What is Progressive Judaism?
Progressive Judaism is the name we use to describe the beliefs, practices and communal identities of Jews who honour Jewish tradition by bringing it into an ongoing conversation with the present. It describes a Judaism which is respectful of the past without becoming a slave to it. Progressive Jews build on timeless Jewish values to give special meaning and purpose to their life in the contemporary world. We affirm the main areas of traditional Jewish experience – Shabbat, festivals, life transitions from cradle to grave, education, kashrut, acts of chesed – while welcoming innovative and fresh approaches to them.
Progressive Jews celebrate the notion that there is more than one way to be Jewish. We believe that the diversity of religious expression brings honour to God’s name. We do not feel intimidated by those who disagree with us. On the contrary, we feel proud to practice Judaism as it has been laid down in Torah and interpreted by Jewish sages from ancient days. The process of bringing Jewish values into dialogue with present psychological, social and political realities is called “midrash”. Midrash builds on the teachings of the prophets in Biblical times. It has been an accepted mode of interpreting Torah for at least 2500 years, and it reveals in its essence a progressive orientation towards reading Torah. Our understanding of Jewish history is that we have survived through the expansive reinvention of Torah in every age, through the creative process of midrash. We are proud to be the heirs to this authentic tradition of Jewish learning.
We are also proud Zionists. We see our destiny as linked to that of Israel: the people, the land, the state. Though there is a political dimension to the relationship, it is primarily an ethical and spiritual relationship that we seek. To this end, our attachment to Israel is mirrored by our commitment to elaborating the rights and responsibilities of all peoples, both within the land and beyond it. Since we believe that there are many ways to be Jewish, we challenge the position of those who claim that there is only one way to be Jewish. These include fundamentalists, who hold that only one mode of interpreting Torah is divinely sanctioned, and secular humanists, who claim that there is no aura of divinity surrounding Torah at all. As Progressive Jews we respect the right of both fundamentalists and secular humanists to hold to their views, but we reject their claim to have the sole correct understanding of Torah.
Honouring the principle of b’tzelem Elohim, the idea that all people are created “in the image of the divine” (Genesis 1), we believe that every individual, whatever their sexual orientation, race, religion or ethnicity, has the intrinsic right to be treated with dignity and justice. The individual does not have to earn this right. When someone’s beliefs or practices are aggressively denigrated by others, it is in effect a denial of this right, and we believe it is our duty to speak out against such behaviour.
Progressive Judaism sees value in a range of Jewish beliefs and practices, as long as these are directed towards enhancing the ethical and spiritual well-being of the individual, the Jewish community and the wider communities in which we live. For this reason we speak often of tzedek: justice and equity, and tikkun olam: repairing the world. Our messianic ideal is to restore wholeness, shalem, and peace, shalom, to the world in partnership with the divine.
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