Yom Rivii, 21 Tammuz 5779
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Renewing our radical tradition PDF Print E-mail

RABBI DR DAVID J GOLDBERG’S sermon delivered at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue on Kol Nidre reminded us that Yom Kippur is about honesty. True to his word, David was then brutally honest as he considered the question of Liberal Judaism’s role in the Jewish future.

I took David’s main challenge to be that Liberal Judaism needs to rediscover its radicalism and differentiate itself more clearly. Otherwise it risks irrelevance and decline. As he told a packed LJS sanctuary: "We can rattle off where Liberal Judaism is now similar to the rest of Anglo-Jewry; but it is far harder to pinpoint where we are different and why, therefore, we should remain as an indispensable separate organisation rather than merge into one big Progressive movement."

He continued: "It was Goethe who wrote that those who have a ‘why’ to survive will always find the ‘how’. Liberal Judaism needs to rediscover its ‘why’, one that is fresh, ethically universal and, above all, theologically credible in today’s world." David ended his sermon by throwing the gauntlet down to "begin the work of reconstruction urgently".

Our movement is currently working on a Strategic Plan, under the admirable leadership of Pam Fox and Gillian Merron. It will articulate what makes Liberal Judaism distinctive and be clearer about our priorities so that we can have more impact. This is an organisation that finds taking big decisions difficult but, when it does, it advances with renewed defiance and determination. No other movement can quite compete with us.

If I and others are to pick up Goldberg’s gauntlet, we need to work on solutions, not just a diagnosis of our ills.

Our rabbis are invariably insightful, fluent and scholarly in interpreting afresh the Torah and other texts. But sermons alone do not constitute a strategy.

The task for rabbis and lay leaders is to agree a vision that not only speaks to our current membership, but prospective supporters too. We are missing the opportunity of bringing on thousands of new members because we can be too introspective and fearful of change.

We need to shift the centre of gravity from tradition, and how best to refresh it, to modernity itself, and how Liberal Judaism is a great response to it. We are not a single issue movement, whether it is same-sex marriage, climate change, legal aid, poverty, assisted dying, domestic violence, mental illness or anything else. But these issues are symptomatic, if not paradigmatic, of the crisis – and let us not shirk from using this word – that our society faces around deeper issues of identity, relationships, commitment, divided communities, living longer and custodianship of our planet.

Some challenges have been with us from time immemorial, but others are distinctly modern. Religion, whether it is fundamentalist or more sophisticated, will fail unless it recognises these challenges as new and complex, not lending themselves to easy solutions.

Liberal Judaism has never existed in isolation from the social, economic and political trends of the day. It is a spiritual and cultural response to an increasingly fragmenting society. We are a movement that brings people together in the face of social change, by remembering that change is best managed when we adapt to it, inwardly as well as outwardly, while staying true to our values and appreciating our common human destiny.

We need to reclaim Judaism, not just Liberal Judaism, as a movement that recognises that while our tradition is particular to a people, it is universal in its values and promise. Our Judaism must speak truth to power: in politics, at work, at home or, as David deftly showed, in our own communities.

Liberal Judaism can more than meet David’s challenge if rabbis and their communities make the most of the consultation on the Strategic Plan and participate in our 2014 Biennial Weekend. The Biennial is aptly focused on our roots, and our response. I hope to see many of you there to continue this conversation.

Lucian J Hudson is chairman of Liberal Judaism. You can contact him by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it