One of the most extraordinary things to happen to Jews in the last three centuries has been the enlightenment (Haskalah), at the core of which was a need to grapple with some ideas.
First, in public life, power rested with individual people, not with some external power such as God or a text.
Second, the purpose of society was to enable us to live a good life as defined not in theological terms, but in a search for what we might call meaning or happiness.
Now these ideas have been distorted for other means; however, they remain at the heart of what it means to be part of society and liberal democracy. Grappling with them is what it means to be a Reform Jew – placing them within the framework of our faith and seeing where the tensions lie. So it would be hypocritical to do anything if you judged others by one standard and did not hold those standards yourself.
But Reform Judaism empowers everyone to make their own choices. Those decisions must be made based on one’s experience and understanding of how to lead a good life.
The choices may be idiosyncratic or seem inconsistent, but which Jew is not slightly idiosyncratic?!
We know Pesach holds a power for many Jews like no other festival or religious rite. Whether secular, religious, or any denomination, I hope you had a seat at a seder table.
It is your business if you choose to engage in the rituals and customs of the festival as you see fit. I’d be delighted to encourage anyone to think seriously about rituals and how they offer us a vocabulary for the ineffable and mystery of our existence.
As I recently taught on the Melton course as part of the Lyons Learning Project, Pesach is the sacred narrative in Judaism, at the core of nearly every part of Jewish life. How wonderful that people want to engage in their own way with what it means to celebrate freedom and the nature of Jewish responsibility to the world.
υ Neil Janes is a rabbi at West London Synagogue