Singing The Lord’s Song in a Strange Land

Singing The Lord’s Song in a Strange Land January 18, 2017


The question from Torah found on the image to the left contains multiple layers of meaning. It’s primarily the question Jews have asked in exile. It was a fundamental question for Jews when the Temple was destroyed – twice.

The word “land” in the question need not be taken literally – it also can mean circumstances or new ways of being. For us today, the question of the Psalmist asks us to explore the ongoing changes within Judaism.

Judaism has never been static, it’s always evolving, it’s one of the tradition’s greatest strengths and its key to survival. However, the pace and degree of change in the past hundred years is breathtaking – and the Jewish community, Jewish theology, and Jewish practice and even identity has not caught up yet.

Consider that within the past hundred years or so, there’s been the thriving of Reform-Liberal Judaism with modern biblical scholarship, the assertion of individual autonomy, and a dramatic rethinking of Halakhah. There has been the devastation of the Shoah and its aftermath of doubt and theodicy that has Jewish theology still reeling. The return to Israel has offered both hope and political-secular channels for Jewish expression that can, but don’t require traditional Jewish theological responses. And finally, there’s Judaism’s continuing encounter with post-modernity, the technology revolution, identity politics, and so on.

The question, “how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” is more pertinent than ever.  How do we navigate unchartered territory? How do we put the pieces back together and what will they form? What’s next for Judaism?

Shifting our focus from the word “land” to the word “song” – what does the Jewish song sound like today? What are the notes and melody of today’s version of the “Lord’s song?”

In Celtic tradition, there is the notion of the Oran Mor – the great song of all creation, the underlying melody and rhythm of life and nature. The Oran Mor is what one heard when one obtained wisdom and the inner discipline to truly listen to the world.

While certainly the core musical structure of the Divine’s “great song” remains the same, how Judaism will choose to arrange and perform the piece remains unclear.

There are many issues continuing to circle within Jewish communities. What is Jewish identity? Who is a Jew? How do we integrate interfaith marriages? How do Jews understand God, assuming they even engage in any form of theism? What do we do with Halakhah? What should these new realities mean for Jewish liturgy, Jewish law, and Jewish theology, no less Jewish practice?

An excellent article from the Forward helps us see the emerging trends. Although the article focuses on the changes brought about by intermarriage, I believe the trends it discusses have wider implications and varied roots. Take a few moments and read it – Intermarriage Will Shape a New American Judaism.

Judaism will always remain varied and diverse. But I’m increasingly convinced that what is emerging are the roots of a post-Rabbinic form of Judaism. This emerging next wave of Judaism appears to be organic and progressive, observant, yet in a progressive manner, and post-denominational – the blending of Reform, Renewal, and Reconstructionist efforts.

For examples of the concrete change that is occurring, simply look at groups such as Judaism Unbound, or the Emergent Jewish Network, or Wilderness Torah, or Big Tent Judaism. There are many others.

Those who have read this blog in the past will know that I haven’t posted in a few months. I needed to take time out to reflect on my own path, my own Judaism, and my reasons for blogging. I needed time to discern the Lord’s Great Song in my own life.

While that discernment process never ends, I feel comfortable returning to blogging and I return with a new focus – exploring what’s next for Judaism, what’s emerging, where is our theology and practice going?

I don’t claim omniscience nor can I see the future. I don’t claim to speak for all Jews. But I can read the signs of the times and follow the trends to piece together a sense of how the music has shifted.

Perhaps my expectations will prove short-sighted. Clearly, many new forms of the above have already emerged, and not all have endured. But there seems to be an organic unity to the new Liberal Jewish spirituality that is coalescing around the last fifty years of innovation and awakening.

In the days and weeks ahead, I intend to blog about these trends, these changes, and perhaps even attempt to offer my own sense of the necessary theological foundations for such.

This new focus and direction will see the eventual change of the name of this blog to better reflect the direction and discussion.

I invite you to join this discussion. I invite you to share your insights. And I look forward to hearing about your own interpretation and arrangement of the Lord’s song.



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