Progressive Judaism

tree of lifeReform or Liberal Judaism) began in Germany at the beginning of the l9th century. It represents a creative Jewish response to the challenges of the modern world. Progressive Judaism differs from Orthodox Judaism primarily in the matter of revelation. The Orthodox view is that the Bible is literally the word of God, and, therefore, is infallible. Progressive Judaism understands the Bible to be the work of human beings who wrote the text, inspired by God and seeking to understand God. As such, we recognise the important truths contained in our Jewish traditions even as we seek to distinguish between that which is time-bound and that which is timeless. For example, if we consider the story of the Exodus, it is regarded as important for a Progressive Jew to understand, and reflect in his or her own life, the message of freedom and peace contained in the story. This is seen as of greater importance than sustaining a belief that God literally parted the Reed Sea (sometimes referred to as the “Red Sea”).

Progressive Judaism sees itself as part of the growing and evolving Jewish tradition – a tradition that has never really been fixed and static. Part of this commitment to growth and evolution is reflected in our attitude towards personal observance. No external authority tells the individual Progressive Jew what to think or what to do in religious matters. Each individual congregant is required to make informed choices about personal belief and practice. Naturally, this means that there will be a diversity of ideas and practices among Progressive Jews. However, this should not be mistaken for a lack of commitment to Jewish tradition, or as some sort of “easy” faith with no rules.

A Progressive Jew should ensure that any choices he or she makes about observance are firmly based on a careful study of Jewish tradition. This should include reflection on what parts of the tradition are meaningful today. Ideally, this should be an evolutionary process lasting a lifetime. There is always something new to learn!