Back to Back: Two Explorations of American Jewish Identity For Our Time

We welcome Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman back to Temple Micah to share back-to-back retrospectives of his thinking through the years. 

Friday, March 20th, 2020
The Ethical Challenge: From Particular to Universal, Civilization to Conversation

Throughout history, Jews thought of themselves as a “people,” God’s Chosen People. By the 19th century, we became a “religion” divided into modern Jewish religious movements; or (if you were a Zionist) a “nation” reclaiming our hereditary land of Israel. In the 1930s, Mordecai Kaplan (the quintessential Jewish thinker of the 20th century), took the bold step of denying chosen peoplehood, and combined Jewish religion with Jewish nationalism under the umbrella concept of a comprehensive Jewish “civilization.” About a decade ago, at a URJ biennial (and then right here in Temple Micah), I began redefining Judaism for our time, just as Kaplan had done for his: not a civilization but a conversation. Friday night, I explore with you how that idea has grown since then.

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020
The Ritual Challenge: This is Your Life, American Jews

Long before I started thinking about what Judaism is, I was trained as a liturgist, an expert in the history of our prayers. But Jewish identity was already consuming my attention, and I began rethinking the field of liturgy, not as prayers but as worship, a form of ritual. Rabbi Zemel was my student way back then, taking my newly evolving classes in worship and ritual, as modes of identity formation. The second presentation explores the role of worship in determining our identity. The first Reform prayer book of the 1890s portrayed American Judaism for Jews who had arrived from Central Europe. The first Conservative prayer book of 1946 did the same for Jews who had come from Eastern Europe. Our current prayer book explores Judaism with ourselves in mind – Jews by birth, Jews by choice, and anyone else who decides to be part of the Jewish conversation.