By Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Judaism is about love or it doesn’t mean shit. It’s that simple.
All the usual talk about tribal loyalty, cultural diversity, God, Torah, Promised Land, and Chosen People is irrelevant if Judaism doesn’t make us more loving. Does it really matter if Jews marry Jews and raise Jewish kids if being Jewish is just about Jews marrying Jews and raising Jewish kids?
Judaism does matter, of course, but not in any self-referential way. Judaism matters for the only reason any religion matters: it makes us more loving. Or it should.
Here is my guiding principle for determining whether or not to engage in any specific Jewish practice: will it enhance my capacity to love? If it will, I should do it. If it won’t, I should move on to something that will.
Your answer to this question will differ from mine. The only agreement I am looking for is that love is what matters: love of God (Deuteronomy 6:5), love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and love of stranger (Leviticus 19:26). How you define God, neighbor, and stranger is also up for discussion. Discussion is what we Jews are all about: argument, doubt, debate, wrestling. And if this argument is for the sake of heaven, that is, for the sake of love, it is precious to me. If it is for the sake of tribe and brand, it is a waste of time to me.
Of course I will have to define love. Let me offer this as a tentative definition: love is the capacity to feel another’s pain without guilt, share in another’s joy without envy, and work with others to uplift the fallen, free the wrongly imprisoned, etc. If I need a slogan for my Judaism I would borrow the bumper sticker the Prophet Micah might have stuck on the rump of his donkey: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
You might object at this point, “Why bother coming up with Jewish ways of becoming more loving? Why not just be more loving? Why stick with Judaism?”
I suspect that in my case Judaism is so ingrained that I cannot walk away. I keep coming back to make it work for me the same way I keep coming back to Levi’s jeans after flirting with New Religion: I find them comforting.
With love as my criteria, I can now answer people who ask me, “How do you know your religion is true?” Truth isn’t the issue, love is. I don’t care if a religion is true; I care if it makes its adherents more loving.
My religion is love. My method is Judaism as I define it for myself. Won’t this weaken community if we each define Judaism for ourselves? Maybe, but who cares? My goal is love, not branded community. If I am loving, I will find others who are the same. Love will be our bond, and we will welcome any brand that serves it.
re-printed from Rami’s blog