Friday, April 26, 2013

Advice for Rabbis 5 of 5

31. Shul isn’t camp; spirituality isn’t clapping hands. Shul is a place for personal and communal transformation, a place where the self and selfish give way to the Self and selfless. This requires four things: stirring poetry, transcendent music, deep dialogue, and silent contemplation. If these aren’t the building blocks of your services, you are building the Tower of Babel.  

32. Being Jewish isn’t the point. The point is to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Being Jewish is the way to achieve the point. If you’re not teaching people how to be a blessing, what you are teaching them is a waste of time.

33. Tevye is dead. Fiddling lasts forever. Fiddling on the roof is a metaphor for living creatively, even joyously, with uncertainty. This is the existential reality Judaism must address. To focus on dead fiddlers is idolatry. Jews make a fetish of the past; Judaism is all about living justly in the present.

34. Don’t make Judaism relevant.  Judaism—doing justly, loving kindly, walking humbly—is relevant. If you have to make it relevant, whatever “it” is isn’t Judaism.

35. Don’t mistake praying in Hebrew for praying. Just because people can pronounce the Hebrew words in a siddur doesn’t make those words meaningful. Just because they can say the prayers doesn’t mean they are praying. Prayer is an act of transformation, moving from self to Self, from me to we, from taking to giving to sharing. Teach your people to pray and not just how to read the script.

36. Stop reading responsively. Stop reading in unison. Stop reading. Pray.

37. Don’t turn Judaism into ancestor worship. God told Abraham and Sarah to get away from their land, their kin, and their parents’ house so that God might show them where to live and be a blessing (Genesis 12: 1–3). If you are teaching an imitative Judaism based on land, kin, and parents, you are undermining the very core of God’s call.

38. Don’t deify Debbie. Debbie Friedman (z”l) was good, but over using her music is making it kitsch.

39. Got ecstasy? Ecstasy—being lifted beyond the self to the Self, beyond the finite to the infinite—is the goal of worship. Music is vital to this enterprise, but not all music. Think Ode to Joy; Gospel; Klezmer; Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin; Shlomo Carlebach; Yofiyah; and Shefa Gold. Don’t rely on camp songs and sing–alongs; make music that soars.

40. Sell the shul. I don’t mean market your synagogue; I mean put your synagogue on the market. Survey after survey shows that people find spirituality in nature not in concrete shells. Sell your building, rent office and classroom space, and hold services in the wild. Or rent the local planetarium: there is nothing like praising the Creator of the Universe while sitting in a plush recliner in a dark air–conditioned room at the center of the universe.

41. Tell your people the truth. Religion is made up. God is made up. Tradition is made up. Torah is made up. Talmud is made up. Knowing Judaism is all made up frees you and them to make it up better.

42. Have faith in doubt. Faith fills you up; doubt empties you out. When you are full of faith there is no room to grow. When you are rooted in doubt you are always ready to bloom.

43. Add Jesus to your Yahrzeit list on “Good Shabbos.” Don’t let Christians rob us of one of the most famous Jews who ever lived. Reclaim Jesus as a first century God–intoxicated Jewish mystic.

44. Add Spinoza to your Yahrzeit list (he died on February 21, 1677). Don’t let the Orthodox rob us of one of the few Jews of the past who might still speak to Jews today.

45. Stop trying to apply Bronze Age mores to Digital Age lives. You wouldn’t go to a doctor who practiced Bronze Age medicine, why expect your congregants to come to a rabbi who promotes Bronze Age religion?

46. If science disproves your faith, change your faith. If your faith has to hide from science, chances are your faith is weak and your knowledge of science even weaker.

47. When participating on an interfaith panel, ask your fellow panelists if they think you’re going to Hell.  Rather than nod politely as your fellow panelists pretend that religion isn’t the problem, ask them if their God will let you into their Heaven when you die. This will bring the conversation to a quick close, and you can get home in time to do something more interesting.

48. Stop pretending there is only one God. When asked if Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in the same God, be honest and say “no.” HaShem and Allah have no kids (OK, maybe HaShem has a daughter, see Proverbs 8:22, but Allah is definitely childless), while God the Father is a father because he has a Son. Neither Allah nor HaShem ever sent Jesus to earth to die for anyone’s sins, and neither HaShem nor Jesus’ Dad revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad. There is nothing wrong with us believing in different Gods. There is something wrong in denying that we do so.

49. Stop stressing over the future of Jews and Judaism. If Judaism dies out it’s because Jews stopped caring about it. If Jews stop caring about it it’s because it isn’t worth preserving. If you don’t want Judaism and Jews to die out tomorrow, make being Jewish and living Judaism of value today.

50. Never let your congregants see you in shorts. They have a hard enough time taking you seriously as it is.


Maggid said...

Hurried here to read "the rest of the story."

Truth - Love It.


Shanah said...

Rami, you're spot on. Jeff told this was great...and he too was spot on. Kol haKvod.

Charles Kinnaird said...

Great series! What you say is amazingly comparable to what's happening among Christians as well. I forwarded your advice to some of my friends who are pastors. I know Protestant and Catholic pretty well, but your posts gave me some enlightenment. In the first post I had to google siddur and Oneg Shabbat. In this last post I had to google Debbie Friedman. Everything else I could immediately relate to, and the google diversions were a great education as well.

Erick Reynolds said...

“Stop pretending there is only one God.” My initial reaction was to disagree with this one spiritually, but I re-read it and the item 41 and I have to agree that one should accept there are multiple religious manifestations of the “God entity”, if one must belief in any. However, sadly, it leads to my “God entity” is better than yours.

Barry said...

You pretty much said it all. I laughed until I started coughing.

andrea perez said...

About Shul as Camp and the singing...
this is the same thing as the preschooler comment...
There are people who just can't stand meditating. It seems to forced and taking the time to make it work just seems like wasting Time. For them, there needs to be a place where they learn to connect to something that gives them that same outer/inner body connection. The same is said of that unison reading: Just hearing all those voices connected together can do the same thing. It's taking the form of a modern Niggun.
Classical music isn't always the answer. With its mathematical patterns and configurations classical music can make someone very tense instead of making them calm, If the purpose is to feel calm, so you are relaxed enough to think or just be, then for them Debbie Friedman or Pete Seeger or even Black Sabbath does the trick. There are more than one way to skin a cat and that's what is offered in our houses of worship these days. A teacher learns to stretch her methods to fit the learning styles of the audience she is with. If you are really there to help yourself and others with their jouneys then you modify your teaching.
I think the thing a teacher needs to learn is when to quit trying to be something she isn't. What's more important is that students need to learn what being a good student is. Keep moving on, asking questions and finding information along the way. For the student, never mistake your Rabbi for your God. Both of you will wind up damaged and bruised. Everyone is on a journey. We meet people along the way who help us and then move on.