Judaism – The Thing that Binds Us Together
The Latin writer, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.)
tells us in De Natura Deorum or On
the Nature of the Gods, that the word religion is derived from both re
ligere or to read again and from Res
ligare or the thing that binds. This is most reasonable since all religions
include ritual readings which are repeated again and again. Further, those who
are of the same faith feel that they are bound to others of similar views.
We Jews are indeed bound together by our religious
heritage which teaches that Jews believe in one God who created heaven and
earth; that we, the Children of Israel received the Ten Commandments from Him
and that he assigned us the Land of Israel in perpetuity.
Only about 10% of all Jews are now willing to subscribe
to these beliefs, as recent opinion polls reveal that 90% of American Jews view
us an ethnic group and only 10% see
themselves as members of a religious community. Those who hold that view are
mostly “Torah true” or orthodox (straight belief) followers of Judaism.
Approximately 800,000 American Jews are members of orthodox synagogues
(assemblies) although about half of those who are members do not practice
orthodox Judaism. Orthodox life is structured around the concept of Halacha
which refers to the 613 laws of the Torah and the Talmudic and Responsa
interpretations based on these laws. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik has written a
revealing book called Halachik Man which
explains how those committed to that life style “orient (themselves) to the
world by means of fixed statutes and firm principles.” The principal view of
halachik men is that ideals will eventually triumph over profane reality.
Reform Jews and their Reconstructionist cousins hold a
different view. They hold with the great Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza
(1632-1677) that the Torah was written by men and that Jewish ceremonies were
instituted by men as well. Reform Judaism emphasizes the prophetic tradition in
Judaism and seeks to feature the moral laws in the Torah while disregarding
ceremonies or dietary laws. This is not to say that Reform Judaism does not
practice ceremony and ritual. In fact, in recent years the use of the Tallit or
prayer shawl has returned to Reform as has the use of the Kippa or skull cap.
Hebrew is once more in vogue in Reform Temples and tradition is very much alive
among our Reform congregations. Rabbi Solomon B.
Freehof is the principal expounder of the Reform tradition in America. Freehof
in his Responsa argues that Halacha is
indeed the foundation of Judaism, but that each generation must decide for
itself which aspect of Halacha applies to it now. His emphasis is on the
individual and the right of each to decide for himself how to live a Jewish life
within the moral teachings of the tradition.
Conservative Judaism, also called Historical Judaism is
American in its origin. Rabbi Abraham Joshuah Heschel was no doubt the major
conservative theologian of this century. His great work was Between
God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism. Therein
Heschel taught that there is a holy dimension to life which cannot be
reached by cool analysis and scientific measurements. Heschel also wrote that
“God participates in human history.”
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was the founder of the
Reconstructionist movement in Judaism. His great work was and is Judaism as a Civilization. Kaplan presents God as “ a struggling
ordering form of nature.” This reveals his indebtedness to Spinoza whose Tractate
of Theology and Politics was the opening gun in the modern development of
our diverse religion. Read these authors and you will be glad you did.
You’ll truly be happy with such
great minds whose work is all to be had free of charge at the nearest library.