These days many in Jewish communities are trying to make sense of the latest Pew survey on the state of American Jewry. I have not been surprised by the results of the survey. Not as a rabbi or Judaic scholar but rather as a concerned Jew I have been observing and researching this state for the last 15-20 years. I have been discussing it with many rabbis and ordinary Jews and non-Jews.
At the beginning of my Jewish life I thought Jewish identification was well defined and I have to learn it. That’s what I thought about 35 years ago upon arrival to the USA from the former Soviet Union. There, in the former Soviet Union, I knew I was Jewish but didn’t know what it means to be Jewish – the Soviet citizens were punished for even trying to learn something on the subject. I had no doubt that in the USA rabbis will tell me what does it mean to be Jewish and I will begin living in accordance with Jewish tradition after I get in touch with them. However I was wrong.
My association with synagogues and traditional Torah studies there failed to create a concept of being Jewish – the concept I was looking for. I was looking for a concept of being Jewish as a part of the unified Chosen Jewish people in non-Jewish world while in synagogues I was taught how to be a part of a separate denominational Jewish group which believes its interpretation of being Jewish is the only valid one, and all other interpretations are wrong. I discovered that an orthodox synagogue creates a local spiritual citadel for defending its “cut in stone” unchangeable Torah interpretation while a reform synagogue makes a Torah interpretation so flexible that is difficult to distinguish it from a secular interpretation. And both of them don’t go beyond the criteria of being Jewish as “being born to a Jewish family” while my scientific intuition (I am a scientist) told me it is not enough. That’s why my association with a synagogue I belong to these days is purely traditional – spiritually we are far apart from each other.
That’s why I have created my individual understanding of being Jewish. I have done it by going back to the Torah and discovering the essence of being Jewish on my own. I hope many intellectual Jews may find this understanding to be very close to their own.
My understanding of Jewish identity is based on the following three “corner-stones”.
(1) We the humans are created in the “image and likeness of God”. This image has tree fundamental traits – God is Creator, God is Unique Individual and God is Eternal. Therefore we the humans have to be creators (from a shoe maker to a particle physicist), have to be unique individuals (everybody) and have to be eternal (in terms of our lasting creative achievements).
(2) We the Jewish people are the Chosen in terms of helping the others to live in accordance of the Torah/Bible-based “image and likeness of God”.
(3) We the humans created Religions and Sciences for the purpose of discovering the essence of God and His laws although the methods of religious and scientific discoveries are different. Therefore Religions and Sciences have to work in harmony.
I began discussing these “corner-stones” with different people at various forums and the discussions many interesting and unexpected thoughts which I intend to present in follow-up posts.