplified, taught, and transmitted from generation to generation.

We affirm our commitment to the Synagogue (beyt ha-k'neset) as Judaism's democratically governed community centre, serving its traditional threefold function as a house of prayer, study and fellowship.

We affirm the importance of prayer and worship, through which individual and community seek ever anew to experience God's presence, to draw spiritual sustenance from their religious heritage, and to dedicate themselves to their responsibilities.

We affirm the importance of the Jewish liturgy, including the recitation of the Sh'ma ("Hear"), the public reading of Scripture, and an abundance of blessings prayers and hymns composed by Jewish sages, poets and mystics in many lands and ages.

We affirm the importance of Shabbat ("Sabbath"): the sanctification of the seventh day as a day of rest and joy, study and worship, to be observed both by cessation from work and by positive acts of celebration such as the kindling of lights, Kiddush ("Sanctification") and Havdalah ("Separation").

We affirm the importance of the Days of Awe (Yamim Nora'im), comprising Rosh Hashanah ("New Year") and Yom Kippur ("Day of Atonement"), devoted to deep reflection, repentance and spiritual renewal.

We affirm the importance of the "Three Pilgrimage Festivals", comprising Pesach ("Passover"), Shavuot ("Pentecost), and Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), followed by Simchat Torah, ("Rejoicing in the Torah"), celebrating Freedom, Revelation and Joy.

We affirm the importance of the festival of Chanukkah ("Rededication"), and we encourage the observance of other days of celebration, such as Purim ("Lots") and Yom ha-Atzma'ut (Israel's "Independence Day"), and days of mourning such as Tish'ah b'Av ("Ninth of Av") and Yom ha-Sho'ah ("Holocaust Day").

We affirm the importance of many of the traditional Jewish rites of passage, including appropriate acts of ritual relating to birth, circumcision, baby-naming, coming-of-age, marriage and the consecration of a new home, as well as death and mourning.


DISTINCTIVE EMPHASES

Judaism has never stood still. It has always moved forward, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. Its history is a history of continuity and change. We affirm the dynamic, developing character of our Jewish religious tradition.

Judaism has never been monolithic. There have always been varieties of Judaism. The more conservative Sadducees and the more progressive Pharisees represent only one of many past conflicts. We affirm the diversity of our tradition.

The Emancipation wrought far-reaching changes in the context of Jewish life. It therefore raised fundamental questions about Jewish belief and practice, and about the perpetuation of Judaism and the resultant debate produced a multiplicity of options. We affirm the respect due to all conscientious options.

We affirm our commitment to the movement known as Progressive Judaism, united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and especially to the liberal strand within it whose pioneers have included Abraham Geiger, David Einhorn, Kaufmann Kohler, Claude Montefiore and Israel Mattock.

Orthodox Judaism carries on Judaism virtually as it was before the Emancipation. Conservative Judaism modifies it minimally. Jewish Secularism expresses Jewish identity in non-religious terms. We affirm Progressive Judaism because it alone seeks a synthesis of Judaism and modernity.

In the Middle Ages, Jews (like Christians and Muslims) held their sacred writings to be divinely revealed and free of error. Modernity rejects such fundamentalism and maintains that truth must be sought open-mindedly from all sources. We affirm the spirit of free inquiry. Among other things, we accept modern Bible scholarship, which has shown that the biblical writers, however divinely inspired, were fallible human beings and children of the Ancient Near Fast in which they lived.

Rabbinic Judaism accepted the apocalyptic belief in a Messiah who will one day gather in the exiles and sit on the throne of a restored Davidic monarchy. We affirm the universalistic hope of the Prophets for a "Messianic Age" brought about gradually. through the acceptance of God's will by all humanity.

Rabbinic Judaism believed that with the coming of the Messiah the Temple would be rebuilt and the biblically prescribed sacrifices would again be offered by a hereditary priesthood. We affirm our belief that the Synagogue has permanently replaced the Temple. Accordingly, we recognise no distinction between persons of priestly descent (kohanim) and other Jews, and we encourage the use of instrumental music in synagogue worship

We affirm the paramount need for sincerity in worship: we may not say with our lips what we do not believe in our hearts. To that end, though we retain much of the traditional Jewish liturgy we have revised it, with some omissions and modifications and many amplifications. For the same reason we use English as well as Hebrew in our services.

We affirm the equal status of men and women in synagogue life. The Liberal Jewish movement has been the pioneer in that respect in Britain. There is no sex segregation in our synagogues. Women may lead services, become rabbis, and hold any synagogue office.

We affirm the equal status of boys and girls in religious education. Accordingly, we have introduced the ceremony of Bat-Mitzvah ("Daughter of Duty") to complement the traditional Bar-Mitzvah ("Son of Duty") at the age of thirteen, and we attach great importance to the further ceremony created by Liberal Judaism of Kabbalat Torah ("Acceptance of Torah" or "Confirmation") at fifteen or sixteen.

We affirm the equal status of men and women in marriage law and ritual. With us, therefore, bride and bridegroom alike play an active role in the marriage service. Similarly. we object to the traditional Get ("bill of divorce") by which the husband unilaterally "sends away" his wife.

We affirm the principle, forcefully stated in the 18th chapter of Ezekiel, that children are not to be held responsible for the actions of their parents. We therefore reject the law of the mamzer ("bastard") which penalises the offspring of unions prohibited by the biblical laws of consanguinity and affinity.

Since genetically children inherit alike from both parents, whereas culturally the influence of either may prove the stronger, the traditional law of matrilineality cannot be justified. Instead, we affirm the common-sense view that children of mixed marriages are to be treated alike, regardless of whether the mother or the father is the Jewish parent, and judged solely according to their upbringing.

We affirm the need for an inclusive attitude to the question of Jewish identity. We welcome sincere proselytes and make the process of conversion no more difficult than it needs to be. Likewise we welcome into our congregations all who have a good claim to be regarded as Jewish regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

We affirm the ethical emphasis of the Prophets: that what God chiefly requires of us is right conduct and the establishment of a just society. Religious observances are a means of cultivating holiness. As such, they are also important, but not of the same order of importance.

As we affirm the need for sincerity in belief and worship, so we affirm the need for sincerity in observance. Therefore observances must accord with our beliefs, and individual Jews must be free in this area to exercise informed, conscientious choice. That applies, among other things, to the details of Sabbath observance (sh'mirat shabbat) and the Dietary Laws (kashrut).

Because we affirm the importance of individual autonomy, therefore we do not legislate except in so far as it is necessary to do so. Nevertheless individuals need guidance, and communal life requires rues. Both in the guidance we offer and in the rules we make, we endeavour to reconcile tradition with modernity.

In particular, we affirm the need to harmonise Rabbinic Law (Halachah) with modern social realities and ethical perceptions. For instance, we reject the antiquated ceremony of Chalitzah ("Taking off the Shoe") releasing a brother-in-law from a no-longer-permitted levirate marriage; and we observe the Festivals according to their biblically prescribed duration, without the "extra day" instituted in post-biblical times for reasons which have long since ceased to apply.

Totally committed though we are to Judaism, and profoundly convinced of its unsurpassed excellence, we nevertheless recognise that ultimate truth is mysterious and manifold, and that other traditions sincerely seek and find it in different ways. We therefore affirm the need to respect other religions and, through dialogue with them, especially Christianity and Islam, to promote mutual understanding, friendship and enrichment.