Bryan Schwartz
Law Professor, Author of "Consoulation: A Musical Mediation"
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A Modern Jewish Credo

Is it possible for a divided people to come up with a single platform of shared values and principles? Here's an attempt

Tal Keinan, in his new book “God is in the Crowd” asks if and how the Jewish people can long continue.

What are the fundamentals of modern Jewish identity that we might try to sustain? Keinan has attempt to crowdsource an initial answer. He invited Jews in both Israel and abroad to suggest identifiers that might win broad agreement. The responses centred on five: social action, education, challenge and dissent, ritual and tradition, community. Keinan briefly sketches what these might mean.

He envisions a new organization, the Jewish World Endowment. It would lead the practical implementation of a program based on shared values. It might ensure, for example, that every Jewish child has access to Jewish summer programs (one in Israel, one abroad) and a University education of their choice.

I set myself this challenge. Imagine this new international organization has its inaugural convention and sets out to proclaim a values statement. How might it build upon the pillars in Keinan’s survey? In today’s pluralistic Jewish world, any credo would have to be cast in terms that are both broad and concise. Yet it would still have to provide specific and actionable direction.

Here is what I would propose as a draft.

The Elements of Modern Jewish Identity

  1. We believe that there is a God who is creative, intelligent, just and compassionate – or we so yearn.
  2. We believe that all of humanity is of shared origin and equal
  3. We believe that within the vastness of a single humanity, the Jewish people is one family. We cherish our kinship. It helps to give each of us an identity and purpose in a world that can be chaotic and cruel. We welcome all who join us by birth or childhood adoption. We embrace everyone who freely chooses to become a part of us. We are grateful to everyone of every nation who supports our survival.
  4. Israel is the homeland of our people. We emerged as a people within Israel, survived exile in the hope of return, and know that are our safety and survival as a people depends on Israel’s thriving. We respect the rights of individuals and of other peoples within the Jewish state; we remember that we ourselves have often been strangers in a strange land
  5. We are loyal to our shared tradition and committed to continuing it. Loyalty does not imply superiority; we love our family because it is ours, not but because it is better. We will be faithful to the suffering, wisdom and courage our forebears and the legacy they have left us; we have a duty to preserve it and to build upon it. We promise ourselves not to break under external threats or dissolve through our own quiet forgetfulness.
  6. We are committed to educating ourselves and our children about our tradition. Our legacy includes the Hebrew language and the languages of the diasporas. The words of the sacred literature have been a generative core of our secular writing, music, art, politics and science. As each of us learns more about our own culture, we can better appreciate the experience of others. As we grow in Jewish learning, we are better able to contribute creatively in any and all fields of endeavour.
  7. Our moral mission includes, by example, by word and by deed, to make a broken world better; more just, more kind, more at peace. We have reflected critically on ourselves, as individuals and as a people. We believe in moral progress; we try to come closer through time to understanding and realizing our highest ideals.
  8. We do not worship any other God. From the outset, from Abraham, we have been iconoclasts. We do not worship power, wealth, charisma, fame or political ideologies. We value learning highly in fall of its forms, but we know that there are limits to what human beings can ever fully understand.
  9. We value freedom, including freedom of thought, belief and expression. We have resisted and outlasted many worldly oppressors. Beginning with our ancient founders, we have questioned even the commands and ways of God. We keep our tradition alive by examining it, debating it and by interpreting and reinterpreting it.
  10. We value life. We remember our persecutions, but we survive and hope because we not only have so much to mourn, but so much to celebrate: in the gift of our individual lives, in the continuity of our own community, in the potential of humankind, in the mystery and wonder of this universe.
About the Author
Bryan's Jewish-themed musical "Consoulation: A Musical Mediation" premiered in the Spring of of 2018; Bryan Schwartz graduated with a doctorate in law from Yale School and holds an endowed chair at the University of Manitoba Law School. He is the author or editor of over twenty books and collections of essays. He also created and helps to deliver an annual summer program at Hebrew University in Israeli law and society, now in its ninth year. . As a practising lawyer, Bryan has argued a number of cases at the Supreme Court of Canada, advised governments, and served as an arbitrator at the provincial, national and international level.
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