A Bleak Future for Judaism: Torah Turning and the Path to Justice and Compassion

Judaism as product makes the following claims regarding itself: 1) Jews are the one true Chosen People of the One True God; 2) Torah is the one and only revelation of the One True God; 3) Israel is the Land promised to the Jews by the One True God; and 4) Jewish laws, customs, and folkways are sanctioned by the One True God as the uniquely Jewish way of reaching the One True God. Add to this a messianic if not apocalyptic Zionism that makes a fetish out of the State of Israel and sees the restoration of the State of Israel as prelude to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the coming of the Jewish Messiah, and you have accurately described Judaism as product.

The reason the majority of American Jews downplay if not openly reject Judaism as a religion, is simple: they cannot abide the product they are asked to consume. When asked what it means to be Jewish in America, Pew found that

Large majorities of U.S. Jews say that remembering the Holocaust (73%) and leading an ethical life (69%) are essential to their sense of Jewishness. More than half (56%) say that working for justice and equality is essential to what being Jewish means to them. And about four-in-ten say that caring about Israel (43%) and having a good sense of humor (42%) are essential to their Jewish identity… Just 19% of the Jewish adults surveyed say observing Jewish law (halakha) is essential to what being Jewish means to them. And in a separate but related question, most Jews say a person can be Jewish even if that person works on the Sabbath or does not believe in God. ("A Portrait of Jewish Americans," p. 14)

Seinfeld trumps Sinai! There can be no clearer rejection of Judaism as product that this.

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But what about Judaism as process? What about a Judaism devoted to justice and compassion through the turning of Torah in hevruta? While this is the Judaism to which I am devoted, and the Judaism that I teach, it is not the Judaism that Jews want.

Only 26 percent of Jews say religion is important in their lives. What Jews want is an identity that doesn't demand much from them. They may belong to a synagogue, but they don't attend. They may claim to be Zionist but have no plans to move to Israel (except perhaps in retirement when neither they nor their children would have to serve in the Israeli army). Judaism is being abandoned and Jewish identity is being watered down to the point where, if not in five years then in fifty, Jews will celebrate their holidays by wearing blue and white buttons that read, "Kiss me, I'm Jewish."

7/8/2015 4:00:00 AM
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