Revising a collective identity: The rhetorical traditions ofReform Judaism in America, 1885-1999
AuthorHellman, Shawn I.
AdvisorMiller, Thomas P.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation investigates the rhetorical practices of a tradition: the Reform Movement in Judaism. I analyze the three platforms written in 1885, 1937, and 1999 to define the collective identity of the Reform Movement in America. I begin this study by concentrating on how the Reform Movement framed its collective identity in each of its platforms focusing on what this group agreed on and disagreed on and how they represented those disagreements. Through my investigation, I discovered that these documents reflected different stages in the tradition's development. In this dissertation, I argue that how the Reform tradition framed its collective identity depended on the tradition's stage of development. I argue that in the tradition's first stage of development, it questioned the external, broader tradition from which it diverged, yet it did not question its own internal beliefs, texts, and authorities, and it projected an authoritative identity uncomplicated by disagreements. For example, in 1885 the rabbis authoritatively declared that traditional Jewish practices were no longer meaningful in the modern era. As the tradition developed, the community no longer deferred to internal authorities unquestioningly, but became self reflective and asked questions about itself---questions that enabled the community to understand the lessons from its history and identify inadequacies. So in 1937, the rabbis stated that some of these practices were worthwhile, can be revised to be more meaningful, and can help keep Jews connected as a collective---as a people. Then, in 1999, the tradition faced an epistemological crisis because conflicts over rival answers to key questions could no longer be settled rationally. The problem was that the movement could not resolve the apparent contradiction of having a belief system that valued individual differences and being able to define itself as a collective. It was through the writing process of the 1999 platform that the movement articulated the tradition's most significant beliefs and solved its epistemological crisis by defining reform not by the contents of its changes but in the very process of change---the belief in the value of change and diversity.
Degree ProgramGraduate College