Alternative Judaisms


Jew grows up in a text-centred community where the main texts are the canons and where the main intellectual activity is interpretation . In the secular , non-religious , text-centred community one is exposed to a much broader pluralistic array of texts and cultures . This pluralism allows for infinitely greater choices , thereby encouraging intellectual activity through comparison , synthesis and development of a creative atmosphere . I have no doubt that this is one of the main contributory factors as to why nearly all of the many Jewish Nobel Prize winners have been secular Jews . I also have no doubt about the downside that these additional choices bring to the secular Jewish world – it increases the difficulty with identities , probably accounts for more neuroses than the religious exemplify , as the latter are more comfortably nestled in their identity than secular Jews . Another possible explanation regarding the enormous creativity of secular Diaspora Jews during the past 150 years or so is their ability to do what the Americans call “ thinking out of the box” . Whilst religious Jews are taught – and are possibly the world’s experts in – the art of interpretation of texts , they are encouraged neither to doubt nor to criticise religious conventions , and certainly not their religious texts . Without criticism it is difficult to challenge inherited conceptions of realities or mould one’s own conception of reality . The fact that secular Jews can freely partake from their own Jewish culture as well as whatever other culture they live in and / or decide to study and possibly call their own , gives them a perspective and an opportunity to critically compare , criticise , synthesise , choose , combine and recreate or reform conventions and past realities which enhances their ability to “ think out of the box” . The secular Jew also very much appreciates and feels enriched by the interplay between Jewish and other cultures . We have been vastly influenced and in turn influenced other cultures . The secular Jew does not feel threatened by this interchange . To be a “ Hellenizer ” is not really a bad thing at all according to seculars . One can take from many cultures and still maintain the core of a Jewish culture , or “ soul , ” if that word is more convenient . I consider my Jewishness to be strengthened with gaining knowledge from other cultures . I lived in Japan for six years . I felt immensely enriched by trying to learn what makes that , for us , a very exotic culture . By such comparisons I felt enriched in my Jewishness . By learning from the Japanese , or even adopting some of their customs , does that make one a “ Japanizer ” in the bad sense of the word ? The three greatest tasks facing secular Jews in the Diaspora is to get their house in order in terms of firstly gathering , organising and publishing literary resources , secondly creating elementary , junior and high schools – and thirdly and the most difficult and challenging of the tasks – to create the contents , the curricula , programs and associations to reach meaningfully into our past – and live it meaningfully - as a glorious , rich and as vital and legitimate a Judaism as any other of the myriad forms of Judaisms . Curiously enough , there is not a single secular Jewish day school in the USA . By contrast , there is a burgeoning renaissance of Jewish learning at the collegiate level with over 400 US Universities now offering Judaica courses to a few hundred thousand Jewish students . What is significant in this statistic is that these Jews , finally given the opportunity to study Judaism as a culture are doing so VOLUNTARILY and in great numbers . One can only assume that eventually the penny will also drop in the US that the secular option must be offered to children in grade schools , as happens in Israel . This is not to diminish the religious school system but to give an added option to those who will not send the children to religious schools and prefer to opt out altogether rather than have religion jammed down their unwilling throats . One huge problem to be tackled is what do secular Jews outside of Israel do for community identity ? The post-modern characteristic of lack of communities

Posen Foundation

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