Shema: Jewish Identity

Jewish Identity
Rabbi Jason Miller

Jewish identity is a tricky subject in that we are far from consensus on how it is defined, what it should feel like, or to what extent it should be particularistic. I find that Judaism has much wisdom to offer, both to adherents of the faith as well as the rest of the world, and I am therefore constantly baffled that we account for such a small fraction of the U.S. population.  As to whether we Jews should worry less about the cultural components of our peoplehood and more about the theological aspects, I maintain that this choice is up to each individual “member of the tribe.”  Some Jews will be enthralled with bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, Federation meetings, Seinfeld reruns and B’nai Brith softball. Others will recharge their spiritual batteries in traditional synagogue life.  Some will look to Jewish summer camp as their source of Jewishness and for others, it will be the connection to the State of Israel. We are a club, but we’re not sure who is included and who decides.  It is good for us to stand out as tribally different, but we should also count our blessings that we are included into the larger fabric as well.

in response to:

No study has ever been done to discover the root cause of why people stop identifying with Judaism. If we worry less about Judaism as a culture and more about monotheism, we might find that — suddenly — people have something more to believe in. Jewish identity is more than matzah ball soup and Young Professionals mixers.  God, Israel (the people), and the Torah are essential for Jewish identity. Without God, we sit on a stool with only two legs. Theists need to summon up the courage to put God first in Jewish life in spite of the urge to keep our heads down so we don’t look crazy.  We often place a lot of importance on not standing out, especially in a “tribal” sense. It gives us a sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves. The flip side is that if we all try to be like someone else, we lose who we really are.  Judaism is a path (halakhah) that allows us to walk together, even if  we walk at our own pace. When we try to be like another, we are giving up our God-given individuality. —Patrick Aleph & Michael Sabani


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