Mystical vs. Rational Judaism

The history of modern religious Judaism, according to some in the academic and Rabbinic community, might be more explicated by the rejection of irrational mystical thinking, rather than the rejection of the dispassionate orthodoxy of old. This is not an argument for or against Reform Jewish philosophy, however, pluralism might aid the goals of the Jewish community as a whole and the systematic rejection of Reform Judaism, by orthodox Jews, might be reduced by analyzing the historical realities of its origin.

Many opine that recent innovations in the landscape of Jewish thinking, for instance, the reform movement, were a rejection of stern legal thinkers who were unrelenting in there devotion to halachic norms. However, it seems equally possible that it was not reformists who refused to adopt social norms, but halachists who overcompensated by rejecting age old Talmudic legal and philosophical plasticity, and themselves adopted a previously unknown stringency.

It may benefit us to widen our perspectives on the historical complex into which Reform Judaism was born. Eastern European Jewish thinking had gone through centuries of transformation of practice and philosophy, generally tending towards more mystical and less rational. This transformation was a deviation from the norm of many rationalist Jewish thinkers of the Rishonim, such as Moses ben Maimon and Rav Sadia Gaon. This more mystical trend was rejected by reformists, who had become influenced by western scientific thinkers. Therefore, by drawing closer to a rational, and less mystical version of Judaism, Reform Judaism might be seen, on some distant level, as an homage to rational Jewish thinkers of antiquity, not just a rejection of contemporary orthodox thinkers.

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