Tribute to Daniel Friedman

Evolution: summer 2000

Daniel Friedman is retiring as the rabbi of Congregation Beth Or in Deerfield, Illinois, having served this community for more than thirty-five years. When he first came to Beth Or, the congregation was part of the Reform movement. Within three years he transformed the congregation into a community of Human­istic Jews.

Rabbi Friedman has been a major voice in our movement. He has written philosophic essays, produced educational materials, cre­ated humanistic liturgies, and articulated the message of our philosophy of life on dozens of public platforms. The clarity of his insight has helped to define the principles and prac­tices of Humanistic Judaism.

I first met Rabbi Friedman when he was the young and brilliant assistant rabbi at the K.A.M. Temple in Chicago’s Hyde Park. He had invited me to speak about Humanistic Judaism. In our first conversation it was clear to me that the idea of creating a bold and con­sistent rational Judaism was one of his pas­sions. It was also clear to me that he possessed an enormous intellectual power and integrity.

Since that day in 1965 we have been part­ners in the development of the ideology of our movement. In 1967 he participated in the first dialogue of rabbis sympathetic to Human­istic Judaism. In 1969 he helped to establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He led Congregation Beth Or, through the intensity of his own conviction and courage, into the coalition of Humanistic Jews.

Rabbi Friedman has assumed a unique role in our movement. The defense of reason and individual autonomy has been his special passion. He has never deviated from his conviction that reason is a critical tool, which can be applied to all human decisions. He has maintained, with equal strength, that the heart of morality is the defense of each person’s right to be the master of his or her life. As a man of prin­ciple, he has never chosen to betray these con­victions, even when doing so would have been politically convenient.

His special power arises from his rare ability to take complex ideas and to articu­late them clearly and concisely so that even the easily confused can understand what the issues are. Time after time he has been the genius to frame the fundamental principles of our movement in such a way that the mean­ing instantly grabs the reader. This unique skill, which is a sign of intellectual brilliance, has been of overwhelming importance to Hu­manistic Judaism.

Through the past three decades I have grown to admire this special power, which is always presented in the understated style characteristic of his personality. I have also grown to admire his absolute integrity, his ability to be open and objective, his obvious sincerity, the intensity of his convictions, and the warm, intelligent sense of humor that turns his knowledge into wisdom.

My response to Dan Friedman is shared by hundreds of other people who have en­joyed him as their congregational rabbi, as their teacher, and as their friend. When the history of our movement is written by some writer, perhaps yet unborn, the name and achievements of Dan Friedman will be a prominent part of that story.