Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A “Conversation”

[This is a compilation of comments I hear from Jews around the country. I thought it a good follow up to the 5/10/09 post on Jewish spirituality. I present these comments to invite your response. I'm going to let it run for a few days without another post to give you time to comment.]

1. We liberal Jews are a highly educated, largely secular, postmodern people. Judaism is a pre-modern, pre-scientific, supernaturalist, and largely medieval religious tradition. We postmodern Jews may love our history, our people, our left-leaning (except when it comes to Israel) politics, our comics, our novelists, our scientists, our Nobel Prize winners, and, until Bernie Madoff, our financial acumen, but we just find Judaism as most of us encounter it largely irrelevant to our lives.

So what? If Jews don’t care and Judaism dies out, so be it. But it won’t die out. The Orthodox are the saving remnant. Judaism may go the way of the Amish, but never the dodo.

2. Liberal postmodern Jews do go out on Friday night and Saturday; we just don’t go to shul. The reason we don’t is that synagogue services are more predictable than a rerun of “Law and Order.” Clapping hands to prayers that assume we haven’t read a book since the 13th century can take us only so far. Even those few shuls that do a thriving business on Shabbat owe their success more to social networking rather than religious belief; more to Facebook than the Holy Book.

So what? Who said services are supposed to be interesting? You follow the liturgy because it connects you to your people. It is a sacred obligation not a lifestyle choice. And if Jews come to shul to meet other Jews--great! Where should they meet, at a ribs joint?

3. The Chosen People gambit was a great marketing tool in its day, but that day has long passed. It is the Jewish version of Coke’s “It’s the Real Thing” campaign. The Jews are God’s Chosen because we invented the god who chose us. In other words, the product that sponsors the taste test wins the taste test. I like belonging to a tribe. I am proud to be a Jew (even when I am sometimes ashamed of what is said and done in the name of Jews and Judaism), but I don’t need to think that we are God’s special people. It sounds so Smothers Brothers: Mom liked you best! Infantile!

So what? People still prefer Coke to Pepsi or Pepsi to Coke, and nobody likes RC. Just because every product claims to be the best doesn’t mean we should claim to be nothing. We have to emphasize the brand not reject branding. We need a jingle: “We are the Chosen, the mighty mighty Chosen. Yes we are, we’re the Chosen.” And it's not infantile but primitive. And most people are primitive as any cable or network newscast can attest. The question isn't, "Should I have a tribe," but "Is my tribe strong enough and well armed enough to defend itself against the other tribes?"


4. Torah study is meaningless. There was no Adam, Eve, or Noah. There is no evidence outside the Torah itself that Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac ever existed. There is no archeological evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, escaped from slavery, or wandered in the Sinai for forty years. I don’t gather with friends to read Chaucer, why would I gather to read Moses? The Bible is irrelevant to the lives of most Jews. I recently attended a Torah study group where we discussed how Noah could fit all those animals on the ark, and not one of us believed in the Flood story in the first place!

So what? There was no Hamlet, either. Are you telling me Shakespeare is a waste of time? It’s the story that matters, not the history.

5. Rabbis Have No Intrinsic Authority. Why do you listen to your rabbi? Because she says what you want to hear. As soon as your rabbi says something you disagree with and that matters to you, you begin to lobby for a new rabbi or you change synagogues. That means that the rabbi is stuck trying to second-guess what the wealthy and powerful people in the congregation believe so the rabbi can parrot it back to them and stay employed. My rabbi told me, “I don’t believe a word of what I say, but I have grown accustomed to the lifestyle that comes when I’m paid to say it.”

So what? Rabbis who are in it for the money aren’t real rabbis. Real rabbis teach Torah. No real rabbis works for a shul that finds Torah meaningless. These “rabbis” are just employees hired to perform ceremonies and are no different from the dj, florist, and caterer. I wouldn’t belong to that kind of shul, and neither should you. Don't judge Judaism by its weakest link: the liberal humanists who use their rabbis and their tradition to placate some residual survivor's guilt over the Shoah [Holocaust]. Judge it by its strongest link: the Orthodox and Hasidim who love God, God's Torah, God's People, and God's Land. We don't need a bunch of pseudo-Jews who want a Judaism that makes them feel good, we want Jews who are challenged by Judaism because it makes them do good. I'm tired of Jews whining about Judaism. Go be Buddhists or Christians and leave the rest of us alone.

20 comments:

Barrie said...

I am a Jew, the child of two Jewish parents who neither of them believed much in Judaism. for Them, it was a cultural connection that they shared with other Jewish people, the food, the Shtetl (sp?) stories, the history, the ceremonies, Passover, Purim, etc, were the reason for being Jewish. At public school, I got used to being the one forced to sing "Dreidel, Dreidel" every year in chorus as the token Jew in the school. I was had to find my own reasons for faith, outside of my parents'. Humans need a spiritual connection to the divine, it is part of what makes us human. When one is not provided, we will make one for ourselves. I have remained Jewish and become a spiritual Jew because I feel that six thousand years makes for a viable moral and spiritual system. The fact that it has survived so long proves to me that Judaism has the capacity to fit into many different time periods and cultures and still be able to speak to the soul of an individual. I may not be breathlessly waiting for the Messiah to appear, but I am content to find my own inner messiah residing in my heart and in the Torah. I don't need a brand name to "sell" me on this, I found it on my own.

Grégoire said...

"The Jews are God’s Chosen because we invented the god who chose us."

When I was growing up I was told that Mormons were god's chosen, because we were valiant spirits in the pre-existence who earned the right to be born into heroic, White American Mormon families. Males, of course, were especially chosen, even among the chosen.

Once in seminary (what Mormon high school kids go to - equivalent to Hebrew school) my teacher started his usual chest-thumping on this topic. I remember I interjected and started a rowdy argument. "Chosen to do what? What were we chosen to do?" I asked.

I'm still asking that question. Perhaps if we (Mormons) did more good things in the real world for society at large, which didn't just benefit our *self-appointed* chosen tribe, but made the world better for everyone, I'd go back and be active again.

I first asked the question twenty years ago, at age sixteen. I'm now resigned to the fact that this won't happen in my lifetime.

briankb said...

Mainline Christians have pretty much the same arguments. (well, not the chosen part)

What about Synagogue 3000?

Aron said...

This is a tough one for me, but I share a skepticism for cynicism towards the Jewish tradition even if shared it at one point. But ultimately if one doesn't find any way to connection to them, why stay? I can't say. I don't want people following the tradition out of guilt or fear. That's what turned my off about it early on.

I might have a unique perspective, but connecting to my ancestors brought me back to many of them. Remembering the singing was one. Remembering the stories was another. Yet, also encourage people to connect their creativity to whatever tradition connects them. Yet, I feel saying the Shema outside connects me as a Jew as well.

Yet, like many out of Jewish renewal, I also found inspiration by going elsewhere for awhile then coming back.

Patti said...

In wondering why I have nothing to add to this conversation, I realized that it seems to me that it has never been acceptable as a non-jew to criticize or even comment on Judaism.

If this is how Judaism looks today, Christianity is its twin. Perhaps the issue is with society in general and not the faith systems.

Jordan said...

Shalom All,

Patti wrote: "If this is how Judaism looks today, Christianity is its twin."

Not at the megachurch examples I cited in the previous thread.

Rabbi Rami's post is an indictment of Liberal Judaism. Its truth unequivocally demonstrates the failure of its seminaries, its rabbis, its synagogues, its schools, and its institutions. The folks Rabbi cites are just regurgitating the pap that they've learned over the years. The folks have been taught and have learned to expect little more than "drive up window" fixes for life cycle events and guilt fixes for any residual needs for a worship service. Their
responses are no surprise. Why should they care about institutions that DON'T offer relevant practical, application oriented teaching that speaks to their live's as they live and experience them in the 21rst century. Liberal Judaism has earned the "dodo" that it's moving toward.

There is an answer other than "the saving remnant" of Orthodox Judaism. A solution is to create an environment where these folks would be drawn to to hear life changing truth. The mega-church has shown the way. Unless Jewish leaders acknowledge and get over their collective prideful and arrogant "stiff-neckedness" about learning from and then acting upon their example, nothing will change.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Immanuel said...

Le haRavRam HaYakar, and all the other contributors to this blog

I have begun a work in progress on my blog, an enquiry into my thoughts around anti-Semitism, using both tools I learnt from th More To Life program, and from Byron Katie. I would very much appreciate hearing from other people their Truths regarding the inner meaning of beliefs about how "the world is" as far as the phenomenon of anti-Semitism goes. Please take a look on


http://manofestoyomi.blogspot.com/2009/05/applying-byron-katies-work-to-thoughts.html

Aron said...

Jordan: What do you see for people who have an inclination towards small, intimate community? I'd rather just practice with family and friends if my only community option is a megachurch.

I'm glad you see a bright future in that direction, just wouldn't work for my needs for community and fellowship, so to speak.

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron,

One of the insights/values of the megachurches I've specifically cited is that life change happens best in the context of a small group. The Jewish analog could be the havurah. Those churches have intentional strategies such that all that they do, other than corporate worship in "the big house," be organized around the concept of small groups. They are churches OF small groups in contra-distinction to chuches WITH small groups. Examples are groups organized around serving needs/opportunities in the church as well as the community outside of the church, geographic proximity, stage of life, affinity groups, support groups for life's challenges. Their Sunday schools (Willow's for ages 6 months through 5th grade is called Promiseland) have small groups (typically no more than 10 children and a leader) from preschool through 5th grade. Their junior high and high school ministries are organized that way as well and as such integrate the fun activities common to most youth groups with the intentional continuation of the students' spiritual development. The overarching goal here is a youth community in contradistinction to a youth group. The same strategy holds true for "Axis," Willow's ministry for "20 somethings."

As a result of the insights of demographic studies, and a willingness to apply them, the megachuches understand that the "delivery system" for their unchanging message of the Gospel must be different for each group they're trying to reach. Thus, the tactics/methods are different and individualized for Sunday school, student ministries, 20 Somethings, Boomers and Builders. They know that Builders (older than Boomers) Boomers and Gen X (Busters) and Millennials, understand and process differently, as well as have different values. The message of the Gospel is immutable and unchanging regardless of the demographic; the strategies and tactics used to reach and teach the various demographics of their congregations as well as the community at large are always changing.

Check out: http://willowcreek.org
http://theaterchurch.com/
http://mosaic.org/
http://www.lifechurch.tv/

As you can see the megachurch, done well, is not ONLY the monolithic "big house" service. It's a thoughtful, well managed and truly admirable way of, as Willow puts it, "reaching seekers and building believers."

I hope this helps. If not, please keep asking for clarification.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Aron said...

Jordan: Honestly, I think we're in search of such different things and on such different scales, I'm not even sure how to have this conversation.

You sound like you're making a presentation to the board of a synagogue. I'm just looking for people to connect with on a regular basis, to celebrate the Jewish holidays to share with my children the practices of my ancestors and my connection to them, the earth, the divine, etc. I'm looking for something fairly simple and small.

I'm not trying to diminish you for your point of view, just trying to point out that not everyone necessarily fits into the kind of visions you have. Not everyone wants that kind of theater. My spiritual practice, for the lack of a better term, often has to do with getting away from multimedia spectacles, finding quiet, where I find God.

Aron said...

I realize there's no board of a synagogue, just a scale that's very institutional that I don't have a big interest in.

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron,

You wrote:

"I'm just looking for people to connect with on a regular basis, to celebrate the Jewish holidays to share with my children the practices of my ancestors and my connection to them, the earth, the divine, etc. I'm looking for something fairly simple and small."

And that's exactly the function of the small groups I described. And there's no reason why this couldn't happen in the context of an independent havurah or one the was a part of a larger synagogue! There are no "multimedia spectacles" or "theater" in the small groups I described. As I said before that stuff may be a part of the larger corporate worship in the "big house." The advantage of the megachurch model is the large resource base (people: their time talents and tithes), with the potential for intimacy provided by the small group.

Check out www.synagogue3000.org for additional info on the analog of the emergent church from the Jewish perspective. It's leaders are also quite familiar with the megachurch and the valuable lessons it can teach Jewish leaders.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

andrea perez said...

I know that there is a lot of things wrong about almost every religion...But, I love Judaism. I belong to a Reconstructionist congregation and a UU congregation. They have something in common: People think there. We read, discuss, celebrate and question. I went to a Mega church once. I will never go back: I thought I was at a rock concert where everyone was drunk or strung out on acid. There were laser lights, rock music, videos, a wrestling stage and people waving. They all looked like they were Stepford people. I couldn't tell you what the sermon was about..something about King David...but every couple of minutes they were advertising something...Later on, they were going to strip the room of its appeal to young people and go for the adult crowd. I wasn't staying around for the snakes and the healers....
Maybe the problem isn't with Liberal Religion. Maybe it's with the kind of people who go to gather for a "religious" experience. They want it to look like entertainment and not have to really be involved with the service. Or pray, or study or really get to know themselves and the responsibility they have to their communities.....

Jordan said...

Shalom Andrea,

I can only say that your characterization of the megachurch and those who attend is not in any way consonant with what goes on in the churches I've named.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Aron said...

I don't see one structure or another saving Judaism as a tradition.

Ultimately, it's going to be about individuals feeling engaged in a community, feeling the stories speak to them, a series of life practices that allow one to question, meaningful ways of living, providing ways that help define who a good person is, etc.

I think that in our modern day, we're probably going to have a diversity of what it means to be Jewish and allowing each person to explore that on their own as well as part of various communities.

If that doesn't happen, I don't see any magic wand that will suddenly make people care unless, well they actually do.

Jordan said...

Shalom All,

Aron wrote:

"I don't see any magic wand that will suddenly make people care (about Judaism or being Jewish) unless, well they actually do."

Most Jews are Jewish like "The Olive Garden," is Italian. Jews don't care because the see no value in caring beyond a lifecycle fix or a guilt fix for an occasional worship service. And they don't see value beyond those examples, because they we're never taught that, indeed there is. They won't start caring until bold leadership shows a new way to do Jewish that has value to Jews today in the 21rst century.

Aron, what stops you from leading a havurah that would meet your needs as well as those of like mind? Be bold Aron!! Take the risk and do it!

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Aron said...

Jordan: Nothing's stopping me. I joined a havurah about 2 years ago and I'm active in it.

I just didn't do it to provide bold leadership for the future of Judaism, but to connect to a Jewish community that me and my family could work with.

Sorry if that's kind of ordinary.

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron,

No need to apologize to anyone. Thanks for your challenging posts.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Aron said...

Jordan: Well, it was sort of sarcastic apology, so...no worries. (:

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron,

From previous threads, you already know about me and my limitations with sarcasm; combine that with the limitations of this medium in general (no visual or vocal cues for starters) and it's surprising that I can truly understand anything,

Be well,

Bivracha,
Jordan