Professor Jacob Neusner explains why he is returning to the Refrom fold after a decades-long stop in the Conservative camp:
Once upon a time, there was a young man, a third-generation American who was raised in a classical Reform temple, who in the Reform manner celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah and who was confirmed in the Reform rite. He was inspired by his temple’s rabbi to himself become a Reform rabbi. He held national office in the National Federation of Temple Youth, and he was admitted to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College.
Then, on the very day this young man was supposed to begin studies at Hebrew Union College, he instead entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the intellectual citadel of Conservative Judaism. He agreed to give up the lobster dinners, the veal parmigiana and the BLT sandwiches that he had loved, and even to quit smoking on the Sabbath, as admission to JTS demanded.
The decision was not the result of a dramatic change of convictions. He simply thought he would get a better Jewish education at JTS than at HUC. To that goal everything else was secondary. Six years later, he was ordained by JTS as a Conservative rabbi.
That young man was me. I would go on to raise my children in the Conservative movement.
Today, however, I have returned to the convictions (if not to the cuisine) of my youth — not because they are expedient but because they are compelling. After a half-century of apostasy, I affirm Reform Judaism as the American Judaism both of my personal choice and of our communal necessity. Indeed, I have come to believe that if Reform Judaism did not exist today, American Jews would have to invent it. …
Read the full piece in the Forward, which was adapted from a Dec. 1 speech that he gave in conjuction with receiving an honorary degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.