Losing My Faith, Reclaiming My Religion

 If there is one thing you would like to see change in your faith or ethical tradition over the next ten years, what would it be? What role would you want to play? 

The one thing I would most like to see change in Judaism over the next ten years is for Judaism to stop becoming a faith! Admittedly, this might sound strange coming from a rabbi. But the truth is that Judaism, for thousands of years, was far more than a faith in which one espoused a set of beliefs or ascribed to a certain cultural identity.  Judaism was a religion,  inextricably intertwined with an ethnicity, a culture, and a geographical (if not actual) home in Israel. Judaism was not something one proclaimed to be, or something one “practiced” at certain fixed times and places; it was a pervasive, all-encompassing identity.

Judaism in North America today is very different.  Many Jewish communal organizations have, for years, bemoaned the rapid rates of assimilation that draw Jews from a more insular Jewish context into secular American life. The impact of assimilation—for Judaism and for most religions in America—has resulted in dramatic drops in affiliation rates and other indicators of religious involvement.

But there is another, related development in American Judaism that gets less publicity but also represents a paradigm shift in Jewish expression: for those Jews who do continue to affiliate, Judaism has become much more of a faith than a religion.  A religion, according to one definition, is an “institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”  We are living in a paradox in which Judaism is both becoming more and more accepted in secular society than ever before (just look at your Town Green on Christmas/Hanukkah if you need visual proof) yet the Jewish product that emerges looks less and less like the Judaism of the past 3000 years.  We are Jews today because we say we want to be Jews, not because we fill our days with actions that identify us as Jews.

My goal, over the next ten years, is to work to reclaim the notion of a Judaism that permeates everyday life.  I want to help rebuild a Judaism that transcends both the physical boundaries of the synagogue and the temporal boundaries of holidays.  Judaism is a religion to be lived in the home, in the workplace, and, indeed, in all walks of life.

Please let me know what you think!!

Share this!
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Twitter

7 thoughts on “Losing My Faith, Reclaiming My Religion

  1. One of your colleagues got a comment from me strongly related to your questions. His post is here.

    I see the Psalter as a book for the formation of a people who know how to act in mercy because they have known such covenant kindness (חסד) applied to them.

    1. Thanks Bob. I appreciate your comments. In line with the thrust of my post, I find it interesting to observe that the Psalter is a book that has formed the foundation for much of our liturgy–a source of religious expression far more than faith/creed attestation. What do you think?

      1. It is indeed clear from the traditions of Judaism that the praise of the Psalter is where the Lord is seated (Psalm 22 וְאַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל). I am always impressed by this when I attend Shabbat services because there is so much of the Psalter in the Prayer Book. We, Jew and Christian alike, should learn through our liturgies – but we do not always do so well, because there is too little emphasis on actually reading the Bible closely. Religion is that to which I am bound (re-ligare) but I must also be aware of the bindings of culture and parochialism that I need to be released from.

  2. Beautifully written. When people tell me they’re ‘Spiritual, but not religious,’ I respectfully acknowledge their ways, and respond: ‘I’m religious, but no so spiritual.’

    I feel ‘religiousness’ and ‘religion’ have gotten really bad raps in prior decades, and I think it needs to be OK to self-proclaim one’s own religiosity. That religion grounds our faiths in everyday, tangible experiences.

    Many thanks for the courage and eloquence!

    1. Thanks Joseph. I, for one, fully support your efforts to self-proclaim your religiosity!

Comments are closed.