Friday, November 15, 2013

Is Judaism boring?

"No pushing, please, we're Jewish." You won't hear that line at the barmi buffet table, but it sums up how Jews think about being rammed with religion. You can't blame us, we've had sword-yielding, bible-swinging, stake-burning religious activists try stuff their religions down our throats for most of our history.
And we’ve had rabbis. And Jewish mothers.
Jews are a thinking people; quite proud, in fact, of our cool, analytical approach to life. We only take wise risks. We research and study thoroughly before leaping, and we believe that spirituality is a personal matter, where each of us needs to find our comfort zone.
In fact, most Jews are quite convinced that Judaism rests on the bedrock of moderation and rationalism. Say "fundamentalist" and Jews cringe and deny that we have any (even our fanatics are not "real" fanatics, we’ll tell you).
That’s why Jews don't talk much about our patriarch, Yaakov's sons, Shimon and Levi. After their sister had been violated, these two took matters in hand and wiped out the whole city of Shechem, where the perp had been a nobleman. Vigilante Jews? Not something we’re overly comfortable with. 
Well, almost.
The Talmud highlights precisely that incident and uses it to determine the age of Barmitzvah. In that narrative, the Torah calls these two Ish, the term for "man", even though they were youths. A quick calculation reveals that they were both thirteen, so the Talmud illustrates that at thirteen a boy becomes an "ish".
Now, of all the stories of our ancestors, why would the Torah choose the story of a bloodbath to nail the age when one becomes an adult? Surely, the Torah doesn't want barmi boys stabbing their way into manhood. But, it does want us to know that to be counted in the Jewish community, you need to be bold for your Judaism. Not every Jewish response will fit into the neat, rational compartments of our understanding, but are expected to stand up for our beliefs, even when they are beyond our comprehension.
And the Torah wants us to know that Judaism must be passionate and energetic; infused with the zeal of a protective older brother. When Judaism simmers down to a comfortable, predictable rhythm, it quickly becomes uninspiring and is soon discarded. 
At the Kinus, I heard many rabbis bemoan how Jews seem to be losing the spark from their Judaism. In some communities, Judaism still plods along, but at a humdrum, mechanical pace.
In others, the wheels have stopped turning altogether. The recent Pew Research Centre survey on American Jewry highlights the challenge of US Jews who have lost their Jew-mojo. 
We’re lucky in S.A. We have a dynamic community and remain behind the USA’s downward curve. But, we are not immune. Any of us can run dry. Many of us have solidified our Jewish habits and no longer want the challenge of pushing spiritually forward. We’re happy, we’re settled and we’re “more involved than so many other Jewish people”. Shimon and Levi come along to remind us to step up, step out and take the challenge to do something unplanned, but passionately Jewish every once in a while. We need to regularly raise our Jewish heart rate to ensure we keep our souls fit and the next generation inspired to stay Jewish.

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