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Language and Impact

Dear Lilith: Change Your Language Around Religious Practice! 

I want to ask you to consider adopting a different phrase than the one deployed in your 5th paragraph [of a recent Letter from the Editor]: “level of observance.” This implies a hierarchy, which either goes from less to more or more to less. Either way, the implication is that the highest (best? most valued? most authentic? “real”?) is the equivalent of Orthodox observance. 

Rather than supporting this view by implication, I’d encourage you to use words like: style of observance; choice of practice; religious lifestyle. Probably you can come up with other, better ways of conveying your point. 

I know this is picky… but I think words matter. I resist the subtle implication that Reform “observance” is lesser than Orthodox observance (which it often is, but only when Reform Jews fail to practice the intellectually rigorous approach that our founders envisioned). And since you are careful with race/gender language, I want to encourage you to be careful with this matter as well. 

I am acutely aware of the poisonous power of words in the environment we live in today, 

RABBI CARLA FREEDMAN via email.