Community Has Kosher-Style Food, Moral-Style Behavoir
Snellville, Georgia (AP) – In this suburb of Atlanta, Temple Beth David’s Reform Jewish congregation offers a full range of religious-style services, bringing Jewish-style worship to Gwinnett County. Founded in 1981, Beth David adheres to most of the familiar tenet-style teachings of Reform Judaism, including a firm commitment to a tradition-style lifestyle.
“We’re all about our heritage,” said synagogue president Mickey Kroll in an interview-style encounter with a reporter over a lunch of lobster, a creature that Jewish heritage prohibits. “We make the eternal Jewish message relevant to modern society,” he continued, seemingly unaware of the ontological impossibility inherent in that sentence. Kroll explained that his congregation maintains a strong faith in God, except that God can’t be trusted to formulate a lasting moral system.
In a demonstration of Jewish-style practice, the Atlanta native ate the Biblically forbidden crustacean at a restaurant that also serves foods prepared with at least a nod toward, if not actual adherence to, Jewish dietary tradition, such as the meat of permitted animal species. Kroll ate without acknowledging, either before or after eating, the goodness, insight, and wisdom of a creator who made such delicacies and their appreciation possible.
In fact, says Ronald Bluming, the congregation’s Rabbi, belief in God is not even a prerequisite for Reform worship-style practice. “I’m actually an avowed atheist,” he notes. Bluming sees no contradiction in values between his vocation and his position of theological authority, as the absence of a Creator makes all values a human construct in any case. “There’s no such thing as absolute morality without a God as the source, definer and arbiter of that morality,” he explains, “so I don’t so much give my congregation moral guidance as I do moral-style guidance.”
According to Bluming, moral-style guidance resembles genuine moral guidance in that it purports to be based on the goal of increasing good in the world, but unlike the morality in an absolute system, the very definition of “good” remains wholly the product of the perceptions, whims, drives, prejudices, limitations, and zeitgeists of the people involved. Moral-style guidance denies that any immutable good is even a coherent concept, and posits that all we have available to us is our conscience.
Bluming’s predecessor, Richard Baroff, arrived at similar practical pastoral conclusions even without overt atheism. Baroff, who retired in 2001, strove to convey to his congregants that God is real but does not ultimately care what we do. This approach, common among Reform Jews – and large swaths of society at large – allows a person and community to shift with changing mores, and to avoid the pesky notion that there is any cosmic significance to human behavior.
The freedom inherent in this attitude means that the community and movement can find in their faith support for anything they find compelling, untroubled by other parts of the same sources they adduce that condemn that very practice. Thus, the members of Beth David often quote the portions of Leviticus that advocate love for others, while ignoring the inconvenient neighboring passages that bar adulterous, incestuous, or otherwise immoral sexual liaisons.
Similarly, Temple Beth David welcomes interfaith couples and condones intermarriage, consistent with the view that all religious-style paths are of equal worth and there is no place for the notion that a special, unique, exclusive, individual and national relationship has any relevance, which also serves to explain the aforementioned attitude toward adulterous liaisons.