The sixth-century Hebrew prophet, Ezekiel, is not a popular choice for Progressive Jews. Written in the metaphor of mystical visions, The Book of Ezekiel is so complex and lurid that some scholars conclude he must have been mentally disturbed.
Ezekiel’s particular obsession with the ritual of the Temple in Jerusalem is of little relevance to adherents of Liberal Judaism, a movement that places its emphasis on the synagogue and has removed all priestly privileges and references to the sacrificial system from its liturgy.
But perhaps the hardest part to understand is the Haftarah from Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones. This may have been a reflection upon the deaths of thousands of soldiers and civilians slain in the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but has come to be understood by Jewish tradition as affirmation of physical life beyond the grave.
From its earliest phase Liberal Judaism rejected the concepts of physical resurrection, and the coming of a personal Messiah.
Therefore, the metaphor of a valley of bones – which move and acquire sinew, flesh, skin and finally breath – appear at first to be an alienating one for the modern Liberal Jew.
Yet perhaps, unwittingly, and from his place in the diaspora of Babylon, Ezekiel provides a vision for a diaspora post-Temple Judaism in which the breath of modernity is breathed into the dry bones of Jewish tradition.
Thus the metaphor of the dry bones that come alive are not of a Jewish people restored in their ancestral land, but rather of a medieval Judaism revived by the light of modernity. A Liberal Judaism, if you will, preserving the best essence of traditional Judaism and uniting it with the enlightenment of modern scholarship for a revived, forward-looking Jewish people.
υ Danny Rich is the senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism