Monday, December 07, 2009

My Religion is Love

Judaism is about love or it doesn’t mean shit. It's that simple.

All the usual talk about tribal loyalty, cultural diversity, God, Torah, Promised Land, and Chosen People, is irrelevant if Judaism doesn’t make us more loving. Does it really matter if Jews marry Jews and raise Jewish kids if being Jewish is just about Jews marrying Jews and raising Jewish kids?

Judaism does matter, of course, but not in any self-referential way. Judaism matters for the only reason any religion matters: it makes us more loving. Or it should.

Here is my guiding principle for determining whether or not to engage in any specific Jewish practice: will it enhance my capacity to love? If it will, I should do it. If it won’t, I should move on to something that will.

Your answer to this question will differ from mine. The only agreement I am looking for is that love is what matters: love of God (Deuteronomy 6:5), love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and love of stranger (Leviticus 19:26). How you define God, neighbor, and stranger is also up for discussion. Discussion is what we Jews are all about: argument, doubt, debate, wrestling. And if this argument is for the sake of heaven, that is for the sake of love, it is precious to me. If it is for the sake of tribe and brand, it is a waste of time to me.

Of course I will have to define love. Let me offer this as a tentative definition: love is the capacity to feel another’s pain without guilt, share in another’s joy without envy, and work with others to uplift the fallen, free the wrongly imprisoned, etc. If I need a slogan for my Judaism I would borrow the bumper sticker the Prophet Micah might have stuck on the rump of his donkey: "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

You might object at this point, “Why bother coming up with Jewish ways of becoming more loving? Why not just be more loving? Why stick with Judaism?”

I suspect that in my case Judaism is so ingrained that I cannot walk away. I keep coming back to make it work for me the same way I keep coming back to Levis jeans after flirting with New Religion: I find them comforting.

With love as my criteria, I can now answer people who ask me, “How do you know your religion is true?” Truth isn’t the issue, love is. I don’t care if a religion is true; I care if it makes its adherents more loving.

My religion is love. My method is Judaism as I define it for myself. Won’t this weaken community if we each define Judaism for ourselves? Maybe, but who cares? My goal is love not branded community. If I am loving, I will find others who are the same. Love will be our bond, and we will welcome any brand that serves it.


Brynn said...
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Brynn said...

Thanks for the post Rabbi. I really appreciate a jewish perspective that reinforces this Truth (with a capital T). I know, deeply know, that responding with love can transform the world. However, there are many compelling "logical" reasons that reinforce the opposite of love (i.e. hate, war, defense)...

I'm wondering if you think the practice of love would impact the conflict with Israel and the middle east? What does this look like for you?

dtedac said...

Rabbi, this is a wonderful commentary.

We could each do what you have done with our own faith expression: My religion is love and my method is X as I define it. (In my case Catholicism). Christians could easily add to your verses from Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Micah with Christian scriptures: Jesus' affirmation of the Shema, the Golden Rule as rearrangement of Hillel and best of all from 1 John "God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them." From my own background, the writings of many saints could supplement the core teachings. Each faith expression would have their own history and tradition to work with.

As far as your question about weakening community, I think that Judaism or any faith community will be strengthened by genuinely shared bonds. If the core is strong and bound in love, I think the community will be able to construct what works for them.

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for the support.

Phil said...

"Scribbler on the roof": love it! (But do you have to pay the Schulz estate for that?)

Rabbi Rami said...

Phil- I tried to find out about paying for the use of Snoopy. It seems that Schultz does own it. Then I was told that I modified it enough so that people could not confuse it with the real thing and, since I wasn't selling it, could use it without fear.

I hope this is true. I don't know if I can blog from prison.

Grégoire said...

This is one of your best entries yet, and that's something.

Carolyn said...
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dmelby said...

Too many brands are essentially about exclusion limiting community to those 'like us'. Love is the only brand that will ever make a community of us all. Thanks for the post.

Raksha said...

Re "Judaism is about love or it doesn’t mean shit. It's that simple." That's for damn sure!

Re My religion is love. My method is Judaism as I define it for myself. Won’t this weaken community if we each define Judaism for ourselves? I don't think so, not in the long run. If we can all remember that "Judaism is about love or it doesn't mean shit" we aren't actually defining it for ourselves in any basic sense. We are just keeping our priorities straight.

Great post!


. said...

Two questions/ comments

1) What about the shadow? Historically religions that have trumpeted love as their banner have left a bloody trail...what about our urge to destroy...after all G-d the Creator is Also G-d the destroyer, as the Mabul (flood) or the stroy of Sdom and Amorah about loving our capacity and desire to destroy, instead of pretending its not there
2) From a non dualist point of view you are the others so by all means love yourself, but identifying with the others pain and joy? Why identify with temporary fleeting states? For what purpose? To reinforce your own sense of self as a compassionate being? This too may be a trick of the mind.

. said...

don't knw why my posts are identifying me simply as an underscored full stop (period!) Ah...if only I could...Immanuel

. said...

One more point - in terms of linguistic communities calling it love rather than ahava already excludes some and includes you want to love or le'ehov? You might say the word is just the packaging, the form, and what counts is the content, but sometimes form and content are inextricably linked, perhaps even the one you're with but mayim rabim lo yishtefu et haahavah...shelcha bisdot Elokim

. said...

My religion is making up a story efore and after it happens and my methodology is bumble fumble mumble and humble

Sandy said...

Thank you!

Rabbi Rami said...

Just a word about the shadow issue. Whether we are talking about corporate religion or individual spiritual life, dealing with the darkside of ourselves is at the heart of spiritual work. We must forever by aware of our capacity for evil, especially evil in the name of God or love or whatever.

Phil said...

"...dealing with the darkside of ourselves is at the heart of spiritual work. We must forever by aware of our capacity for evil..."

I agree, but also at its heart is our capacity for good. The problem of evil is complemented (not solved) by the happy prospect of amelioration. What would be the point of spiritual life if all we could do was brood on our imperfection?

Wine4YAI said...

Thanks this article was great. I send it to the Rabbi of the Orthodox Synagogue I attend. Here is his response:Dear Saul,

This is an interesting essay. But it is disingenuous.

One could be a very good Christian, Hindu, Muslim, atheist . . . whatever, and say exactly the same thing, merely substituting XXXism for the word Judaism. And it would be equally meaningless.

Obviously the phrase "Truth isn’t the issue, love is. I don’t care if a religion is true; I care if it makes its adherents more loving." can be applied to any crazy belief system if it is believed.

Of course love matters. But truth matters too. And if people practice Judaism properly, and follow the Torah in truth, they will be the most loving people on earth. Those that act hatefully in the name of Judaism are distorting, embarrassing and perverting it. But not everything in life, or the world is about love. Sometimes, there are things that must be done because truth demands them ,even if they are not done with love. There are many many examples of this.

I would love to discuss this more....weren't we supposed to learn together?