Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pick A New Name For Your Religion

Stealing things from Judaism is not exactly a new thing in history.  The Chrisians stole our Bible, the Muslims the pork thing and where do you think the Scots got haggis from? 
Unfortunately outright theft no longer seems to be in vogue.  Nowadays, instead of stealing ideas and setting up a new religion or identity, groups interested in bits and pieces of Judaism but not enthralled with the idea of accepting the entire package grab those bits and pieces but refuse to change the label.
Let us be clear: while lacking a formally recognized patent, Judaism has been defined for over three millenia by certain ideas - God as Creator of the Universe and Giver of the Torah, Torah MiSinai, the indivisibility and authority of the Written and Oral Laws.  Rejecting any of these and a dozen other fundemental principles is a person's choice but can no longer be called Judaism.
Yet secular Jewish groups don't seem to get this.  They want the label "Jew" all right, but without the responsibilities that go with it.
Hence the absurdity of the concept of a secular bar mitzvah.  What is a bar mitzvah?  Why, an acknowledgement that the boy in question has come of legal age in terms of responsibility to perform mitzvos and act as an adult Jew.  Yes, in North America most people really do think its the Jewish boy's equivalent of a sweet sixteen but it isn't.  Since the bar mitzvah therefore deals with a boy's acceptance of the historical religious principles of Judaism, why would a secular Jew who rejects those principles want one?  The kishke at the reception?
When Mark Neuman celebrated his bar mitzvah seven years ago at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver, B.C., he didn’t read from Torah, wear a yarmulke or pronounce Hebrew blessings. He gave a talk on the psychology of Jewish humor.

His brother Ben’s bar mitzvah “portion” was a report on their grandfather’s escape from Nazi-occupied Poland.
That’s typical in the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, a loose-knit group of some two dozen North American communities that emphasize Jewish history and culture while eschewing Jewish ritual, faith and anything that smacks of a deity. In contrast to the better known Society for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963 by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Secular Jewish communities are lay led and emphasize Yiddish rather than Hebrew. But the philosophy and beliefs of both groups are quite similar.

“I feel Jewish,” says Mark, now 20 and a teacher at the Peretz school. “To me that means upholding the culture. It’s about the history, the Holocaust, the holidays, the language -- all these are very important to me. But I don’t believe in the religious aspects.”
Over a thousand years ago a large group of Jews felt they no longer wanted to observe the Oral Law, they took themselves formally out of our People, called themselves Karaites and promptly faded into the selvages of history.  Samaritans claim parts of the Torah for themselves but they don't call themselves Jews, at least they didn't try to until Israel offered welfare benefits to them if they did.  But secular Jews don't seem to want to make that honest break.
Look at what the interviewee said was important to him and see the disconnect.  The history: of three thousand years of religious identity.  The language: of the Bible.  The holidays: which all commemorate religious occasions.  All those are important to him, but only in a neutered, self-centred meaningless way.
If these folks want to do bits of Judaism without God, that is certainly their right.  Could you all just pick a different name for yourselves?

18 comments:

Mikeinmidwood said...

I was on a plane coming back from israel when I heard a guy say "I dont keep shabbos I just celebrate it".

SJ said...

Jews were an ethnicity before Judaism and certainly before Rabbinic Judaism came along. An individual jew can thus interpret the way an individual jew likes and still carry the name "Jewish."

Garnel Ironheart said...

SJ, you have to remember that the defintion of "Jewish" changed permanently with the giving of the Torah.
For a relevant example, there were Americans before 1776 and after but the terms are completely separate. Before 1776 Americans were British colonists under British rule living in America. After 1776 they were citizens of the United States.
The same thing happened with Matan Torah. Before Sinai, Jews - or more specifically Israelites or B'nai Yisrael - were a large ethnic group all originating from the same patriarch. After Matan Torah being an Israelite took on a religious/nationalist definition.
What's the practical difference? Before Matan Torah, the only way to become an Israelite was to marry into the family. After Sinai one could convert and become an Israelite.
So yes, Jews were an ethnicity before Judaism came along like Americans were American before the Revolution but that doesn't mean anything today.

SJ said...

