Statement of Principles of Progressive Judaism in Poland

Areas in Which We Stand United With All Jews

I. We are united by Jewish tradition, the cultural inheritance of the Jewish people and its central message since the time of Abraham: the reign of a single God.

II. We are united by the Jewish people (am Yisrael) in whom the Jewish religion and cultural inheritance lives on. All Jews are connected to God by the covenant we made at Sinai. God entered into a special relationship with our ancestors. In accepting the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people took on a specific obligation for all time: to be witnesses of the Eternal, to live as a nation of priests who act as a “light unto the nations”.

As part of the Jewish people (klal Yisrael), we are commanded to advocate everywhere for the rights of all of our members. We mobilize and act to eliminate discrimination against Jews and commit ourselves to supporting their material and spiritual welfare.

III. We are united by support for the State of Israel. We strive to personally advocate security and peace for all residents of the region while supporting Israel's development and its ability to welcome immigrants. In the tradition of the prophets we seek to strengthen equality and justice within the Jewish state.

IV. We are united by our experience and memory of Jewish history as passed through the generations. Jewish life, from its very beginning until now, has been a unique example of survival, human achievement and divine deeds. The creativity of Jewish life is apparent in many countries and under a great variety of circumstances. The memory of the flowering of the Diaspora as well as of the unspeakably horrible times strengthens our desire to contribute to the survival of the Jewish people and to Judaism itself.

V. We are united by Jewish teaching as communicated through the Torah. The people of Israel received revelation and inspiration at Sinai and have kept expanding their understanding of God's will through contemplation and discussion. This is a continuous process.

VI. We are united by Jewish study (Talmud Torah). We consider the formal and informal instruction of children and adults in Jewish history, literature, thought and practice, as well as knowledge of the Hebrew language as a foundation for leading a Jewish life and securing its transmission from generation to generation.

VII. We are unified by the Jewish view of humanity. Humans are created in the image of God, have free will and are capable of doing good without end and also endless evil. Humans are mortal and yet still carry eternity within them. Humans have a personal and unmitigated relationship to our creator and, if it is disturbed, can renew this relationship through return and repentance (Teshuvah).

VIII. We are united by many of the Mitzvot. We are bound to God's sacred obligations, their rituals and ethical codes that constantly remind us of the duty of the Jewish people to be an ethical role model and to fulfill our sacred obligations in practice and through prayer. This means that we also need to learn in order to advocate for a better society as well as the conservation of all of creation.

IX. We are united by the ethical values of Judaism: reverence for life, respect for humans and the right to safety for their persons and their property, the duty to care for the poor and the sick, the duty to strive toward peace (shalom), good will toward others (g'milut chassadim), good deeds and social justice (tzedakah). As responsible partners in creation we have to treat the environment and all creatures according to these values.

X. We are united by the Jewish view of the family home as a “small sanctuary” (mikdash me'at) filled with the beauty of holiness. It is here that the values and traditions of Judaism can best be lived out and taught to the next generation.

XI. We are united by our duty to the synagogue (beit ha knesset) and its members. The synagogue has a three-fold function: it houses the community, it is a house of prayer and it is a place of learning.

XII. We are united by the significance of Jewish prayer and Jewish religious services. They are paths that individuals and the community revisit to search for God's presence, to draw spiritual strength from Jewish religious tradition and to make ourselves conscious of our responsibilities.

XIII. We are united by the liturgy of Jewish prayer. The essential parts of Jewish prayer are the Sh'ma as recognition of God's unity, the public reading of the Torah and the Amidah, a central prayer in which we praise God and petition for divine help. A great variety of blessings, prayers, songs and hymns written by Jewish sages, poets and mystics add to the fullness of the worship.

XIV. We are united by observing Shabbat and keeping the Shabbat holy. We think of the seventh day as a day of rest, joy, learning and prayer. We celebrate Shabbat by refraining from work, by attending services, by lighting candles and through the rituals of Kiddush and Havdalah.

XV. We are united by the celebration of the holidays according to the Jewish calendar. We commit ourselves to reflection, to ethical behavior and to spiritual renewal during the High Holy Days (Yamim Noraim) of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We celebrate freedom and revelation on the three pilgrimage festivals (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). On Simchat Torah we express our love of the Torah. We celebrate Chanukah and attend the celebrations of Purim and Tu Bishvat as well as observe fast days such as Tisha B'Av. We also observe the more recent holidays of Yom haAtsma'ut and Yom haShoah.

XVI. We are united by Jewish ritual. These include circumcision (b'rit milah) and name giving after the birth, entrance into adulthood through Bar Mitzvah or Bat-Mitzvah, marriage under the chuppah, the consecration of houses and finally burial and grieving .

XVII. We are united in the principle that to refuse a Jew his Jewishness, and exclude him/her from the community is permitted only in cases where two conditions have both been met – the individual has undergone, as an adult, a formal conversion to a religion other than Judaism AND the individual's actions have been detrimental to the Jewish community.

Progressive Judaism with all of its liberal and reform-oriented characteristics is the largest movement within the world Jewish religious community. Its origins can primarily be found in the 18th and 19th centuries' ideas of Moses Mendelssohn, Israel Jacobsohn, Leopold Zunz, Abraham Geiger and Zacharias Frankel. From this perspective, revelation is not seen as a one-time act through which Moses literally received the Torah (written teachings) as well as all interpretations (oral teachings). Revelation is seen as an ongoing process emanating from God and mediated by humans through a dynamic and progressive process. To live as a progressive religious Jew means that in addition to living a life guided by the written teachings of our tradition, we also respond to modern, social, cultural and ethical challenges.

