Monday, July 28, 2008

Judaism is Dying Redux

My previous post (Judaism is Dying) elicited an email response to which I wish to respond publicly. Here’s the email:

“You are a heretic, but not one who is brave enough to come out and say so. So I am calling you out! In twenty-five words or less per topic tell me what you would do with God, Torah, Israel, etc. in your heretical Judaism.”

Reading this I felt like an aging gunslinger being called out from the saloon by a young’un hopin’ t’ make a name fer hisself by killin’ the old man. So I’m strappin’ on my two six shooters an’ steppin’ out to face— oh, forget it. Here is a brief look at my “heretical Judaism” for the 21st century.

God: God is Reality and the creativity that fuels Reality, keeping it fresh, new, surprising, and awe-inspiring.

Torah: Torah is wisdom. Wisdom comes from science, art, music, myth, and literature. Torah study should be the study of wisdom in all its forms.

Israel: Israel, Yisrael, is one who wrestles with God, i.e. engages Reality in such a way as to find meaning and purpose in life.

Rabbi: Rabbis should be Jana yogis (masters of wisdom through intellect and mind) helping people open up to wisdom through meditation and study.

Cantor: Cantors should be Bhakti yogis (masters of wisdom through the heart) helping people open up to wisdom through chant, prayer, and other devotional practices.

Synagogue: Synagogues should be places of meeting; safe houses for doubt, dialogue, questioning, wrestling with Life, and ecstatic surrender into the One Who lives it.

Mitzvot (Commandments): Mitzvot are historic resources drawn from Jewish and other traditions that help one live with compassion, justice, creativity, fearlessness, hope, and humility.

Shabbat (the Sabbath): Shabbat is a day for purposeless play. If you pray, pray playfully. If you study, study playfully. Play helps us regain our sanity and recover our divinity.

Kashrut: Kashrut means linking all your consuming with your highest ethical and environmental values.

Tzedakah: Tzedakah means earning and using your money in a manner that serves both self and society, person and planet.

OK, that’s eleven bullet points. All these need to be fleshed out, of course, but I think I survived the challenge. Notice I saved one bullet just in case my friend is still moving.


Karen said...

I've only recently started reading your blog after enjoying your column for some time in Spirituality & Health. I was raised Christian but I've considered myself a heretic for many, many years. Actually, my beliefs and views of life identify most closely with your "heretic Judaism".

There are a lot more "heretic Jews" out in the world than people who attend traditional churches, synagogues, etc. believe there are. In fact, I'm betting many of those who consider themselves atheists or agnostics might fall into this same heretical category.

However, without a "strict" doctrine and organization, as other religions have, we heretics are left to scramble around, sometimes struggling to give our beliefs a voice in the face of conformity and fear around us, hoping we won't be caught in the crossfire in the meantime.

Does "heretical Judaism" need to be defined, organized, etc.? Does anything actually need to replace rabbinic Judaism? Does evolution require that one thing be replaced with something else, or that it just changes form?

Patti said...

That is good stuff Karen. I have to agree. But I have no answers for your really good questions.

Patti said...


Not being Jewish, most of this blog was Hebrew to me! So I showed it to a friend. At first she wanted to find fault. After sleeping on it, she decided that a lot of what you said was truly beautiful and essence of what she hoped Judaism would and could be. Now she is reading your blog too.

The heretic nudges another mind toward spaciousness. Good job!

AaronHerschel said...

These are excellent principles. I would only ask that you add bullets for Tikkun Ha'Olam and Tikkun Ha Nefesh as per your previous post on, I think, Mount and Mountain. Thanks!

Rabbi Rami said...

I want to welcome Karen to the blog, and thank Soldiermom for sharing it. And I want to make it clear to everyone that while I believe what I say, much of the time I am trying to be funny.

My column in Spirituality & Health doesn't allow for much humor, but I entertain the conceit that I am the Jewish David Sedaris. But sometimes what seems funny to me is simply annoying to others. Go figure.

Anyway to anyone who finds some of what I say offensive, please know it is just a joke falling flat.

Unknown said...

Historically, aren't heretics defined by fact that an institution needs to label them as such? Just calling myself a heretic almost seems like I'm reacting to the official line, defining myself by opposition. So I dunno if I want to label myself as such.

I do support Rami's prinicplesin definition of a heretical Judaism (while standing on one foot, maybe).

I guess as a Jew doing an earth-based practice, married to a Neo-Pagan wife, what I often want is a community open to honoring the seasons that's also interest in radical learning. Is that too much to ask?

Peter Schogol said...

"God: God is Reality and the creativity that fuels Reality, keeping it fresh, new, surprising, and awe-inspiring."

Hillel might rock a bit on his one heel but *I* likes it!