Thursday, November 13, 2008

Judaism: What is it?

So, I'm taking this class called "Is Judaism a Religion?". Yes, this is an actual class. Now I know you readers are either thinking, "Oh, there's Gadi...what a freakin' heretic?" or , "Thank GOD! Not another stupid post about sports!" Actually, I hope to prove both groups wrong, but we'll see what happens. In any case, I've taken an interest in this class and not just because it has given me the opportunity to represent all of Orthodox Judaism (now I got all you heretic criers in actual tears). Of course the class isn't as easy as saying "yes, it is a religion, so let's go home and drink some Manichewitz," or "no, it's not, so let's go home and sacrifice to Baal." We had to define our terms, which led to some interesting conversations about what religion really is, and, in turn, what Judaism really is. But what was and continues to be surprisingly interesting to me is that through all the readings, scholars from all stripes, colors, and denominations have failed to characterize Judaism as a religion. For the sake of time, and due to pure laziness on my part, I will only discuss two.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was a great scholar and if you want to learn about his life I suggest Wikipedia-ing him. Among other things, he had to defend traditional Judaism to the reformers of his time. In his article Religion Allied to Progress, Hirsch goes on a scholarly, and often times sarcastic, rant about what the reformers were doing incorrectly. Without going into detail about the positive and negative aspects of his arguments, Hirsch openly says that Judaism is NOT a religion (emphasis added...and I'm not going to "footnote" any of this, so you'll have to take my word for it). This baffled me. Seriously, this man is considered by many to be the father of Orthodoxy, or neo-Orthodoxy as the Matrix fans like to call it, and he is saying that Judaism is not a religion. Obviously, I needed to keep reading. In his eyes, Judaism wasn't a religion because that would be too limiting. A religion, in the mind of Hirsch, is something that comes and goes. It's something that you can do once a week, once a month, or once a year, however the individual chooses. To Hirsch, Judaism is life...everything else is just a distraction. Besides sounding an awful lot like those old And-1 t-shirts (which I never had but was always jealous of), that is truly what he believed. Surely, he wouldn't recommend living in a bunker with nothing but the Babylonian Talmud and some matza balls. But if it would come down to that or changing the way life had been for generations, Hirsch would ditch the glamor for the matza balls.
On what has been commonly referred to as the other side of the spectrum lies Mordecai Kaplan and Reconstructionist Judaism. Without going into details about Kaplan's life or Reconstructionism, since I know very little of either, I will focus instead on what I do know. Kaplan was a people person. Not necessarily in the Abrahamic "four open sides to the tent" way, but rather in that he placed the peoplehood, the camaraderie, the nation, the society of Jews number one on his list of importance. God is no longer front and center. God is whatever the people make Him to be. The Torah is no longer divine, no longer transmitted from God to Moses to Joshua to the Elders to Rashi (sorry, that was a slight dig at what has become an over-reliance on Rashi). But, and this I'm 80 percent sure of, Kaplan did see importance in making synagogues into centers of Jewish life, which has led to the appropriately named Jewish Center, located somewhere in N.Y. To Kaplan, Judaism isn't a religion at all, rather a people who have the power to place importance on whatever traditions they see fit.
Now what. As a guy who keeps separate dairy and meat dishes and straps on tefillin (almost) every morning, how can I make sense of a non-religion religion?
I guess sometimes I just gotta follow in the wise words of Will Ferrell and keep on truckin'.
Fantasy Football Update: With the trade deadline looming, the S******* S****s are not so comfortably nestled in 6th place. My QB messiah, Aaron Rodgers, is beginning to resemble Shabtai Zvi more than the real Son of David. I think the main problem is in the locker room, where Plaxico Burress has been nothing but a distraction. But hope is on the way. Mike Singletary is coming in for a pep talk...and I'm making sure he takes his pants off.
I forgot how to link, so for an explanation, try this:


Rachel D said...

good use of library time

a more insightful comment TBA

Anonymous said...

"Hold on to the center." - Lao Tzu

Dengelnuts said...

Word to the bird: even sports isn't as pure as you'd think, and i'm not talking about the steroids. I met Mike Singletary in a hotel restroom when i was twelve. We exchanged words at the urinal. He did not wash his hands. I shook it anyway. True story.

Moral: Judaism may not always be comprehensible, but at least we wash our hands. Saved us from the Bubonic plague. Take it to the bank and do the Jew-perbowl Shuffle.

Rebbe Nachman said...

judaism may not be a religion, but calling it a race just feels funny after the shoah, know what i mean?