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​Theology Professor Dr. Patrick Reid, left, and Rabbi Wayne Franklin.

(Photo by Stew Milne)

​At Catholic-Jewish Exchange Series, Rabbi Discusses Changes in Judaism

Providence, R.I.--Rabbi Wayne M. Franklin of Temple Emanu-El in Providence explained how Judaism evolved into three branches--Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform--when he delivered the fall lecture in the Providence College Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews.

About 50 people from the College and the Jewish community in Providence gathered in Aquinas Hall Lounge to hear Rabbi Franklin speak. At the close, he answered questions on topics ranging from the rise of the ultra-Orthodox movement in Israel to what happens when Jewish teaching conflicts with civil law. To watch the lecture, go to

Dr. Arthur P. Urbano, Jr., assistant professor of theology and chair of the Jewish-Catholic Theological Exchange Committee, which plans the series, noted that Rabbi Franklin’s lecture took place on the anniversary of Kristallnacht--or "Night of Broken Glass"--the night in 1938 when synagogues and Jewish businesses were ransacked and set afire in Germany and Austria.

“Those tragic events remind us of the evils of the ideology of hatred,” Urbano said. Programs such as the Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews, which was sponsored by the Department of Theology and the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies, are designed to foster understanding, dialogue, and cooperation, he said.

Rabbi Franklin thanked Urbano for recognizing the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

“Events like (the theological exchange) never would have happened 73 years ago in Germany or in Europe,” Rabbi Franklin said. “The world is definitely a different place, thank God.”

"Judaism has no pope!"

Rabbi Franklin opened his talk, titled “‘My Children Have Vanquished Me!’ Decision-Making in Judaism,” with the declaration: “Judaism has no pope!”

Therefore, Rabbi Franklin said, there was never a central authority in Judaism to establish and clarify the law.

He explained that the five books of Moses--the Torah--are considered the will of God, and the book of Deuteronomy says that no one can add to or subtract from the God-given text. But Deuteronomy also establishes that when disputes arise, they can be settled by levitical priests--esteemed rabbis serving as judges.

“The lesson that emerges very clearly … is that once the Torah is handed to people, what they decide--by majority rule--is what the Torah comes to mean,” said Rabbi Franklin. “The rabbis, who have mastered biblical and rabbinic teaching, are entrusted with the authority to interpret Torah and teach it to others.”

Rabbi Franklin held up a volume of the Talmud, a work compiled by rabbis between 200 and 500 A.D. Its pages contain not only text from the Torah, but commentary from rabbis, often disputing one another’s interpretations of the law.       

Different cultures affect change

Through history, changes in culture led to changes in the law, Rabbi Franklin said. For example, Ashkenazi Jews, who lived among Christians in Germany and France, were forbidden by Jewish law from practicing polygamy, while Jews living among Muslims were not.

“Jewish law continued to unfold through the march of centuries, and as it did so, it was influenced by the cultures in which our ancestors found themselves,” said Rabbi Franklin. “As Jews experienced different cultural influences or different religious traditions, those influences affected the evolution of Judaism in ways that made it appear different from one community or region to another.”

After the secular Enlightenment in Europe, Jews in 19th-century Germany began a reform movement of their own, deciding that only those biblical laws that concerned ethics were binding, Rabbi Franklin said. They preached in German, not Yiddish, and changed the language of some prayers. Those who strenuously objected to the changes became part of the Neo-Orthodox Movement.

A third approach placed itself between the two, arguing that Jewish law was not static but had always evolved in response to changing conditions. It advocated the use of modern methods of historical scholarship to analyze texts and develop law, and gave birth to the Conservative movement with which Rabbi Franklin’s temple is associated.

In the continuing evolution of religious practice, today even some Orthodox temples permit women to read the Torah at services, Rabbi Franklin said.

“In greater or lesser degrees, all the movements, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform … reflect a desire to connect to the rich heritage of more than 2,000 years of Jewish tradition,” said Rabbi Franklin.

“Each movement represents a sincere attempt to bring the finest of our tradition’s values and virtues to bear in adding depth and meaning to our lives as modern Jews … Recognizing that we are the links in that long chain of tradition ultimately connects us back to Sinai.”

Now in its third year, the Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews is intended to promote dialogue between people of the two faiths. The series previously featured lectures and presentations on the history of Catholic-Jewish relations, the priesthood in Judaism and Catholicism, and memory and liturgy in the Jewish and Catholic traditions.


--Vicki-Ann Downing



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