The very essence of any religion is to define moral principles of human existence – what is Good and what is Bad in the human life, and what are acceptable means to strengthen Good and suppress Bad. Judaism defines all that for the Jews as Christianity does it for the Christian and Islam for the Muslims. That is true even if you do not belong to a religious organization and do not have a priest. The same moral principles are binding for ordinary people and for priests in a religion.
Many years ago at the beginning of my spiritual awakening, I believed there was One Judaism for the spiritual Jewish authorities and for the spiritual ordinary Jews, who were trying to live Jewishly that is to strengthen Good and suppress Bad – both defined by Judaism – in all real life situations. I do not believe it anymore.
Nowadays that is not the case anymore. Now we live in a complex non-Jewish world where what is Good and what is Bad is defined not only by the traditional rabbinical cannons, which were created during the times when the Jews were spiritually isolated from the others, but by the non-Jews in a mainly Judeo-Christian environment. It should not be considered bad for the Jews since the Jewish mission of building a better world (Tikkun Olam) for everybody with everybody, Jews and non-Jews, requires mutually accepted definitions of Good and Bad.
This Torah-guided better world is a multi-dimensional one with science and technology, arts and religions, individual freedoms and collective constrains, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, peace and war, more and less able, etc. And this better world is being created by individuals who are making their own decisions on what is Good and what is Bad in their individual creative areas.
I am among those individuals and I have developed my own understanding of what is spiritually Good and Bad in the areas of my life involvements – based on my studies of the Torah. I approached the rabbis (in the US and Israel) asking them for the critique. My encounters with the rabbis confirmed the unhealthy existence of two Jewish spiritual realms.
In the course of my encounters with the rabbis, I discovered that we do not have One Judaism – we have Judaism by spiritual authorities and Judaism by spiritual people. Here is how I have discovered it.
The essence of a typical response of an Orthodox rabbi:
- You cannot study the Torah on your own – the Torah is too complicated for a simple person – only the rabbis can understand the hidden God’s messages in the Torah – you have to obey the rabbi’s instructions since he knows the God’s word – it is not kosher for a rabbi to have a spiritual discussion with the non-ordained.
The essence of a typical response of a Reform rabbi was different:
- We have to follow our Jewish tradition which is helping the disadvantaged – a government is a political tool for helping – therefore, we have to support a liberal/”democratic” government which reflects our Jewish inspirations and fight against any conservative/”republican” government which is against our Jewish inspirations.
The responses of both “typical” orthodox and Reform rabbis confirmed my unhappy conclusion that we do not have One Judaism. We have Judaism by spiritual authorities whose goal is to defend the ordination institution interpretation of the Torah’s guidance. And we have Judaism by spiritual people who are trying to figure out what is Good and Bad in their everyday life challenges in the Gentile spiritual environment.
The Pew poll findings:
Among those who define themselves as Jews by religion, just over half consider Jewish identity a matter of ancestry and culture, with a majority considering belief in God to be unnecessary to be considered a Jew.
Despite changing attitudes toward Jewish identity seen in the shift towards a non- religious Jewish self-definition.
Sixty- nine percent cited living ethically, and over half say that working for justice and equality is essential to what being Jewish means to them.
Despite the fact that the majority of American Jews frame their Jewish identity in religious terms, only 19% of the Jewish adults surveyed say observing Jewish law (Halacha) is essential to what being Jewish means to them.
The Pew poll findings are the best proof of the existence of Judaism by spiritual people, which is different from Judaism by spiritual authorities – the Jews are defining their Jewishness in a non-rabbinical way. The Jews are spiritually responding to their real life challenges – the Torah-defined challenges in building a better world for everybody with everybody in the Judeo-Christian world.
We the Jews as a people may greatly benefit spiritually if our rabbis connect with us.