Lucian J Hudson
31 October 2011
Liberal Judaism chairman Lucian J Hudson offers a vision for the future of Liberal Judaism and the alliances we should form
One cannot go through the High Holy Days period without reflecting on leadership. For me, there are four different types of leaders. The first are those who lead from the front, such as Eve, often Moses, Lenin, Churchill and Mrs Thatcher. Then there are those who lead from behind, including Adam and John Major, and those who lead from the centre, with examples being Barak – the military commander in the Book of Judges – Clement Attlee and Obama on a good day. The fourth is a blend, the best of whom were King Solomon and Abraham Lincoln. There is arguably also a fifth: the Snake in Genesis, a brilliant example of timely and far-reaching troublemaking.
I like best Lincoln, whose leadership was decisive and radically cut short. He was also capable of the deepest, yet most practical, wisdom. It was Lincoln who said: “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” He also stated: “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
As we head into 2012, Liberal Judaism requires the third type of leadership, and sometimes the fourth. Consensus works for our movement most of the time, but not all of the time – so we should not be afraid to have the more difficult arguments, and take the harder path.
The recent discussion at Council on the future of rabbinic remuneration confirmed that it was impossible to lead from the front, complacent to lead from behind and about right to lead from the centre. As long as power lies with autonomous communities, it would be counter-productive to impose or push solutions that are not acceptable to many congregations. Yet not to set one’s sights on what it would take to develop the movement as a whole would be a missed opportunity. So the working party of lay leaders and rabbis that we are setting up could make quite a difference.
As a result of September’s Council, we have another opportunity to find an affordable solution that puts value on this, and future, generations of rabbis. I commend our vice chairman, Simon Benscher, for holding out for a better framework than we were able to present.
Many, if not most, of our communities will resist a further redistribution of resources when they already contribute to a national movement. But Liberal Jews must think hard about how such a change would develop Liberal Judaism and its future rabbinate, and not just their immediate community.
Going into next year’s Liberal Judaism Biennial Weekend, I propose three strategic alliances where our movement, under the leadership of chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich, should be at the helm.
The first strategic alliance is with Reform Judaism. Our task should be to go beyond the old question, “to merge or not to merge?”, and instead focus on what it would take to create a Progressive Federation of Liberal and Reform Communities, where each synagogue retains its distinctive identity (Liberal or Reform) yet is part of a joint endeavour reflecting common Liberal, Reform and Progressive values. Branded effectively, with two top communicators in the leadership position – Danny Rich and the Reform movement’s chief executive Ben Rich – the Progressive community should turn the centre of gravity away from speculation about the Chief Rabbi’s successor and, instead, make visible and compelling the breadth and depth which is British Judaism, reflecting the different ways Jews live, and could live, their faith.
The second strategic alliance is with the rest of British Jewry. Together we should be more outward and forward looking. The task for all of us – not just of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, two bodies we should improve and not moan about – is to put Judaism first. Let us grow a vibrant and flourishing Jewish community, and support the growth of both modern orthodoxy and Progressive Judaism.
The final strategic alliance is to make sure religion is not a barrier to social progress, based on universal values. We start from a position of empathy and curiosity. The God of the 21st Century cares more for the evolution of the human species and custodianship of the planet than whether we fight our corner against non-believers or a secular society. We need to continue to make common cause with those who challenge injustice, prejudice and superstition. The test is to bring out the future in what is present, building on what we have learnt from the past.
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