Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Jewish Identity

This blog is threatening to quickly become another of those Rant-About-YU blogs. Though, cheaper than therapy, let's focus on something else, gentle readers, before J-Dub returns to blog again.

When anyone speaks about Jewish these days, it could refer to one of two things:
Judaism as identity
or
Judaism as religion.

Now with Judaism as identity, pretty much anything goes. And despite being a New York Orthodox Jew (you can see those two letters popping up on my Protocols link right now), I pretty much agree. There is no reason to say that something is not "Jewish" just because I feel that it is not "Jewish". So I am a pretty live and let live when it comes to Jewish identity. If you think that it is Jewish, gay gehzunter hey.

In contrast, when it comes to religion, I am pretty much a stickler for rules. Judaism is bound by halakha and ikkarei emunah. Hey, feel free to disagree all you want, but I just don't consider it Jewish. You can see that from my earlier comments, where, responding to the Elf, I called her position "not Jewish". It might be "Jewish" in the identity sense (like the Democratic Party, Kahane-esque politics, gay culture, or Commentary Magazine), but please do not confuse it with the religion which I hold to be true and dear.

Identity is an interesting phenomenon. It provides people with the essentials of life, meaning/significance, order, and connection. Everything people need other than food, clothing, and shelter. But it is vapid, constructed, and fungible; whatever one decides their Jewish identity is, that is it.

What makes this more interesting is that the entire Jewish community (with the exception of the Orthodox and Conservative Synagogues and Rabbis) is built upon Jewish identity. Why do people give to Jewish causes? Because it provides their identity with meaning, order, and connection. But if Jewish identity is purely constructed and intrinsically meaningless (not to say that it does not provide meaning, but since two opposite identities can be rooted in Jewish tradition and sources there is no way of privileging one identity over another, though Hartman Center is trying, more on that later) then why use the given Jewish identity (and its implicit responsibilities and requirements) that the Jewish Community says that you must have. This is the essential conundrum which the Organized Jewish Community is facing.

Last year there was a whole tumult about Douglas Rushkoff's book Nothing Sacred. Various publications and Blogs weighed in on the matter. Some pro; most con.
Now if instead of attempting to redefine Judaism Rushkoff had said the following:
"Judaism for most people these days is an expression of their identity, not of a religion. OK. Now if we accept that fact, we can get beyond the parochial, by-the-numbers, ritual oriented Judaism and really connect to Jews about what they truely believe," it would have been better received. And most likely true.

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