My post on misogyny in some versions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism generated a few comments that got me thinking about Reform Judaism as a model for religion in the 21st century.
Reform Judaism was the second mutation of Judaism in the past 3000 years. The first was the Judaism of the Two-Fold Law invented by the early rabbis. This Judaism argued that God gave two revelations to Moses on Sinai, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah that came to be known as the Talmud. While pure fiction, this new Judaism became THE Judaism for the next 2000 years. *
Reform Judaism was no less bold, replacing the authority of God, revelation, and rabbis with the autonomy of the individual. This shift was huge, and accounts for the freedom that Reform Jews have vis a vis Judaism. In Reform Judaism the individual Jew rather than God (Orthodoxy), Torah (Conservative), or community (Reconstructionist) decides for herself how to be a Jew. Of course this also accounts for the low level of traditional observance by Reform Jews, but this cannot be avoided. The failure of Reform Judaism is its unwillingness to radically and continually redefine Judaism (and by this I mean redefine the meaning of God, Torah, Israel, community, and mitzvot) in line with the humanism at its core.
Still, Reform’s focus on the sovereign self is enough for Orthodox Judaisms to claim that Reform isn’t Judaism at all. That is to say there is nothing in the history of Judaism prior to Reform Judaism that lends legitimacy to Reform Judaism. They are correct. That is why Reform is a mutation. Of course the same can be said of Rabbinic Judaism as well, as the adherents to the more ancient and authentic Torah Only school of Priestly Judaism argued right up to their demise at the hands of Rome. Mutations don’t have precedents. That is why they are called mutations.
Judaism is not the only religion to mutate, but it is among the very few that have done so with the sovereign self at the center. Most religions still seek to subjugate the individual to the will of others. Such mutations cannot be planned or staged. Revolutions that shift power from one group of leaders to another are not yet a sovereign self mutation. My own sense of things is that without such a mutation religions will continue to oppress the “other” (most often women) within their ranks and seek to dominate the other (the nonbeliever, heretic, etc.) outside their ranks. What do you think?
* Some argue that Zionism is the second mutation and Reform the third. I am ignoring Zionism here because it rejected religion while Reform did not.