People have the right to define themselves how they want and Jewish belief was never monolithic. To assume that religious opinion was all the same in biblical times is silly and goes against everything we know about human nature.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

SJ, I think the real complaint isn't about individual identity. It is about institutional identity. One can eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur while singing Christmas carols. Just don't call that behaviour or any institution promoting such by the name Judaism. THAT is dishonest.

SJ said...
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SJ said...

>> One can eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur while singing Christmas carols.


I don't think someone who does that would call himself Jewish in the ritualistic sense of the word but if he keeps the ethics of the Torah by that alone one can say that he follows the Torah also since ethical laws of the Torah are also laws.


Also that person can also do stuff like hannuka, maybe purim, passover and maybe even a shabbat once in a while thereby making the person culturally Jewish.


On top of that, you can't take away from a person his Jewishness if he is ethnically Jewish. That alone is enough.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

SJ, you either miss or ignore the point. No one suggested that the individual, no matter what he did, is not a Jew. The objection was to creating a new institution without the honesty to give it a new name. Surely you won't argue that just because a practitioner of X is a Jew, that X now equals Judaism?

SJ said...

Mordechai, Rabbinic Judaism itself is a new institution and it did not exist all the way back to the alleged matan torah, so cut the crap. Why can't you have the honesty to call it Not-The-Way-It-Was-Done-While-God-Was-Commanding-Everything Judaism?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

SJ, with 'cut the crap', our conversation ended. At the end of the day, you and the Peretz School crowd will have done nothing to contribute to a meaningful, continuing Judaism. But I won't debate the point with someone whose idea of principled discourse quickly gives way to crude backhands at their opponent.

SJ said...

LOL I have nothin to do with this Peretz school you mentioned. And I have a funny feeling that our conversation ended with "Mordechai, Rabbinic Judaism itself is a new institution and it did not exist all the way back to the alleged matan torah."

As for Jewish continuity, Conservative Judaism is bigger than Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism is bigger than Conservatve Judaism. The further away a sect goes from Orthodox Judaism the more popular it is.

SJ said...

>> The further away a sect goes from Orthodox Judaism the more popular it is.

Christianity is bigger than all of Judaism. XD

SJ said...
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Shalmo said...

Muslim stole the pork thing? the Hashmites who predate Jewry had it. Thats where muslims get it from.

Regardless, its Judaism that has pretty much plagarized every culture Jews were in contact with. The Greeks had Hercules, so Jews came up with Samson. The Sumerians had Enmerker and the Lord of Aratta and so the Jews came up with the Tower of Babel. The canannites had YHWH, which the Jews made their tribal god. All of Genesis, particularly the creation accounts, borrow heavily from babylonian mythology.

So who is taking from Jews? Jews are the only taking from everyone else.

What you follow today is Maimonidian Judaism which in itself is nothing more than watered down Islam. The Rambam rejected the anthropormopic god of the midrash which he called kefirah, for the god of Mohammed. An abstract, unmoved mover without parts or partners. And the reason various muslim scholars laugh their butts off at the Rambam is due to the fact that he did not properly understand all the sufi ideas he was incoporating Judaism. For example he confused tawheed for panentheism.

Garnel almost all religions are biult this way. They take ideas from their surroundings and rework them to make their own mythologies. Judaism is no different. Secular Judaism similarly takes ideas from the surrounding secular culture.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I think that people generally get involved in the issue of semantics and thereby miss the real point. In this regard, the issue, as far as I see it, is not the meaning of the word Judaism but what that term means -- and the need to ensure that this term is not thereby misused. If someone wants to call their belief Judaism, there is little I can really do about it but I can and should make clear that what this person may mean is not what I may mean. And it would be my call for people to clarify this point so as not to confuse ourselves or others. That is why I call for individuals to use adjectives, to describe their Judaism with an adjective so that theologies are clear. It is the desire by individuals to just use the generic Judaism -- especially in order to make everyone seem the same -- that is the problem. Recognize who you are, what you believe and how you are not the same as the other. I invite you to see further my article on this subject at http://www.nishma.org/articles/introspection/introspection5761-2-adjective_jew.htm.

