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Reform Jewish Leader Wants Friday Synagogue Service Dropped

June 25, 1985

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Friday evening prayer services that have been a tradition for Reform Jews for more than a century should be dropped because most Jews don’t go and even God might find them boring, a rabbinical leader says.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut, outgoing head of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, said only 6 percent to 10 percent of Reform Jews attend the service and ″our people are telling us something by their very absence.″

He said the services ″feature set rituals which the rabbi dreads and the congregation endures and which I sometimes think irreverently that even the Almighty finds utterly boring.″

Plaut, who serves as senior scholar to the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, proposed eliminating the service in a speech Monday night as more than 600 Reform rabbis began a four-day convention.

Delegates will vote Wednesday on a non-binding resolution urging the world’s 1,500 Reform rabbis to consider eliminating the Friday evening service now held by nearly all Reform congregations. There are more than 1.3 million Reform Jews worldwide.

The home, rather than the synagogue, should be the center of Jewish religious experience, Plaut said. ″Prayer and a Jewish lifestyle belong first and foremost where the individual lives.″

Plaut, 72, urged his colleagues to encourage congregants to devote time at home ″to something that pertains to the spirit of Shabbat″ rather than having rabbis spend their energy ″on the self-defeating enterprise of organizing a Friday night service measured not by the intensity of prayer, but by the number who come to attend it.″

As one alternative to the Friday evening service, he suggested expanding Saturday worship services now held at many synagogues. Another possibility, he said, would be to move the Friday evening services from the synagogues to homes.

″The chief obligation of a Jew is not to come to the synagogue,″ he said at a news conference Monday. ″The chief obligation of a Jew is to lead a Jewish life.″

In other action Monday, convention delegates applauded Roman Catholic bishops for their pastoral letter calling for an end to economic injustice in the United States.

″The report obviously is a report of the Catholic Church. It does make specific reference to the dogma of the church. However, we are not dealing with that here. We are dealing with the gross concept behind it,″ said Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Stamford, Conn., chairman of the resolutions committee.

Among resolutions to be considered today is a strongly worded anti-gambling statement discouraging Reform congregations and state and local governments from using gambling to raise money.

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