Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Judaism is just that: my guide, my opinion, my Judaism. I make no attempt to defend or attack other forms of Judaism. And I make no attempt to convince you my understanding is superior to any other. My only goal here is to share the Judaism I love. By what authority do I do this? I claim no authority and desire none.
If I were dead—better yet long dead—some other rabbi might write a book using me as a prop, inventing a Judaism in my name, and claiming me as her authority. This is what we rabbis do: we invent the past and then use it to justify the present. When I cite Jewish texts or teachers, I do so not to prove what I say is authentic—there is no such thing—but to honor the source from which my invention comes. In short, this blog is my deliberate misreading of Judaism. Let me explain:
Judaism is always a work in progress. The Judaism of Abraham and Sarah was not the Judaism of Moses and Aaron. The Judaism of the Temple priesthood was not the Judaism of the prophets whose God was more apt to chock on the stench of sacrifice than demand more of it (see Isaiah 1:11 for example). Similarly the Judaism of the prophets was not the Judaism of the Pharisees and rabbis rooted as it is in an Oral Revelation unique to them alone. Even within rabbinic Judaism one finds an intrinsic dynamism: Hillel’s Judaism was not Shammai’s Judaism, and the Judaism of Maimonides differed from both of theirs. The Kabbalistic Judaism of Moshe de Leon and Isaac Luria differed from each other and from all earlier Judaisms as well. The Baal Shem Tov’s Hasidism, especially in the hands of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady reinvented earlier kabbalah and gave us yet another Judaism. Samsom Raphael Hirsch, Abraham Geiger, Abraham Isaac Kook, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Heschel, Sherwin Wine, Alvin Reines, and Reb Zalman Schachter–Shalomi invented their own Judaisms in more modern times.
[I know I haven’t mentioned any women in this list. I suspect that will change in the future as women come into their own not only as rabbis within already existing forms of Judaism but as creators of new forms as well. If you have women to add to the list please let me know in the comments section of this blog. Thanks.]
Judaism is a verb not a noun. It is forever reinventing itself. This is not only how it survives, this is how it thrives. If Joseph Schumpeter wrote about Judaism instead of economics, he would have found his notion of creative destruction (borrowed from Karl Marx) to be quite apropos as new Judaisms continually arise out the ashes of the old. The difference between creative destruction in Judaism and economics is that we Jews tend to deny the creative element and focus instead on the destruction alone. We are always worrying about the demise of our civilization when in fact it has collapsed over and over again only to reinvent itself for a new time.
Of course there is no guarantee that it will continue to do so, but if it doesn’t the fault will lay solely with us Jews ourselves. Indeed Thutmose II, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Haman, Queen Isabella, Hitler, Stalin, Arafat, and Khomeini (to name but a few of those who tried to put an end to us) are nothing compared to the threat posed to us by our own ignorance and apathy. Judaism will end for good when Jews no longer bother with it. And that may happen sooner than we think. This blog is a hedge against that possibility. When my great grandchildren ask my son where was his dad when Judaism came to an end, I want him to say with complete honesty that he (meaning me) was at the front lines.I am fighting for the future of Judaism not simply because I think Jews have a right to survive (they do), but because I believe Judaism and Jewish civilization has something to offer the world, something the world desperately needs.
While most other religions focus on faith and belief, we Jews invite argument and doubt. When Abraham argued with God over the meaning of justice (Genesis 18: 16–33), he set in motion a religious impulse that has been the hallmark of Judaism ever since. And when he won (!!!), he overturned the power of the no–longer Almighty and created a stream of religious humanism that has nurtured Jewish creativity for 4000 years. It is this stream that waters Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Judaism as well.
The Judaism I plan to offer here is for everyone: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, secular humanists—everyone. It is my attempt to liberate Jews and Judaism from our parochial past and for our post–ethnic future. Like Levi’s real Jewish rye bread, you don’t have to be Jewish to love it.
We live in a time of multiple–belonging where Jews are also Buddhists (BuJews), Hindus (HinJews), Sufis (Jewfis), Humanists (HuJews), and Messianic, whether that Messiah be Jesus of Nazareth or Menachem Schneerson of Crown Heights. While it is common to find Jews borrowing from other traditions, people from other traditions rarely borrow from us. I want to change that. Wisdom is wisdom, and if you find wisdom in Judaism and value in some Jewish practice or another, I welcome you to it regardless of your religion affiliation or lack thereof.
My plan is to post to this blog every Wednesday. Wednesday is the day I host my radio show (How to be a Holy Rascal on unityonlineradio.com), and I am almost always in town and at my computer in order to do so. There may be some adjustments along the line of course: best laid plans and all that. But I will do my best to be consistent with the postings.
Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Judaism is aphorismic. It is a “sayings Gospel” and not a narrative. The introductory post you are reading now is the longest you will find. The truths I share are true and hence need no proof–text to validate them, or they are false and no proof–text can save them. That will be your call. And because it is, this is not a blog to read but to ponder.
Of course, given the argumentative nature of Jews and Judaism I expect some of my readers to use this blog as an opportunity to attack my ideas and present their own. Go for it. Just keep things civil, and battle the ideas and not personalities. This is not my first rodeo, and I know that some who will read this blog are mindless and mean. I can forgive the former but not the latter. Uncivil comments will be discarded and uncivil people will be blocked from participating.
Think of this blog as a fine wine to be sipped and not a soft–drink to be gulped. And when the bottle is empty, don’t yearn for another. Plant your own vineyard.