To use another similar case as a further example, let's look at the use of the term rabbi. If someone wants to use that term, there is nothing I can do about it. But if a Reform rabbi, by using this title, perceives himself to be an equal of mine vis-a-vis what it says about our knowledge base, I can point out the problem with this. It is like a PhD in English arguing that he can practice medicine for after all he/she is a doctor. We would all find that problematic. Maybe some of us would contend that there should be a different term, a different title. That, though, is an issue of language and logistics. But I can emphatically make my point that this doctorate has nothing to do with medicine and the person should not contend that he/she can practice medicine because he/she has a a doctorate.

So to go back to Garnel's point, if someone wants to call a certain ceremony a bar mitzvah, what can I do? That's what they want to call it -- okay. But if someone thereby thinks it has some connection to what happens when a son of mine became a bar mitzvah or with what happened on these occassions in Europe -- there is a big mistake. Its not the term that is the problem, it is the way people try to use similar terms to make everything similar. That's the issue we should be focusing on.

And if you want me to use the term Orthodox Judaism in regard to the theology I advocate, I have no problems with that. Let's also recognize, though, that that is the term we should also use for the generic Judaism of the past 2000 years.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

SJ said...

>> If someone wants to call their belief Judaism, there is little I can really do about it but I can and should make clear that what this person may mean is not what I may mean.


I think everyone already knows that the Peretz crowd is not the Orthodox crowd. To cry that other streams of Judaism is trying to make it look like they're Orthodox jews is ridiculous.


>> To use another similar case as a further example, let's look at the use of the term rabbi. If someone wants to use that term, there is nothing I can do about it. But if a Reform rabbi, by using this title, perceives himself to be an equal of mine vis-a-vis what it says about our knowledge base, I can point out the problem with this. It is like a PhD in English arguing that he can practice medicine for after all he/she is a doctor.


I'm pretty sure reform rabbis have the knowledge base necessary to meet the needs of a reform setting, and orthodox rabbis have the knowledge base necessary to meet the needs of an orthodox setting.


Reform Rabbis aren't dumb. Let's take a couple of reform Rabbis of Manhattan for example (I did a google search).


- Rabbi David Adelson of the East End Temple is a college graduate in History & Judaic Studies and he has a big academic Jewish background, also studying in Israel for a while.



- The Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El is a doctor of something, of what I'm not sure though the site don't say. XD http://www.emanuelnyc.org/simple.php/about_staff



- The Rabbi of Congreation Sharre Zedek, Rabbi William Plevan, is a doctoral candidate in Religion at Princeton University.



- Rabbi Chava Koster has a master's degree in English Historical Linguistics.



- Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch has a Masters of Arts in Hebrew Literature.



That's it for now I don't have all day. XD To look down on reform rabbis as somehow being "unacademic" because reform jews don't study gemara 24/7 is wrong.


The orthodox community has certain needs and the academic background of orthodox rabbis cater to them and the reform community has certain needs and the academic background of the reform rabbis cater to them.



>> Let's also recognize, though, that that is the term we should also use for the generic Judaism of the past 2000 years.


The Jews of each era had their own names for their sects and they all had their own philosophies. To blanket 2000 years with one term is not historically accurate and serves only to advance an agenda at the expense of truth.

David said...

Why should they pick a different name? We didn't bother to pick a new name for ourselves when the Temple was destroyed and we got rabbis.

The point, Garnel, is that things change and (pardon the expression) evolve. Judaism does that as well. And, for the record, since Orthodoxy is about 10% of the Jewish population, what makes you think that you have any rights to claim the name for your crew? Granted, if God cares one way or another, He's free to issue a proclamation and compel everyone to obey. But, short of that, it's the Jews who are in charge of Judaism, not God (lo bashamayim hi?), and there's no reason that a hidebound adherence to outmoded ideas should confer trademark protection.

Besides, according to your view on things, someone who is born of a Jewish mother isn't allowed to be something other than Jewish, regardless of his wishes. Thus, if they're compelled to be Jewish, why not let them practice (or not) as they see fit?

onedaringjew said...

Where would Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, two key founders of the Jewish State, fit into the Jewish mix? They had scant regard for the Tanakh.