… and it is ironic that in calling for brevity, the title of this post is rather shlepped out – but you get the point.
Although I do agree with Donniel Hartman that, in principle, Judaism is not a tweet-able religion, I am also of the mind that a good idea need not be obfuscated by too much explication. (Sorry, Academia…) (And I also generally disagree with Donniel Hartman, especially in his preposterous assertion that targeted assassination is a form of tikkun olam…)
Which is why I read with some interest that Rabbi Kerry Olitsky has come up with ten answers to the question “Why be Jewish?”
In almost every public setting where I have spoken about End Of The Jews and/or the present moment and Jewish identity, I have expressed doubts about the over-reliance on narratives based on fear and negative identification. In other words, we cannot keep North American Jews interested and engaged in Judaism if all we have to offer is black and white images of Anne Frank and Theodor Herzl.
And, if you’d like, I could go on to explain why Anne Frank and Theodor Herzl are not enough – but I would rather be more affirming and affirmative by focusing on Rabbi Olitsky’s reasons for being Jewish, which, although affirming and affirmative, are nonetheless too long… and somewhat problematic.
As a Jew, the collective story of the Jewish people becomes my personal story. My own life’s story contributes to the collective memory of the Jewish people. The Jewish historical narrative of the Jewish people evolves as the Jewish people march forward in history and will eventually bring us into the messianic period.
The doing of mitzvot brings me closer to the Divine. In the refracted Divine light, I am able to see myself more clearly.
The emphasis of deed over creed encourages the individual (irrespective of personal belief or doubts of faith) to help build a better world through acts of social justice (tikkun olam) and provides the individual with a variety of opportunities to do so. The doing of these good deeds, which emerge from a foundation of positive Jewish values, brings me closer to others and to humanity.
The affirmation of one God is the unity principle that is the foundation of Jewish faith. Judaism encourages questioning and debate. Faith comes through struggle. The result of this struggle helps to define Jewish theology.
The Jewish community provides support to the individual (and family) during life’s liminal moments, including those times in which we soar, as well as those that bring us into the deepest, darkest moments of our lives.
Judaism transforms daily routine (the long haul of life) into sacred moments and sacred opportunities, especially through the application of ritual, helping to moor us in what is sometimes an anchorless world.
Judaism emphasizes lifelong educational growth of all kinds. Jewish education helps us to morally navigate the world. (The Talmud requires parents to teach their children “how to swim.”) Judaism also provides a framework for teaching children their moral responsibility to the world.
Judaism has a variety of spiritual disciplines that elevate the soul, including daily prayer, the study of sacred texts, dietary standards, and Shabbat (the Sabbath).
The beauty of Judaism and the accomplishments of the Jewish people foster Jewish pride, as well as a connection to fellow Jews that transcends any geographic border or time and space.
Jews have a home in Israel. Its capital, Jerusalem, is the center of the Jewish spiritual world, where according to rabbinic teaching, is the place where heaven and earth touch.
A rabbi would be remiss if s/he did not talk about the Messianic period, religious commandments and ritual (otherwise known as “spiritual disciplines”), theology, the value of education, Jewish pride and Zionism. In other words, one cannot criticize a rabbi for being a rabbi (or, in fact, “Les Mis” for having too much singing in it).
What I can wonder is: Why are rabbis the ones left with the task of coming up with such lists when rabbis speak increasingly less for the rest of us Jews? Especially when rabbis are often concerned with other, more pressing things like the shape of borekas or rejecting each other’s conversions.
So, as I am not a rabbi, I am going to give it a shot.
Being Jewish frames and guides our commitment to the world.
Yes, this is a variation/pithier rephrasing of Rabbi Olitsky’s third reason. Or perhaps it is the same. (Rabbis do not have a monopoly on tikkun olam, ya know.) And lest I get too long-winded about this reason, I will leave y’all with it to consider before writing about it some more later… if needed.