[This is a compilation of comments I hear from Jews around the country. I thought it a good follow up to the 5/10/09 post on Jewish spirituality. I present these comments to invite your response. I’m going to let it run for a few days without another post to give you time to comment.]
1. We liberal Jews are a highly educated, largely secular, postmodern people. Judaism is a pre-modern, pre-scientific, supernaturalist, and largely medieval religious tradition. We postmodern Jews may love our history, our people, our left-leaning (except when it comes to Israel) politics, our comics, our novelists, our scientists, our Nobel Prize winners, and, until Bernie Madoff, our financial acumen, but we just find Judaism as most of us encounter it largely irrelevant to our lives.
So what? If Jews don’t care and Judaism dies out, so be it. But it won’t die out. The Orthodox are the saving remnant. Judaism may go the way of the Amish, but never the dodo.
2. Liberal postmodern Jews do go out on Friday night and Saturday; we just don’t go to shul. The reason we don’t is that synagogue services are more predictable than a rerun of “Law and Order.” Clapping hands to prayers that assume we haven’t read a book since the 13th century can take us only so far. Even those few shuls that do a thriving business on Shabbat owe their success more to social networking rather than religious belief; more to Facebook than the Holy Book.
So what? Who said services are supposed to be interesting? You follow the liturgy because it connects you to your people. It is a sacred obligation not a lifestyle choice. And if Jews come to shul to meet other Jews–great! Where should they meet, at a ribs joint?
3. The Chosen People gambit was a great marketing tool in its day, but that day has long passed. It is the Jewish version of Coke’s “It’s the Real Thing” campaign. The Jews are God’s Chosen because we invented the god who chose us. In other words, the product that sponsors the taste test wins the taste test. I like belonging to a tribe. I am proud to be a Jew (even when I am sometimes ashamed of what is said and done in the name of Jews and Judaism), but I don’t need to think that we are God’s special people. It sounds so Smothers Brothers: Mom liked you best! Infantile!
So what? People still prefer Coke to Pepsi or Pepsi to Coke, and nobody likes RC. Just because every product claims to be the best doesn’t mean we should claim to be nothing. We have to emphasize the brand not reject branding. We need a jingle: “We are the Chosen, the mighty mighty Chosen. Yes we are, we’re the Chosen.” And it’s not infantile but primitive. And most people are primitive as any cable or network newscast can attest. The question isn’t, “Should I have a tribe,” but “Is my tribe strong enough and well armed enough to defend itself against the other tribes?”
4. Torah study is meaningless. There was no Adam, Eve, or Noah. There is no evidence outside the Torah itself that Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac ever existed. There is no archeological evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, escaped from slavery, or wandered in the Sinai for forty years. I don’t gather with friends to read Chaucer, why would I gather to read Moses? The Bible is irrelevant to the lives of most Jews. I recently attended a Torah study group where we discussed how Noah could fit all those animals on the ark, and not one of us believed in the Flood story in the first place!
So what? There was no Hamlet, either. Are you telling me Shakespeare is a waste of time? It’s the story that matters, not the history.
5. Rabbis Have No Intrinsic Authority. Why do you listen to your rabbi? Because she says what you want to hear. As soon as your rabbi says something you disagree with and that matters to you, you begin to lobby for a new rabbi or you change synagogues. That means that the rabbi is stuck trying to second-guess what the wealthy and powerful people in the congregation believe so the rabbi can parrot it back to them and stay employed. My rabbi told me, “I don’t believe a word of what I say, but I have grown accustomed to the lifestyle that comes when I’m paid to say it.”
So what? Rabbis who are in it for the money aren’t real rabbis. Real rabbis teach Torah. No real rabbis works for a shul that finds Torah meaningless. These “rabbis” are just employees hired to perform ceremonies and are no different from the dj, florist, and caterer. I wouldn’t belong to that kind of shul, and neither should you. Don’t judge Judaism by its weakest link: the liberal humanists who use their rabbis and their tradition to placate some residual survivor’s guilt over the Shoah [Holocaust]. Judge it by its strongest link: the Orthodox and Hasidim who love God, God’s Torah, God’s People, and God’s Land. We don’t need a bunch of pseudo-Jews who want a Judaism that makes them feel good, we want Jews who are challenged by Judaism because it makes them do good. I’m tired of Jews whining about Judaism. Go be Buddhists or Christians and leave the rest of us alone.