Friday, April 16, 2010

Meet the Reform Rabbi (Follow up questions)

After answering the first set of questions, Rabbi Hayom was gracious enough to provide answers to some  follow up questions. They are provided below. The Rabbi also answered several questions asked on the previous three threads - and tells me he hopes to answer more of them. His answers to the best of those questions are reprinted below for your convinience.
More about his weekly Talmud shiur
I teach from an English translation of the text so that students who are not Hebrew-literate can participate. Obviously, a lot of the material is better comprehended in Hebrew, so I go back and forth quite a bit when there are references or exigeses that have to be done in the original language. But I try to teach so that even students who don't understand Hebrew can follow and comprehend the text.

More about the number of people who attend his services
These numbers are VERY flexible; the attendance shifts dramatically if there is a simcha that week, or if lots of people are coming to say Kaddish, if there are lots of people invited to a bar mitzvah, etc. But I would guesstimate that we probably get about 200 people on a Friday night and about 100 people on Saturday mornings. B'nai mitzvah services can vary widely; I'd guess that we have weeks where there are 75 people in that service and weeks where there are several hundred. It really varies. Hope this is helpful even though it's somewhat unscientific. :O)

More about how services at his shul function
In our congregation, it goes like this:
  • On Erev Shabbat, we usually have only one service (occasionally there will be two, with the second being led from an alternative liturgy, but that's the exception and not the rule). That service will be led by two rabbis (one serving as the shaliach tzibbur and the other offering a sermon) and the cantor.
  • On Shabbat morning, there are typically two services: one in the large main sanctuary and one in the smaller chapel.
  • The sanctuary service will be led by one rabbi, the cantor, and the bar/bat mitzvah kid that week.
  • The chapel service will be led by one rabbi and either a cantorial soloist or a vocal ensemble who volunteers their time.
  • We also have a mincha service in the afternoon in order to fit in another bar/bat mitzvah student (we have somewhere around 80 kids who become b'nai mitzvah each year, so this second service has become a necessity).
  • We have a daily minyan in the morning (attended mostly by mourners saying Kaddish) which is lay-led.
High Holy Days are quite a bit more complex. We run each service between 2 and 4 times, to accommodate all of our members and offer a variety of liturgical/musical/demographic options. The rabbis basically move between all the different services, leading a piece of the service or delivering a sermon in different places, so that (ideally) all of us spend some time in all of the different worship settings. Here's the schedule, just so you can get an idea of what it looks like (times are approximate; I don't recall the exact hours off the top of my head):

Erev Rosh HaShanah -
  • 6 p.m. Sanctuary service
  • 9 p.m. Sanctuary service
  • 8 p.m. Alternative service - for Young Adults (in their 20s and 30s) only
Rosh HaShanah -
  • 9 a.m. Sanctuary service
  • 12 p.m. Sanctuary service
  • 8 a.m. Alternative service for families with school-age (grades 2-6) children
  • 11 a.m. Alternative service for families with school-age (grades 2-6) children
  • 3 p.m. Sanctuary service for families with young (2nd grade and younger) children
  • Tashlich
Kol Nidre -
  • 6 p.m. Sanctuary service
  • 9 p.m. Sanctuary service
Yom Kippur Morning -
  • 9 a.m. Sanctuary service
  • 12 p.m. Sanctuary service
  • 11 a.m. Alternative service for teenagers and their families
  • 12 p.m. Study sessions for people who attended the early service and want to have something to do while staying at shul all day
Yom Kippur Afternoon / Yizkor / Ne'ilah / Congregational break-the-fast

Follow up questions from the threads (brief selection)

Mark: Question: What is the current hashkafa of Reform regarding religious obligations? And where do you personally differ with that hashkafa, if at all?

Rabbi Hayon: I agree [with DovBear and others on the thread]] that "hashkafah" is probably too broad a category to be helpful, but I think it's really interesting to explore whether non-orthodox Jews believe themselves to be literally commanded by God. The answer to that question goes a long way toward helping us figure out why we do the religious stuff we do. If a Reform Jew DOES think he's commanded to, let's say, observe Shabbat, then why is he NOT obligated to observe taharat ha-mishpachah? Conversely, if he does NOT believe in (or believe himself to be subject to) divine commandedness, then why do anything at all? In that case, doesn't all of Jewish religious life just become hefkerut?

If it's of interest to you, I can give DB some followup material later to explain some of my personal viewpoint about my beliefs about commandedness. I think that's probably more effective and useful than answering a laundry list of what I do and don't eat, what prayers I do and don't say, etc.

No Peanuts: To what extent are Reform Rabbis and their congregations consistently different Rabbis/congregations differ greatly in terms of their observance? Is there a Reform standard of observance?

Rabbi Hayon: There is a broad spectrum of what Reform synagogues (and even more so, Reform rabbis) do as part of their religious praxis, and the Movement really prefers to interfere as little as possible with those patterns of observances established by local communities and their rabbis.
Rabba bar bar Chana:
1. Does Reform officially believe in God? The afterlife? What about most Reform rabbis? What about most Reform lay people?
2. Did you grow up Reform? How did you decide to become a Rabbi?
3. What is your opinion (both positive & negative) of contemporary Orthodoxy?

Rabbi Hayon:
1. Yes, Reform Judaism believes in God, and I've never met a Reform rabbi who doesn't. In my limited experience, most Reform laypeople believe in God too, though some of them reject the notion of a God who is personally involved in their day-to-day existence. Many others reject a God-who-writes-Torah. I'm sure there's a wide spectrum of belief among Reform Jews, though people tend to act much more pious when they're talking to their rabbi, so I can't be 100% sure. ;O)
2. I'd say I grew up Israeli-secular (I did grow up in the USA though) but I attended Reform camps and youth-groups. Decided to be a rabbi after a lot of soul-searching, study, and the firm conviction that I would never be good enough. I think that helped.

3. I hate to make a generalization about contemporary Orthodoxy as a whole. I admire a great deal about the Orthodox rabbis I know, and I really appreciate the way average Orthodox laypeople take seriously their relationship with God and with Torah.

YC: What classes are on your playlist? What podcasts do you listen to?

Rabbi Hayon: Great question!
I usually pick from one of the following things when I have time to listen to the iPod (on a walk, when I'm in the car, etc.):
  • Selected lectures from YU's wonderful online archive (chosen by subject)
  • Parashat Ha-Shavua podcasts from Pardes
  • Free lectures from Stanford or MIT
  • TED talks
  • Stories from The Moth
I also have language instruction CDs on there, because I'd been trying to learn how to speak Italian and German. Honestly, I don't listen to them much, though, because I feel too dopey walking down the street alone at night, speaking crummy Italian out loud.

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