Observations from the Threshold 4

[I am in Praha/Prague (Praha means “threshold” in Czech) in the Czech Republic. The next few posts are some random observations.]

I meet many American Jews who have no idea why they should bother being Jewish. I am not haunted by this question, perhaps because I spend much of my time teaching among people who are not Jewish. I see and value differences among people and between religions, and I am not so quick to plunge into a homogenized spirituality with its own denuded Esperanto carefully avoiding any talk of true diversity that might lead to conflict. Or worse: critical thinking. While I believe truth is one, I also believe it is the one truth we cannot reduce to words and concepts. The Tao that can be named is just another human narrative to be exposed and celebrated as such.

So when the question of “why bother being Jewish” came up yet again this week (though not asked by a Jew) my quick answer was this:

The world needs Jews. Jews value argument and doubt in a world where acquiescence to nonverifiable facts (whatever that means) and faith are said to trump rational thought and scientific and philosophical inquiry. Jews value questions over answers, and questioning over consensus, something I was told over and again was contrary to authentic spiritual values. Jews are embodied, refusing to see the physical world as anything other than a manifestation of the greater divine; a position that I was told over and again was anti-spiritual. Jews are funny, we love irony, we smash idols, topple ideologies, and yes even kill gods. We are the people of Abraham: famous for smashing the gods of his father, and defeating God just days after “signing” a covenant with God. We may not be appreciated, but we are so very necessary.

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