“Sacred Religious Duty”

In 1877, Rabbi Leopold Stein, a prominent figure in the Reform movement, published a 36-point catalog of religious ordinances for “present-day Israelites,” entitled “Torath-Chajim” [Living Torah]. This was one of the readings in Temple Micah‘s recent class on “‘Challenges’ in Contemporary Jewish Faith.”

Class reactions to Stein’s specific ordinances were varied. As were responses to his use of “law”: distinguishing between “divine laws of the Bible” and “rabbinical ordinances…which excessively weigh down and impede life,” on the one hand, and, on the other, labeling some “rabbinical institutions” as “sacred obligations to us in the ordering of our religious life and law.”

I was personally struck by two spots in Stein’s text where one form of “obligation” is seen to trump another:

Ordinance #19 of Torath-Chajim insists that “we have both the right and obligation” to set aside rules which make it impossible for a modern business person to observe Shabbat. Ordinance #20 states that it is “a sacred religious duty” to do away with second-day festival celebrations. While the idea of “sacred religious duty” could launch many volumes of discussion, my most powerful response was to wish I heard this phrase more often in contemporary Reform discourse. I particularly miss it when speaking — as Stein is doing — about variant understandings of such duties.
Continue Reading

Seven Days or Seven Years: Why Don’t Reform Jews Know?

How long was Jacob married to Leah before he also married Rachel? [slightly updated 2019]

This question came up in discussion at Temple Micah some years ago. We were confused, since participants had been taught different basic facts: Some remembered clearly being taught as children that Laban demanded seven more years of work before Jacob was allowed, finally, to marry Rachel; others could quote easily, “just complete the bridal week of this one” and were sure Jacob married Rachel a week after marrying Leah. Why this discrepancy?

With a little research, we eventually learned more about the discrepancy and its textual base. What we did not learn was why recent Reform translations — and perhaps those used in religious schools of decades past — view Jacob’s marriage chronology differently than so many others.

Here are some current translations for Genesis/Breishit 29:27-28.
Continue Reading