Principles Unique to Progressive Judaism in Poland

1. Judaism has never ceased changing and engaging in a steady progression which has moved faster or slower according to the times. Jewish history is rich in both continuity and change. Even biblically codified laws have been changed or overturned in the oral tradition or through local custom and minhag. Some examples of this are: animal sacrifice, capital punishment, polygamy, slavery, or the forgiveness of debts in the seventh year.

We recognize the dynamic, development driven character of our religion that is established in our tradition. We want to live our Jewish tradition in a religious way and therefore we reflect modern challenges in our version of Judaism.

2. Judaism was always pluralistic. We acknowledge the diversity of our tradition. The present-day branching of Judaism into different movements dates back to developments in the eighteenth century. Jewish life was greatly changed as a result of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment posed fundamental questions about Jewish belief and practice. Orthodox and Progressive Jews have found differing answers to these questions. We advocate mutual respect and tolerance of all Jewish movements.

3. We are a part of the Progressive Jewish community that unites millions of Jews all over the world represented by the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

4. The Jewish tradition preserves within itself a wide body of different thoughts and teachings from which we draw to enrich our religious life today. People who sought living Judaism and spread progressive Jewish ideas include Abraham Geiger, Israel Jacobson, Martin Buber, and Leo Baeck, as well as Polish progressive thinkers and Rabbis such as Solomon Maimon, Marcus Jastrow, Ezekiel Lewin and Abraham Joshua Heschel. We also study the works of Jewish women scholars and thinkers, including the first woman Rabbi Regina Jonas, Rachel Adler, Suzanna Heschel and Marsha Falk.

5. In Orthodox Judaism the Holy Scriptures are regarded as direct revelation; that is, literally dictated by God, unequivocal and unchanging. Progressive Judaism views the scriptures as a human expression arising from the existential, religious experience of the Jewish people, through which the one God is revealed. The authors of the Hebrew Bible reflect a specific set of beliefs and divine inspiration. Today we approach these texts through the framework of the Jewish exegetical tradition and through modern methods of biblical and textual analysis.

6. Orthodox Judaism is based on the belief that one day the Messiah will resurrect the throne of the Davidic Kings and bring all Jews out of exile. We, however, give strength to the hope of the prophets: a universal, messianic age brought about by humanity's acceptance of God's will.

7. Orthodox Judaism believes that when the Messiah comes the Temple will be resurrected and sacrifices will again be carried out by an inherited priestly class, as is prescribed by the Bible. Out of lament for the destruction of the Temple, the Orthodox forbid the use of instrumental music in religious services. We perceive the synagogue to have replaced the Temple and sacrifices. On these grounds, we do not differentiate between people of priestly derivation (Kohanim) and other Jews, and we encourage the use of music during services.

8. We advocate concentration and devotion (kavanah) in religious services. In light of this we have mostly retained the traditional Jewish liturgy, while adapting it by shortening, editing or adding commentary in select places. Although we promote the use of Hebrew as a unifying language in religious services, we also use the vernacular in order to allow all Jews to participate actively in Jewish worship.

9. We insist on the equality of women and men in synagogue life. There is no segregation of the sexes in our synagogues. Women lead services and are called to the Torah. They are ordained as rabbis, invested as cantors and may fill any position in the synagogue. Progressive Judaism's insistence on equality contradicts the Orthodox world's discrimination against women such as the prohibition against women witnesses in rabbinical courts, women saying the Kaddish prayer or the segregation of women during their menstrual period.

10. We value equal rights for both girls and boys in their religious upbringing. The Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremonies are identical.

11. We view men and women as having equal rights both in the marriage ceremony and in the laws governing marriage. In the marriage ceremony the bride does not behave in any way that is subordinate to the groom. The same principle applies to divorce: the husband cannot unilaterally “dismiss” his wife.

12. Since the Torah defines Jewish identity through the father and the rabbinic tradition through the mother, our community has decided to support the principal of equilineal descent, so that both Jewish traditions are included.

13. We follow the principle that children cannot be made responsible for the acts of their parents (Ezekiel 18). On these grounds, we reject the “mamser” (children born out of wedlock) law that punishes descendants of biblically forbidden unions.

14. We welcome any person with sincere intentions to join our community. Conversion before a Bet Din with b'rit milah and mikvah is available after a period of Jewish study and active participation in congregational life.

15. We welcome all Jews, regardless of their race, ethnicity, marital status or sexual orientation.

16. We feel obligated to live according to many of the Mitzvot. Therefore we expect to practice these Mitzvot in harmony with the freedom of our individual conscience. We consult traditional rabbinic sources, but we are not bound by traditional Halachah. We advocate the universal, ethical call of the prophets. The Torah challenges us to act responsibly and to build a peaceful and just society that embraces all people.

17. The Orthodox rabbinical laws are not always possible to reconcile with today's social reality and contemporary ethical views. For example, we celebrate the holidays according to the length prescribed in the Torah without adding the extra day that was established in post-biblical times for reasons that no longer apply.

18. We are fully connected to Judaism and are convinced of its uniqueness. Yet we recognize that the deepest truths are mysterious and complex: other religions and traditions search and find these for themselves. Because of this, we advocate esteem and respect for other beliefs and welcome contact and dialogue with them.