Rabbi Eric Yoffie called for increased Shabbat observance in his biennial address to the Reform movement.
The president of the Union for Reform Judaism also urged dialogue with Muslim Americans and support for state health care initiatives.
Addressing the 6,000 delegates at the Reform movement’s biennial convention in San Diego Saturday, Yoffie lamented that Shabbat morning services in many Reform congregations have been taken over by bar-mitzvah celebrations that are often alienating to regular synagogue-goers.
“Bar mitzvah is the occasion, symbolically at least, when a young person joins an adult community of Jews,” Yoffie said. “But you cannot join what does not exist. A regular community of worshipers, who would be best suited to mentor the child, is not even present. At the average bar mitzvah, what you almost always get is a one-time assemblage of well-wishers with nothing in common but an invitation.”
Yoffie called for renewed Shabbat observance within the movement as an antidote to a culture that has obscured the boundary between work and leisure. Though he offered few specifics about what Reform Shabbat observance would look like, Yoffie promised it would not be a sort of “neo-frumkeit” and would not result in dictates about personal practice. He proposed that congregations create task forces on Shabbat and a small “chavurah” of individuals who would commit to observe Shabbat for a period of months in an “authentically” Reform way.
Yoffie also stressed the Torah’s injunction to care for the sick in urging followers to look not to Washington but to individual states to solve the country’s health-care crisis. He also assailed the increased demonization of American Muslims after 9/11 and urged more Israel education in advance of the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary.