(I couldn’t find a good photo of a guy in a kippa at a computer)
Rogueregime, a blogger on Jewish concerns from a Reform perspective, asks in a recent post, “Is anyone else like me out there?”
I have found lots of great frum (i.e., religious) and off-the derech (i.e., by former "observant" Jews) blogs out there, and I have even come across some right-wing sites that at the very least are giving me some food for thought. [. . .]Now I do not know how specifically Rogueregime intended the words “Liberal” and “Reform.” (Did he mean “Liberal” with a capital L or a small one? If the latter, did he mean liberal in religion or in politics?) Speaking for myself, I would be satisfied to find some blogs in which Jews who are not presently or formerly Orthodox—understood to include the whole range from Modern Orthodox to Ultra-Orthodox—address Jewish concerns. I don’t care whether they are Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist or Liberal or Renewal or “other” (which would include “unaffiliated”). I would just like to be able to read some thoughtful blog writing about what it means to be Jewish from perspectives that are like mine to the extent of being completely outside of Orthodoxy. I have found Rogueregime’s blog and now the two that he cites in his post (The Reform Shuckle and Mah Rabu). There may be others out there, but, given how hard they have been to find, they cannot exist in the same profusion as Orthodox blogs. Why is that?
But I'm not finding other blogs written by people like me: Liberal, Reform Jews searching for a meaningful, authentic connection with the nitty-gritty of our faith.
The first explanation that came to my mind when I asked myself this question was that there are not many non-Orthodox Jews who find being Jewish to be a topic of sufficient interest for a blog. But I think that a more plausible answer—and it is in some ways an even sadder one—is that there is simply not enough knowledge of Judaism among the non-Orthodox for many of them to blog about Jewish concerns, at least in any very interesting way. I may be overgeneralizing from a narrow experience, but it seems to me that the great majority of non-Orthodox Jews—Jews like me—have at best a smattering of second- and third-hand knowledge of the historical sources of Jewish law and doctrine. Many have not even that. Since most of us do not know Hebrew, let alone Aramaic (which I only recently learned to be the primary language of the Talmud: how ignorant is that? I also ask my non-Orthodox Jewish reader: did you know that?), we don't even have a vocabulary in which to express the pertinent concepts. At least, that is the impression that I get from reading Orthodox blogs, in which Hebrew words and phrases that I never knew are scattered like slang in the conversation of teenagers. (I have recently learned that this mode of expression is called Yeshivish.)
Now it is, of course, a celebrated fact about Jewish tradition that if you want to know what “the Jewish view” on X is, where X is a non-trivial topic, you are asking an essentially unanswerable question. There is no single Jewish view on any topic of significance: what there is is two thousand years of rabbinical disputation. What you have to learn is not what “the Jewish view” is, but how the argument has gone. The trouble is that if you grow up outside of strict Jewish observance, then that tradition is not likely to seem of anything but academic interest to you.
In writing even this much, I have run the risk of talking beyond my knowledge; so I am reluctant to take the topic much further. (Whatever shame there is in knowing that one is ignorant, it is less than the shame of learning that one has talked ignorantly, i.e., made statements with a presumption of knowledge when in fact one did not know what one was talking about.) From this point, I will try only to relate it to my own particular predicament.
I am willing to grant that there may be a form of belief in God that is not superstition. What I cannot conceive to be other than superstition is the attribution of particular events in history to God’s will, particular texts to his authorship (or “inspiration”—a bit of verbal evasion that either means essentially the same thing as authorship or means essentially nothing), or particular laws and observances to his authority. (For two thousand years our rabbis have inveighed against superstition: but it seems to me that in practice what they mean is just superstitions other than their own.)
Now from this point of view, it is difficult to conceive of a rationale for observing halakhah or bringing up one’s children within it. And among Jews who grow up and live without such observance, few are likely to feel much incentive to study the tradition of rabbinical literature and thought. But without study of that tradition, Jews really do not know what Judaism is. In my view, that means that they do not really know what they are. If they do not care about their ignorance, and either abandon Judaism or fail to pass it on to the next generation, they may be throwing away something of immeasurable value. I cannot say that I know that there is something of immeasurable value in Judaism; but I also do not know that there is not. For this reason, I am not willing to throw Judaism away.
So the sum of the matter is this: On the one hand, I cannot understand Judaism otherwise than as being founded on certain beliefs that I find to be inherently superstitious. On the other hand, there may be something of immeasurable value in Judaism. I cannot be in favor of throwing out something that, for all I know, may be of immeasurable value. I also cannot be in favor of superstition. I don’t know where to stand. My only consoling thought is that the Jews of the world—secular or religious, liberal or strict, skeptical or superstitious (but I don’t mean these three pairs of terms as equivalents!)—will go their various ways regardless of what I think or say.
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