Podcast: Clifford Librach on the Reform Movement and Jewish Peoplehood

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Chapter 1: The Chabon Speech and Its Aftermath

Chapter 2: Pluralism, Prayer Books, and Peoplehood

Chapter 3: Outsourcing Observance 

Chapter 4: Presiding over a Funeral

Chapter 5: The State of Israel—A New Life Just Beginning

On May 14, 2018, the Jewish novelist Michael Chabon strode across the dais, shook Rabbi David Ellenson’s hand, and began to deliver the commencement address at the graduation ceremony of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Los Angeles.

What did he say to the graduates of one of Reform Judaism’s most venerable institutions?

He denounced Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and spoke out against its security barrier. He lamented the outdated particularism of, and the boundaries created by, Jewish ritual. And he spoke in opposition to the longstanding Jewish practice of endogamy—Jews marrying other Jews—calling endogamous marriage a “ghetto of two.”

Chabon’s speech prompted a chorus of criticism from many corners, including from some Reform rabbis. One of them was Rabbi Clifford Librach, who spent many years serving as a pulpit rabbi in Reform temples. In “Paying the Price for Abandoning Jewish Peoplehood,” published in Tablet, Rabbi Librach laments the current state of Reform Judaism, painting a picture of a movement that allowed its fierce commitment to universalism destroy it from within. In this podcast, he joins Jonathan Silver for a discussion of the Reform movement’s history and current troubles, the dangers of repudiating Jewish particularism, and the ray of hope offered by the success of the modern State of Israel.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as Midnight Three by Sirus Music.

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