Religion & Beliefs

No Such Thing As Pluralism

Pluralism is one of the buzz words in the Jewish community these days, and usually it means either a) there are no Orthodox people involved or b) the event is de facto Orthodox because of having to cater to the … Read More

By / February 25, 2008

Pluralism is one of the buzz words in the Jewish community these days, and usually it means either a) there are no Orthodox people involved or b) the event is de facto Orthodox because of having to cater to the highest standard. Regardless, everyone has been hailing pluralism as the future of successful Judaism and no one has bothered to parse the exact meaning and implications of pluralism in a comprehensive and cogent way—until now. Check out Dov Friedman’s article in the Columbia Current, “Two Jews, Three Opinions? In Search of Pure Pluralism.” (Full disclosure: Dov is an old family friend.) Friedman does an impressive job of explaining the conundrum that is Jewish pluralism, and his article blows the top off of all of the ‘why can’t we all just get along’ BS that is usually billed as pluralism.

There is one central division among Jews with regard to proposed unity of religious practice. In one group are those who believe that Jewish law is binding on all Jews because that law is mandated by God. These Jews also believe that living their lives according to this law represents the single authentic way to practice Judaism. In the other group are those who see Judaism (and sometimes religion in general) as housing an infinite number of truths, all of which attempt to connect with one aspect of God or another. For those who believe that law is fundamentally correct and that other conceptions of Judaism are incorrect, their theology precludes them from creating and joining in communal practices that deviate from their understanding of Jewish law. Alternatively, those who believe that Judaism houses an infinite number of truths are always at risk of losing a coherent foundation upon which to build their community; they may build a pluralist community, but what would tie such a community together? It would have nothing to rally around except pluralism itself—making pluralism the end instead of a means to a more harmonious community.

 

 

Rock, meet Hard Place. Friedman then runs through all of the various ways to view pluralism, taking into account everyone from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik to Jewschool’s Dan “Mobius” Sieradski. In his conclusion he hopes for what he sees as the truest form of pluralism: educational pluralism. If kids are given strong Jewish educations that enable them to explore Jewish text, Jewish Law and Jewish thought, then pluralistic ideals will be easier for them to inhabit and maintain in the future.  As the product of some pretty hardcore Jewish education, I’m with him 100%.

Related: I Am Not Crunchy Enough for Jews in the Woods, Scrap the Mechitza