Religion & Beliefs

What should be Judaism’s raison d’etre in the 21st century?

It is the question. It is the reason for Jewcy. The question's celebrated and undeserving cousin — What will become of Judaism? — gets all the attention and money. It's surely not as important, but its tacit implication of crisis … Read More

By / May 19, 2008

It is the question. It is the reason for Jewcy. The question's celebrated and undeserving cousin — What will become of Judaism? — gets all the attention and money. It's surely not as important, but its tacit implication of crisis has just the right pizazz, creates just the right amount of fear, to get the checkbooks out.

Confronting the question of what value Judaism will offer its adherents and the world at large is too complicated, creating so much fear that questions start getting asked while the checkbooks remain closed.

Judaism's rasion d'etre surfaced in an online forum of that shadowy and exclusive Jewish non-profit, Reboot (it's really quite innovative and filled with fine folks). Everything Judaism seems to be about these days – intermarriage, antisemitism, who qualifies as Jewish, the silly political machinations of this or that denomination – is so uninspiring. Tell me, the questioner pleaded, that there will be something more.

What exactly that addition will be strikes at the heart of this transitional, and one hopes transformational, moment in Judaism's history; a moment encapsulated by the shift of the central question facing the non-Ortho Jewish community of the last 100+ years from how to why be Jewish.

I'm optimistic. From monotheism to civil rights to socialism, you'd be hard-pressed to identify a social movement that Jews weren't somehow involved in or directly responsible for, including the American evangelical movement of the last 20 years (see Jewcy's story, The Jewish Jihad for Jesus).

In those movements, in the advent of monotheism itself, I see the answer in Judaism's utopian imagination. We need to reignite that imagination – on a conceptual level, in the conversations we have communally, and on a practical level in how we live our lives. We need to apply that imagination from 30,000 feet – creating movements or getting behind existing ones — and then, on increasingly granular levels — to our country, our states, our neighborhoods, our homes, and in our selves.

The challenge will be to get beyond the organizational rot that has made many of our institutions useless; to get beyond the scarcity of effective leadership, religious or otherwise; and finally, get to a place where we can revive Judaism as a viable conceptual technology that provides the tools and language to make good on those utopic impulses.