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I recently attended a community Torah study hosted by a Reform rabbi. As we were discussing the weekly Torah portion, many of those in attendance (Reform Jews) kept referring to "the men" who wrote the Torah.

As someone who believes in the concept of Torah mi-Sinai, I am at a loss as to how Reform faith works. If the Torah was written by men, even if inspired by G_d, then it is still a man-made document. For many, including myself, Maamad Har Sinai is a historically central event in Jewish history and the basis of Orthodox emunah. What then is the Reform concept of emunah based upon? In other words, is a human authored document the basis of their faith?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because, given that the Divine authorship of the Torah is about as central an axiom of Jewish Tradition as can be, it seems to me that delving into the details of a belief system based on denial of that axiom is not consistent with a scope of "those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition." – Isaac Moses Jan 27 '15 at 6:53
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    So are you asking about the Reform view of the origin of Torah (as per your title) or in what the Reform movement advocates basing your emunah? – Charles Koppelman Jan 27 '15 at 21:25
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    Why do we even have a heterodox tag if we don't allow questions on heterodoxy? – Clint Eastwood Oct 27 '16 at 11:59
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    @Clint Better yet, why do we have a gentiles tag? Or non-jewish-holidays?? Or christianity??? Shouldn't we migrate all those questions to Christianity.SE? – Double AA Sep 5 '18 at 21:05
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    @DoubleAA judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4051 – DonielF Sep 6 '18 at 18:48
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The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is the Reform Rabbinic leadership organization. They came up with a number of "platforms" that are "documents capturing the state of Reform Jewish thought at different key moments in our history".

In terms of the origin of the Torah, the original “Pittsburgh Platform” from 1885 avoids the issue of the origin of the Torah but states

  1. We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.

  2. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.

  3. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

The "Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism" adopted in Pittsburgh in 1999 is a bit clearer on the divine origin of the Torah

We affirm that Torah is the foundation of Jewish life.

We cherish the truths revealed in Torah, God’s ongoing revelation to our people and the record of our people’s ongoing relationship with God.

Writing further in 2004, they summarize the evolution

The Centenary Perspective said that “Torah results from the relationship between God and the Jewish people.”.

The Pittsburgh Principles defined Torah as an ongoing dialogue between God’s continuing revelation and Israel’s continuing struggle to understand the ways of God, and to respond to God’s presence and God’s will.

The Columbus Platform states that “revelation is a continuous process.

The Third Draft of the Principles states that “the Reform movement believes that changing times affect the way we understand the mitzvot” and “what may seem outdated in one age may be redemptive in another.” Using the word revelation reminds us that God has revealed truths to us; what we know, believe, and practice stem not only from our own thinking and experience, but insofar as they echo the truths of Torah, they also come from God.

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The reform movement accepts all modern critical scholarship about the Bible at face value. As such, they do not feel halacha is binding but have only two imperatives: monotheism and morality. There are reform traditionalists who like ritual but don't consider it obligatory and classical (I like to call them High Church because that's what their services feel like) Reformers who are actively against tradition. For more on Reform theology, look up Samuel Holdheim and Abraham Geiger.

  • Why monotheism? If the Torah is man-made then so is the verse Shema Yisrael. If not, then neither is Zachor es yom hashabas. – Shmuel Brin Mar 11 '15 at 5:52
  • @ShmuelBrin I don't know why they picked monotheism. I usually chalk it up to the pintele yid, but in more cynical moments I suspect that it was because of the social climate when the movement was founded. Atheist religions didn't exist yet and monotheism was cooler than polytheism. – Yitzchak Mar 11 '15 at 17:21
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    As such, they do not feel halacha is binding In reality, one can be a bible critic yet accept halakha, and one can accept the Biblical text, yet reject halakha. – mevaqesh Oct 27 '16 at 5:54
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    I don't believe Reform Judaism considers monotheism imperative. AFAIK, they are ok with atheism. – Daniel Sep 5 '18 at 22:13
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To me, I don't think you can really quantify "Reform Jewish theology". It's really dependent on the individual Reform Jew. Unlike in traditional Judaism, there really isn't a "creed" per se (I'm thinking of the Rambam's principles), people just think whatever seems best to them.

You will find Reform Jews who are atheist and believe the entire Torah was written by men, and you will find Reform Jews who believe the Torah was given by G-d, but was amended afterwards. I wouldn't be surprised to find a Reform Jew who believed the Torah was unchanged since Moshe, but chose not to follow it for x-y-z reasons.

Reform Judaism puts a lot of emphasis on the cultural aspects of Judaism. So, it's not really important what you believe. To Reform Judaism, pretty much anything flies as long as you're a moral person and are active in your community.

Note: I am not a Reform Jew. If we have any Reform Jews on here, please comment and tell me why you agree or disagree. I only have experience with the Reform Jews I run into and chat with, and the things I've read in the newspaper from the local Reform synagogue.

  • If you have little experience with them, then of what value is your opinion? If you aren't going to bring a source I'd at least expect you to claim some sort of personal knowledge on the matter. – Double AA Sep 6 '18 at 0:45
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    @DoubleAA I do have personal knowledge, from talking with Reform Jews, as I have made clear. I just don't have knowledge of all the nitty-gritty and inner-workings of the Reform community. – ezra Sep 6 '18 at 0:46
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    This matches my experience in the Reform movement. (I'm not really a Reform Jew any more, if I ever really was, but I still belong to a Reform synagogue for complicated reasons.) – Monica Cellio Sep 6 '18 at 1:20
  • If you approve of this answer, @MonicaCellio, then I'd consider this answer to be very good, because you seem to be the authority on Reform Judaism here on MY, considering your experience and association with your local Reform synagogue. – ezra Sep 6 '18 at 1:30
  • I can't speak for a whole movement or anything, but I commented precisely because I know we don't have a lot of people here with that particular experience, so maybe it helps. – Monica Cellio Sep 6 '18 at 1:32

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