The email was simple, direct, and polite:
“Dear Rabbi, From what I can tell by reading your blog and website you don’t believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; you don’t believe the Jewish are God’s Chosen People; you don’t believe Israel is the Promised Land; and you don’t believe Torah is God’s revelation— so in what way are you a Jew, let alone a rabbi?”
Good questions, though not really difficult to answer.
Jews are a tribe into which one is born or by which one is adopted. When you become a Jew you receive a Hebrew name that literally links you to Abraham and Sarah, the founding father and mother of the tribe. Judaism is the religion of the tribe, but membership in the tribe is not contingent upon adherence to the religion, nor is the religion understood in the same way by all members of the tribe. I love belonging to a tribe. I have difficulties with religion.
I am a Jew because my mother is a Jew. I am a rabbi because I met the requirements for ordination. I remain a Jew and consciously participate in the rituals and customs of my people because I find them meaningful. I remain a rabbi because I enjoy sharing what I find meaningful with others, both Jews and Gentiles.
True, my understanding of God differs from that of the mainstream. Where most speak of God as a transcendent Other, I experience God as the one and only reality that is both imminent and transcendent. True, I don’t believe Torah was written by God, but by people, and hence reflects both timeless truths and time–bound biases and falsehoods. True, where Judaism focuses primarily on Jews, I focus on primarily on humanity; and, true, where Judaism is primarily concerned with The Promises Land, I am primarily concerned with the planet as a whole; but the fact that I choose to link myself to a minority view among my people does not negate my being a legitimate part of that people.
So, while I understand why there are people who question my legitimacy as a Jew and a rabbi, my own sense of identity is clear: I am both.