Pluralism means living creatively with diversity. It is based on treating other groups and their philosophies with respect, while maintaining the right to uphold the value of one's own position. Diversity is a reality within the British Jewish community; true pluralism is, as yet, not. We believe that British Jewry both needs and deserves better.
Wisdom dictates that our small community (267,000 and shrinking at the rate of one per cent a year) is best served by a leadership which embraces the values of pluralism and acts accordingly. Pragmatically, we cannot afford to duplicate the use of resources or waste them on denominational competition. If the Jewish community is to be renewed, it is obvious that we have to plan and work together. We acknowledge the challenges faced by the British Jewish community in terms of resources, and commit ourselves to avoiding destructive competition and needless duplication.
Perhaps the most inspiring example of pluralism to benefit our community is Limmud, which began in Britain and has spread throughout the Jewish world. A key feature of its success is that it welcomes teachers and students from all the movements within Judaism today and from none. But there are also other examples of respectful and creative cross-communal partnership, such as the UJIA and Jewish Care. These organisations model how we should behave towards one another. Respect for those who hold different positions from ourselves must begin with our leaders. We therefore resolve to treat one another accordingly, honouring the titles and status of rabbis and teachers and instructing our communities to do likewise.
Such respect is no less the due of every individual, especially at sensitive times in the life cycle, including marriage, the celebration of namings, brit and bnei mitzvah, as well as during illness and after death. Whereas we acknowledge that there are significant differences between the movements on questions of personal status, we undertake to do our utmost to negotiate them in a spirit of respect for the dignity of each individual as created in the image of God. Whether at the chupah or the cemetery, we resolve to work together as co-operatively as possible and to seek ways to prevent individuals from suffering because of the differences between our movements.
The values of pluralism must also influence the way in which we develop our institutions. We have every right to seek to further the goals of our own movements. But at the same time we recognise that there are many situations in which it is better to share than to squander limited financial and human resources on replication and competition. We resolve to bear this reality in mind at all times, and, even as we pursue our own objectives, to have as our primary aim the overall good of the whole community.
Pluralism is not the same as spineless acquiescence. Debate, even to the extent of impassioned argument, is not only legitimate in Judaism, it has always been considered a positive value, so long as it is for the sake of Heaven. We therefore encourage informed and creative dialogue and disagreement. But we undertake to do our best never to let this descend to the delegitimisation of the rights of others to hold to the integrity of their positions.
No less important than being able to disagree with dignity, is our ability to agree, and to be seen to agree in public, so as to demonstrate leadership and solidarity on issues of vital and universal moral importance. These include opposition to racism and antisemitism, public stances regarding Israel, support of inter-faith initiatives, campaigns for justice, welfare, charity and the environment. We should not rely on external organisations to add us to their list of sponsors one at a time, but should be prepared, in appropriate contexts, to articulate Judaism's prophetic vision and values openly together.
We believe that synagogue organisations need to model a pluralist manner of co-operative working in Britain, remembering the message of the Midrash, that the Second Temple was destroyed on account of sinat chinam, causeless hatred, between factions. Co-operation for the sake of Heaven, l'shem Shamayim, is a profound religious value.
There are many ways in which we differ: we have different approaches to that vast Jewish inheritance, the halachic tradition. We use different prayer books and different styles of services. We feel ourselves to be heirs to different Jewish cultural expressions (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, German and American.) These differences should be seen to add to the richness and diversity from which Jews of different tastes and temperaments can choose. We believe that for this to truly succeed we must move beyond just talking and look for areas where we can truly work together and demonstrate our commitment to these ideals. Such areas are many but would include:
Schools: We believe that this is one of the areas where there is widespread consensus, namely that one of the best ways of ensuring Jewish survival, the transmission of Judaism and a knowledgeable, committed Jewish community of the future is through Jewish day schools for all who seek such an education.
Students and young adults: Most of our students and young adults form one constituency and do not like to be "classified". They are our future and supporting and nurturing them through this formative stage in their lives is critical. By working together we can avoid wasteful duplication and finance a well resourced programme which responds to their needs.
Jewish ethics: Judaism taught the world that God is the embodiment of the ethical and commands ethical action, the pursuit of justice and righteousness. We are committed to a Jewish ethical response to the key issues of our day - the environment, human rights, business and medical ethics, development, the eradication of poverty. We know that no religious tradition contains all wisdom or possesses all the answers. We cannot repair the world on our own. We stress learning from others, working with others, networking and partnership in advocacy.
Commitment to Action: This document is not just a statement of principle. It is a commitment to work together for the sake of the Jewish community, the future of Judaism in Britain. As leaders we have a responsibility to demonstrate that we can truly work together.
Nigel Cole, chair; Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive, Liberal Judaism.
Michael Gluckman, executive director; Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg senior rabbi, Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. Stephen Moss chair, and Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield, head, Movement for Reform Judaism