Tuesday, July 14, 2020 -
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The meaning of Judaism

It’s a heavy topic, but what better way to launch our blog? So let’s get stuck right into it. In our annual Shavuous edition, we surveyed youth, asking how they envision their Jewish future. The replies were diverse. Some were a Hebrew High principal’s best case scenario. Others were more controversial, with some posing ideological conflicts with Judaism and others not identifying with the emphasis placed on seeking a Jewish spouse. Now this is the stuff of that same principal’s worst nightmare.

But before we respond in requisite panic, let’s examine what truths may exist in these opinions.

Is there legitimate cause for skepticism of religion?
Look around: Afghanistan, Iraq, Tibet, Darfur, Ivory Coast; almost every single armed conflict taking place currently has a religious element to it. How could a thinking, feeling person not question the role of religion?

Look at the State of Israel. No matter how strong our support is for the Jewish homeland, we also cannot fail to acknowledge the suffering – for both sides. And that’s just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Strife is rampant not only among secular and Orthodox Jews, but infighting among sects within the Orthodox world is legendary. Let’s be honest: we don’t have to look as far as Israel to find examples of such discordance.

These are simple, obvious examples and current ones. Casting one’s mind back over the last millenia, the atrocities committed in the name of G-d abound.

We should accept that a fundamental questioning of religion and Judaism is not only to be expected, but should possibly even be encouraged. Even if we conclude that the aggregate outcome of religion and spirituality is positive, the exercise of reaching the conclusion is spiritually enriching itself.

Are we failing in transmitting Judaism?

It’s an easy question to pose, and certainly the most obvious, but extremely difficult to answer. Because within this seemingly simple question lies a much deeper one: what is Judaism? When we stress the importance of carrying on the Jewish tradition, to what are we referring?

Like the exiled Israelites in Egypt, have we distilled Judaism into three values? Our rabbis teach that our ancient ancestors clung to dress, language and names; are we doing the same by clinging onto the ideas of Jewish progeny, Israel and the Holocaust? Back then, G-d, through Moses, redeemed the Israelites. This time around, we’re figuring out for ourselves.

While these three aspects strongly inform a modern Jew, the tapestry of Judaism is far far richer. Art, music, philosophy, ritual, debate, humor…these are all vital elements in Judaism; yet how often are any of these facets presented as a strong, viable way in which to build a Jewish identity?

If someone states that marrying a Jew does not carry personal value to him or herself, let’s not rush to plan a trip to Israel or quickly host a Jewish youth event. Let’s find out what is of personal value to that individual; Judaism is so encompassing that perhaps through that conversation we’ll discover a new connection.

And let us, as a society and community, devote serious thought to what it actually is that we perceive as Judaism and as Jewish values.

Post your comments and opinions and we’ll examine this theme more deeply in upcoming entries.

For now, Shabbat Shalom!
Rocky Mountain Jew

2 thoughts on “The meaning of Judaism

  1. Laibel ben Aaron

    In today’s IJN, there is an interview with Carl & Rob Reiner. Carl Reiner specifically calls himself a “Jewish comedian,” as compared to Jerry Seinfeld, whom he calls “a comedian who happens to be Jewish.” But then, Carl Reiner declares that he is atheist and he doesn’t believe in Judaism as a religion. I’m trying to get my head around that concept. I guess that’s the idea of the Jews as a people or a “race,” but not necessarily a religion. It’s a tough one to understand.

  2. Ben M.

    I agree that there is a lot of “quick fix” in modern Judaism, and that it is ridiculous to expect that a rush trip to Israel will fix everything. I also agree that every possible approach should be tried to reach people who want to intermarry. However, when all is said and done, there are limited resources, and at some point it must be acknowledged that not everyone will marry Jewish, and that it is necessary to concentrate on the core. We all have free choice and some will choose to opt our of Judaism. I stress, again, that new approaches must be tried, but at some point, we need to make sure we are not spending too much time on very unlikely chances of success, ignoring critical needs like Jewish education, federation-type activities and pro-Israel activitism for the Jews who clearly care.


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