Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Progressive Religion

Yesterday DovBear had a guest blogger pontificate on the need for Orthodox religious observance. The thesis was simple; to be religious one must observe the exact same principles as those who have come before.

While I clearly do not believe such a thesis to hold any merit, I believe that such a mentality is pervasive in much of the secular and progressive communities. For example, my best-est friend from back home --with whom I have had a few back and forth arguments-- was not observant (at all) prior to taking a trip to an Aish Ha'Torah Yeshiva in Jerusalem. While we could easily go back and forth about our beliefs for hours, (and I do owe him a return email about the last conversation) the main point is that his perspective is you are either "True Torah Observant" or you aren't practicing Judaism.

While I can respect the logic in Ami Isseroff post and my best-est friend's argument, it is flawed and simplistic. All religions --by their very nature-- are conservative. The aim of religion is to create societies based on rules and values. Regardless of what these rules and values are, they strive to create boundaries that in turn create good societies.

Liberal Religions, such as Reform Judaism, does not differ in its approach to the creation of society. Reform Jews have long stressed the ethical commandments over the cult of sacrifice. It is hard to imagine a time when a majority of modern era Jews who would be excited to give up life in the real world, pick up move to Zion, start herding sheep, and then make a trip to Jerusalem four times a year for a blood sacrifice. Yet the treatment of people, the creation of fair courts, the establishment of educational services, welcoming the stranger, and other commandments of this vein makes sense.

The ideal society according to my Jewish values is where people are free and comfortable to achieve a secure life for their children. It clearly would include work and prayer and ritual; as Reform Jews in a perfect society our work, prayer, and ritual would all have deep and transformative meaning.

Progressive Religion scares people on all sides of the spectrum because it is difficult to think about. It is illogical. It seems to pit spirituality and politics head to head. This is wrong and a sophomoric analysis.

People who strive to engage in a truly Liberal Religion are constantly working on their religion. It is more difficult to be an observant Liberal than it is to take on the word of the rabbis of a particular school, yeshiva, or synagouge. Making educated choices about ritual is the basis of the Talmud. I do not --for a second-- think that I am as smart as the rabbis found in the Talmud. But I do know what is important me...

Liberal Religions do not get rid of boundaries and rules. They change them. If the orthodoxy that is reported to be the "True Torah Judaism" is so true why do so many of those who follow these traditions wear such non-Torah outfits? If Torah Judaism is about creating a tradition straight from the text, then why do so many "Torah True Jews" live outside of the biblically prescribed holy land? The truth is that no one person's observance of any one religion will or could be "True."

Progressive Religion embraces the fact that I sitting at a computer to respond to my friend, in similar ways that the scholars of old sat down to work on the religious questions of their day. Progressive Religions is religion with defined regulations and requierments, just different ones than orthodoxy. The logic of all or nothing is regressive and only leads to division and sinat chinam.

1 comment:

best-est friend said...

Well written. I have to agree with you on your main idea that if the point of religion is to control or create a society than you are right and it only makes sense to modernize and change with times while keeping rituals that fit into modern day lifestyles.

But that's not the way I personally understand Judaism. The way I get it is to connect with God. Working in Hollywood and having a very tight-knit family (with both Jews and Goys) I don't really feel as great of a need for a community as some of the other people I know.

For me it's always been more about connecting with something bigger than myself and bigger than this world...which is why tend to look at the laws on a spiritual level first.

Ironically, one of your last points, about why observant Jews don't live in Israel is something that I've been upset about myself. There are only three reasons given according to Jewish law to live outside of the holy land and many many observant Jews who I know don't fit into the three categories so they're, in essence, breaking the rules without justification and are making no attempts to rectify it...which would make them reform philisophically - if you can break any of the laws because you don't think it applies to you then hey, aren't you saying you can pick and choose?

Interestingly enough, I have no desire to become Orthodox. It doesn't seem like something I would enjoy but it doesn't change my opinion that I think it's the right way to be Jewish. So where does that leave someone like me, too lazy, and unineterested to be "Jewish" but still labeled as a M.O.T.? It leaves me feeling like a goy while the whole world looks at me like a Jew - not the most comfortable place typically - but I got to tell you I feel great when I wake up in the morning so it can't be all that bad.