Alternative Judaisms


consider that man created all literature and that the laws are man-made , even if afterward ascribed to divine inspiration , or even to having been handed to mankind by God . The uniqueness of the Jewish world in the years before the enlightenment had been the near universal adherence to the practice of Halacha , which derives directly from the closure , and sanctification of the canons . It was the essence of the story of being a Diaspora Jew . The uniformity of practice , carried from country to country like a portable sanctuary , clearly helped keep the faith as Jews floated around different societies in the world for about 1 , 800 years . The fact of the matter is that in the last 200 years , particularly the last 50 years or so , the vast majority of the Jews in the world , Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike ( I would dare guess well over 90 % ) have selectively abandoned most of this former traditional Halachic way of life . This is an undeniable fact , not a value judgement . Do secular Jews have a canon or canons ? Certainly not , and I guess they are unlikely to in the future . Canons by definition are sacralized , irrespective of value . This is not part of a secular person’s usual outlook on life . What seculars call their own is whatever Jews have created throughout our 3 , 000 plus year history . The Tanach is looked upon as our first great anthology written , presumably , mainly by our forefathers . Secular Jews will study our ancient , medieval and above all the immensely huge modern literary and other artistic creations . They do not automatically ascribe to age a wisdom higher than that of the moderns . They will study each creation on its own merits . Among the ranks of Jewish genius , since time immemorial , the Freuds and Einsteins of the modern world are valued as highly as any of our great historical or mythological ancestors – thinkers , philosophers , prophets , or heroes . Without canons , what literature is available to secular Jews as a reference work in a reasonably easy format without having to sift through tomes of ancient or medieval literature and commentary ? The answer is none . It is for this reason that I am embarking on a substantial literary project to create an anthology and annotated bibliography of the totality of Jewish creations from the Tanach on to the present day . Secular Jews should be given a tool to be able to find whatever exists in our huge literary and artistic creativity . One can then pick and choose what one thinks is important to carry on a meaningful Jewish life with or without Halacha . The secular person , whilst deeply appreciating instruction , teaching and expertise , as well as guidance in morals and philosophy , does not desire to be told that this or that is the way to live , to do , or to believe . They look for social action , shared values , and a sense of belonging , but do not seek liturgy . Yet they too must seek and create some associations or institutional forms of Judaism not only to teach but above all to also live this form of Judaism and to imbibe the rich and meaningful past of our culture and the ability to interpret our immensely interesting and historical heritage . This is not an easy task when many of the traditional institutions of religious Judaism such as Sunday school or cheder , religious day schools , and yeshivahs have been eschewed . All civilizations , if only to carry on heritage and tradition , require symbolic and sentimental forms and ceremonies – even if not fully believed . One seeks companionships and searches for a family of relationships , which try to draw on our rich and great heritage , but often without religious content . This does not exclude symbolic traditions in our - and other culture’s - literature and art that help sentsitize one to the notions of justice and compassion , duty , conscience and truth . The secular Jewish community must be energised to become a living force by being given a selection of outstanding texts as a paradigm of a living text , a living force which , both through interpretation and action , transform an already very creative part of our people into even more deeply meaningful people . Why is there such a gap in the wordly creativity between the secular versus the Halachic Jew ? I suggest one possible explanation . The Halachic

Posen Foundation

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