Beyond Denominations

The Economist, in its recent special report about the Jews, “Alive and Well,” offers us an interesting – and I think defensible – chart of the key points of belief and practice, delineating where the similarities as well as the differences lie among the four major denominations – HarediModern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. The guide offers some interesting insights into the faith, and it raises some others into each of us. After looking over the list and seeing how that made some sense, I then gave myself a test. Where do my own articles of faith lie?

  • On the Source of the Torah, I agree with both Orthodox denominations in that I believe that the Torah was dictated by G-d to Moses;
  • On the Authority of Halacha, I find myself between the Modern Orthodox and the Conservatives: life is regulated by halacha but that halacha can evolve to a degree;
  • Similarly, on Ritual and Practice, I’m with the Modern Orthodox in that they are regulated by halacha, but that there is room for evolution;
  • On Zionism and Israel, however, I am torn. I generally support Israel, but I am troubled by the State’s handling of the settlements issue.
  • On the Definition of Jewishness, I am between the Modern Orthodox and the Conservative position, but mostly out of selfishness – I want to be considered Jewish, but my mother did not convert according to halacha and I am not yet ready to take on the full scope of the Mitzvot.

But enough of this navel-gazing.

The article raises much more meaningful questions: are the differences between the denominations as great as we believe? Are they always a matter of choice, or are they a matter of upbringing? Do not each of the movements and denominations serve a purpose? Should we take a more holistic approach to our faith? Is it time for us to knock down the walls that divide the denominations?

Inter-denominational dissing is too prevalent, and we forget too easily that bBaseless hatred cast us out of Israel. Is it such a leap to think that it is,  the continuing presence of Jew-on-Jew strife that keeps Moshiach away?

One of the things that inspired me about Chabad was how the rabbis, while clearly Orthodox almost to the point of haredi, refused to classify themselves as such, and profess a point of view that says “all Jews are the same.” If they can do that, why can’t the rest of us?

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Speed the Day

Muslims and Jerusalem: Pilgrims’ plodding progress
The Economist
.
April 28th, 2012

This Economist article begins with a jolt. By the time you have read the first paragraph, you are starting to believe that the biggest obstacle to Muslims visiting Jerusalem is the Israeli government.

Read on. The truth is that it is Muslim leaders, and particularly Arab Muslim leaders, who prohibit their followers from visiting the Dome of the Rock in Islam’s third-holiest city.

For me, I look forward to the day when Jews and Muslims can greet each other in the streets of our shared Holy City as brothers should – in peace, in love, in laughter.

Torah Thought of the Day

This one really got to me:

“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom
Let not the mighty man glory in his might
Let not the rich man glory in his riches
But one should only glory in this:
That he understands and knows Me,
that I am the Lord,
Who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness on the earth.
For in these I delight, says the Lord.”

Yeremiachu 9:22-3

Amen, selah

Tisha B’Av: Celebrating Green Shoots

I was a superb conversation with a good friend about Tisha B’av on Twitter today, and we got around (as we normally do) to what we have been reading. He asked me if I had read a book that takes a dire view of assimilation among American Jews, suggesting that it portends the end of the Tribe.

I tire of the procession of modern-day Cassandras who see assimilation as the greatest problem facing Judaism today. There are surely others, not least of which are the way we often treat and speak of each other, that threaten our future more, that work against the will of Hashem, and that play a part in setting Jews onto the path of apostasy.

The highly pessimistic view of the faith with which many of us were raised, the view that also rejected out-of-hand the gifts of Rabbinic Judaism, is both incorrect and unnecessary. The Green Shoots of Judaism have in the past two decades begun to outnumber the wilted branches.

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known popularly as the Ba’al Shem Tov, was right about many things, but what he was most correct about was his imprecation to all of us to celebrate our faith, not mourn it. Tisha B’Av is a day to remind ourselves of the calamities in our past, but we must conclude it determined to build a better future.

An Air Force Colonel Calls for Holocaust Rememberance

In a short but clearly heartfelt article in this month’s issue of The Wright Stuff, a monthly publication of the U.S. Air Force’s Air University, Colonel Michael Underkofler calls on his fellow airmen to remember the Holocaust during the Yomim HaShoah this month.

Col. Underkofler, who commands the 514th Air Mobility Wing, reminds us all that the Holocaust does not just hold lessons for Jews, but for everyone as we consider the dangers of intolerance and prejudice.

The Sino-Hebraic Connection

Adam Daniel Mezei asks via Twitter:

What’s your read on the connections between Chinese and Jews. Beyond obvious factors, what do you think our connections are?

After wondering aloud if I could answer that in 140 characters, I though about it and gave him this precis of an answer.

I think Chinese and Jews look each other in the eye and see something comforting and familiar. It comes not necessarily from a shared set of values, but of common experience: each is the ancient and seminal culture of a civilization, has endured unspeakable hardship/persecution, and each has emerged from the crucible of history with great depth beneath the hardened exterior shared by all survivors.

Therein, I believe, lies the heart of the mutual respect and admiration – and in my household affection – between the two great cultures.

Thoughts?