However, even in this regard the Reformatives do tend to fall a little short. It's one thing to have a lousy approach to the two sides as many in the frum world tend to have. It's another to simply write off one side and emphasze select mitzvos as the entirety of the religion as the Reformatives often do.
However, it also seems that this is a consequence of the general religious malaise around us. If there's one thing that North American society values in religion, it's a sense of self-centredness. The concept is simple:
1) God wants me to be happy
2) "X" makes me happy.
3) God wants me to have "X"
For many in the Jewish community who have not been raised in an observant atmosphere this approach can sometimes lead an otherwise honest seeker of Jewish connection astray. Consider this article from The National Post on the newest "synagogue" in downtown Toronto:
A new style of Judaism is being preached from behind a pint glass at Pauper’s Pub on Bloor Street. It’s about 45 minutes after a free discussion group met to dissect the Torah over coffee and the spiritual leaders of the Annex Shul, the city’s most radical new synagogue, are laying out their philosophy.
“Our founders believed that the shuls in Toronto were too traditional, and there was a formality there that they couldn’t connect with,” says Scott McGrath, the temple’s gay 37-year-old chairman, who dresses like an advertising executive and works as a social worker and life coach. Mentioning McGrath’s sexuality matters only to illustrate his temple’s motto: “Come as you are, make it yours,” which, so far, at least 300 people have done at the four-year-old synagogue’s largest events. “When was the last time downtown Toronto built a new shul?”
The question seems to turn over in the mind of Yacov Fruchter, the temple’s 28-year-old spiritual leader, who is working on both his rabbinical certification and his pint of beer. Fruchter, who moved with his wife from Montreal to the Bloor and Bathurst area in 2009, is frumpy and enthusiastic. He is also the same age as the majority of his flock.
“We’re trying to present something that kids themselves can find to create a new and meaningful Jewish experience,” says Fruchter, who wears a pink kippah and last worked as the director of emerging campuses at the United Israel Appeal. “We don’t offer one opinion. Our desire is to make everyone feel comfortable who walks through our door.”
McGrath breaks down the temple’s mission more simply. He says: “We want to be a home for all Jews.”
Oddly enough, there is one important group of Jews that won't feel comfortable joining this little chaburah, the ones who actually practice genuine Judaism. We can't daven in such an environment and odds are the food isn't very kosher either. So much for their chief aspiration.
Here is the concept at work. These folks, despite being assimilated, still have what the Sfas Emes called the pintele Yid, the Jewish spark that lies deep in their slumbering souls. On a primal level they seek a connection with Judaism. On a conscious level their desire to access a religion that will ask them for no sacrifice, no change in lifestyle, no hard thinking about possible conflicts between religious ethics and Western liberal amoralism, leads them to create these kinds of congregations. It allows them to say they belong to a synagogue, they engage in Jewish rituals and they are part of the Jewish nation.
Unfortunately it's all a lie whether they want to realize it or not. The core beliefs and rituals that make up Judaism are not negotiable for those who don't feel like they connect to them or that they're too stultifying. You can have a free, abstract personality but you still have to daven three times a day. You may love contemplating God by looking at a beautiful sunset but you still have to learn. It's part of the package and it's not up for redefinition.
The real shame is that many of these folks are sincere in their desire to connect even though they don't realize that they're doing it all wrong. In a society that allows everyone to claim membership wherever they want regardless of accepting the responsibility that comes with it, why would they think Judaism is different?