Rabbi Leon Morris – The missing piece from Reform education

By Eli Burg

My biggest area of growth so far on The Nachshon Project is the deep love of text study that I’ve developed from learning at Pardes as well as taking advantage of extracurricular chevruta opportunities. Furthermore, in reflecting on my future and knowing that I want to pursue a career in informal Jewish education I’ve concluded that I want to attend HUC to become a rabbi. A part of my reason for wanting to go to rabbinical school comes from the fact that while reflecting recently on my Jewish upbringing I kept circling back to this: The Jewish tradition has its canon of biblical and rabbinic texts. For the last 2,000 years studying those texts has been a crucial part of Jewish survival and the tradition being passed from one generation to the next. So growing up in the Reform Movement as well as attending pluralistic day schools from k-12, I ask where was that in my Jewish education? If I want to go into Jewish education I concluded that because of my lack of exposure to text study I needed to gain that knowledge for myself so that I can be the best educator I can be.

A few weeks ago Rabbi Cohen connected me with Rabbi Leon Morris ahead of hearing him speak to our cohort so that I could sit down to discuss with him the possibility of going to HUC. I told Rabbi Morris all about my desire to become a Rabbi and told him about my love for the Movement which raised me. Was exactly the question I’ve been asking, why are the deep opportunities for Jewish textual learning only available to those who make the chose to go into the rabbinate? We spent our time together discussing that question which concluded with him sharing a few different articles and publications he has read which deal with the same question, one of them being a rather divisive speech with Abraham Joshua Heschel delivered at the CCAR conference titled “Understanding Halacha.”

Last Sunday we heard  Rabbi Leon Morris, President of Pardes, at the Anna Ticho House. He repeated to our cohort what he had told me a few days prior. He said that both specifically the URJ and American Jewry as a whole was suffering because it had abandoned the beit midrash. However this time he took it one step further; Rabbi Morris proposed that the two biggest institutions that needed to exist in the lives of American Jews needed to be both the synagogue and the beit midrash.

An audacious proposition but one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I believe that so many whom I know find prayer to be dry is that they cannot understand its purpose. One cannot have a deep appreciation for living Jewish lives and find meaning in prayer if the doors to understanding the spiritual reasons for Jewish practice have never been opened. While many do not, some people do develop – usually in more religious settings – their love of Jewish textual learning and become familiar with the cannon. I now wrestle with Rabbi Morris suggestion of making literacy with the Jewish cannon key tenant in Reform practice while I continue my discovery of the spirituality in studying in the beit midrash.


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