BOB ABERNETHY: Now, this week's cover story: Reforming Reform.
Across this country's wide spectrum of denominations and religions, more and more people of all faiths are rediscovering tradition, especially traditional spiritual practices. The movement is particularly strong in Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Jewry, proud of its tradition of freedom of belief and observance, but now divided by a national campaign to put more emphasis on the Torah, Jewish law, and using the Hebrew language in Shabbat -- Sabbath -- services.
This weekend in Pittsburgh, Reform rabbis from all over the country are meeting to try to define how much traditional practice to embrace. As our correspondent Arthur Magida reports, the turn to tradition is strong even in congregations that long ago accepted women as rabbis and cantors.
(Footage of Jewish religious service)
ARTHUR MAGIDA: What's unique about this service is just a few years ago, this synagogue banned rabbis from wearing head coverings and prayer shawls, and the majority of the service was conducted in English.
Reform Judaism, the largest liberal Jewish movement in the U.S., is reforming itself. As more and more Jews search for spirituality and meaning, Reform Judaism is returning to more traditional rituals and observances as a way to lead holier lives.
Rabbi SHIRA MILGROM (Kol Ami Temple, New York): It's a ritual which says, "This moment is special," and there are ways Jewishly to do that, from the most mundane kinds of moments to the more spiritual moments.
MAGIDA: Unlike Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, Reform is not bound by halacha, Jewish law. Reform is founded on the belief that Judaism has to evolve constantly to keep up with modern times, and that Reform Jews should be able to select those beliefs and practices that feel meaningful. So this return to a more traditional type of Judaism has caused quite a stir.
Ms. FLORETTE SCHUBERT (Kol Ami Congregant): In many instances, when the Torah is being read, it is read in Hebrew, it is not translated. I don't -- I don't know what I'm listening to unless I happen to be able to pick up a Bible and follow it along.
MAGIDA: Florette Schubert, a third-generation Reform Jew, feels alienated by the changes in her own temple.
Ms. SCHUBERT: I don't like the idea of the Torah being passed around and people reaching out to kiss it, to g -- the prayer book and so forth. It just makes me uncomfortable.
MAGIDA: Kol Ami's rabbi, Shira Milgrom, understands the feelings of congregants like Florette Schubert, but believes that change is part of growth.
Rabbi MILGROM: And God help us that we, as Reform Jews, should be a living community. Any living community will have to change and grow. Unfortunately, what happened over the last many decades of Reform Judaism is that we studied less and less, we knew less and less, and, therefore, we're really less able to choose. You can't choose from ignorance.
MAGIDA: So today's Reform Jews are studying more and turning back to the Torah to find answers on how to live a more spiritual life.
Modernity was what guided the founders of Reform Judaism. In the mid-19th century, German Jews came to the U.S. looking for a way to assimilate. They believed that ancient religious traditions were not only irrelevant to the modern age, but also obstructed rather than enhanced spirituality. In fact, these early Reform Jews were so eager to avoid observing strict dietary laws that shellfish, a nonkosher food, was served at an 1883 dinner honoring graduates from Reform's new rabbinic seminary.
Instead of the Reform observing religious traditions, much of the fervor of the movement was translated into social action. It was Reform Jews who took the teachings of tikkun olam, repairing the world, to heart. They became leaders in the civil rights movement and became involved in all kinds of charitable work.
Here in Key Largo, Florida, rabbis from throughout the South gather to discuss a set of principles that can redefine their movement, that can move it even closer to the very tradition which the founders of Reform scorned more than a century ago.