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Our Top-Secret Plan for Jewish Education

Jewish education is terrible in this country (unless you go to day school), so many of us grow up utterly clueless about how to be a Jew. We’re vaguely aware that synagogue attendance is required on two separate occasions in … Read More

By / August 13, 2007

Jewish education is terrible in this country (unless you go to day school), so many of us grow up utterly clueless about how to be a Jew. We’re vaguely aware that synagogue attendance is required on two separate occasions in early autumn, and we know pork and gentile boyfriends are supposed to be off-limits, but that’s about the extent of it. And yet foundations spend millions of dollars every year studying why so many young Jews don’t stick with the faith. The dirty truth: Those of us who went to your average half-assed Hebrew School don’t even know there’s a faith to leave behind.

Jewcy doesn’t have any sort of continuity agenda, but we do think it’s ridiculous that so many otherwise smart and curious Jews end up seeing Judaic practice as a series of arcane ritesnot just mysterious, but fundamentally unknowable. Even if we want to become better Jews, we don’t know how to do it.

Ironically, it’s never been easier to learn about Judaism: The internet is full of sites like Aish and MyJewishLearning that exist primarily to fill these educational gaps. After years of being force-fed propaganda instead of information, though, we’re often too leery to even bother clicking on a link, lest we wind up on the wrong end of yet another lecture about continuity. (This may be lame, and it may suggest a lack of commitment to acquiring knowledge, but that does not make it any less true.)

So here’s the painfully sincere bit: We kind of want you guys to learn stuff. We know, it’s subversive, luring you in with promises of porn star interviews and political commentary and then secretly slipping in some old-fashioned Jewish education, like a pill at the bottom of a sundae. But at least we’re admitting it, right? Below, the best of our top-secret Jewish education project so far.

 

THE PERFECT JEW

Jon Papernick is your typical Social Distortion-loving goateed writer type. His fiction tends to revolve around the Jewish experience, but he’s never been observant himself. We sent him on a quest to learn to be the best Jew he can be. So far, he’s announced his intentions to the world by wearing a kippah, cleansed himself of his secular skepticism at the mikvah, and rested from his labors on Shabbat. (He’s also brushed up his negotiating skills, but that essay’s a little less holy than the others.) If you’re in a rush, skip the stories and go straight to the tips: How to win any argument (again, not so religious) and how to get the most out of Shabbat.

 

FAITHHACKER

On our religion blog, the product of an actually substantive Jewish education breaks it down for the rest of us. Tamar Fox has tackled ways to keep kosher, wedding etiquette, how to find a cute kippah, things that nobody wants to be asked about their level of observance, how to welcome converts, and how to deal with a theological crisis. (Actually, you could just read anything Tamar’s ever written and come out enlightened.)

Meanwhile, Laurel Snyder dug up some gorgeous ketubot, or wedding contracts. Rabbi Andy Bachman explained the link between the commandments to honor Shabbat and to honor your parents. And Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld weighed in on a crucial aspect of the “how can I be a better Jew?” question by pointing out that it’s not enough just to be a better person; a mitzvah is different from a good deed.

 

DIALOGS

Rabbi Seinfeld was really onto something: There’s a great deal of tension between the secular concept of doing good in the world and the Jewish notion of mitzvot. Two of our dialogs spring out of this tension. In the first, Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Daniel Bronstein debate the usefulness of Jewish Renewal. Is the movement, dedicated to a spirituality-heavy and humanitarian kind of Judaism, really just boomer narcissism? In the second, Jewish internet heavyweights Steven I. Weiss and Daniel (“Mobius”) Sieradski argue over the role of social justice. If you want to take an essay test once you’re done, we certainly won’t complain.

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