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Alvin Jay Reines

REINES, ALVIN JAY (1926–2004), scholar of Jewish philosophy. Born in Paterson, New Jersey, his early education was entirely Orthodox. He graduated from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School in Manhattan and the Talmudical Academy of New York. He then entered Yeshiva University, where he earned his B.A. in 1947. From YU, he went to New York University Law School and left before completing his degree. In a rare move for Orthodox-educated Jews of his generation who when they left the Orthodox world moved over to the Jewish Theological Seminary, Reines went to Hebrew Union College and earned his MHL and ordination in 1952. He received the Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. Fellowship at Harvard where he earned a Ph.D. in 1958 studying with Harry Austryn Wolfson, and then joined the faculty of HUC-JIR as a professor of Jewish Philosophy and retired in 2003.

His field of specialization was medieval philosophy, particularly the work of Moses *Maimonides, and he struggled both to understand Maimonides as a halakhic and philosophical thinker and to deal with revelation as a source of absolute authority. Rejecting the notion of absolute authority led to his own original philosophical innovation. He developed the concept of polydoxy, meaning a religion of many opinions, in which the notion of absolute knowledge is abandoned and diversity and individual autonomy is not only respected but welcomed. This concept has had significant influence on liberal religious thought in the United States and elsewhere as well as within the Reform movement. He helped create the Institute for Creative Judaism and chaired its board, which was formed to develop religious and educational and liturgical material for free Judaism. It has evolved into The Polydox Institute, which is "committed to serving all polydoxians, be they of Jewish, Christian or other origin, and whether or not they view themselves as belonging to any historic religious group, or as being presently affiliated with any organized religious body." His work has thus had influence far beyond the Jewish community. For religious communities that reject the existence of infallible knowledge, Reines argued that the only morally justifiable position was to affirm individual autonomy. Such communities should be prepared, Reines maintained, to accommodate diverse and even unconventional beliefs, rituals, and practices.

The Reform Movement's Gates of Prayer (1975), included an edited version of the polydox Sabbath worship service written by Reines. His seminal work is Polydoxy: Explorations in a Philosophy of Liberal Religion, (1987). Among his other works are Elements in a Philosophy of Reform Judaism (1968), Maimonides and Abarbanel on Prophecy (1970), and Reform Judaism as Polydoxy (1970–1973). His work on the Institute includes services for Chanukkah and Rosh Hashanah as well as a Passover Haggadah.


K.M. Olitzsky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Source-book (1993).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.