Torah-based Judaism of inclusion vs. sectarian Judaism of division

Religiously I am just Jewish – I am not a member of any formal religious denomination such as orthodox, conservative, reform or humanitarian (my religious home is a small non-denominational congregation).

I consider myself religiously just Jewish because I believe in the Torah of inclusion while the formal Jewish religious denominations are – willingly or unwillingly – dividing the Jewish people and separating them from the others.

I believe in the Torah-based Judaism of inclusion because of the following fundamentals.

  • God is God for all peoples and therefore provides the spiritual guidance in the Torah for all peoples.
  • Jewish people were made the Chosen only for one reason and this reason is to help the others understand the Torah spiritual guidance and live by it.
  • Jewish faith-based actions should unite all Jews as the Chosen People and build a common spiritual ground with the Gentiles, first of all with Christian world.
  • Because God made each of us in His image as unique individuals, everybody is authorized to look for individual interpretation of God’s guidance for his/her unique life situation.
  • Rabbis are supposed to teach people how to tailor the Torah’s guidance for unique life situation of an individual – not to impose on an individual the sectarian collective dogma.

In the past, I tried – unsuccessfully – to discuss these fundamentals with many rabbis: orthodox rabbis felt it was inappropriate for them to discuss Torah-related matters with people outside of their rabbinical community while reform rabbis were not interested. Now I see some orthodox rabbis are rethinking the Torah fundamentals and coming to similar conclusions.

In particular I found very uplifting the unifying ideas of Open-Orthodoxy leader Rabbi Asher Lopatin in the USA and of prominent orthodox Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in UK.

Here are Rabbi Lopatin’s unifying thoughts:

  • God is not happy when somebody with an interpretation of God’s guidance which is different from an interpretation prescribed by a powerful religious group is labeled “heretic” (God created everybody in His image).
  • The endless focus on who is in and who is out only serves to sow discord and a (wrong) notion that there is indeed an (human) objective judging authority who can open windows in men’s souls (only God can do it).
  • The first-century Jewish sage and leader Rabban Gamliel set the model for finding out who is in and who is out: Let people self-select; let people who identify – or don’t identify – as Orthodox, or Conservative or observant say so; it is not for us to make these declarations.
  • The great Rabban Gamliel, who according to the Talmud was a brilliant and powerful personality, never thought himself authorized to declare who was a heretic and who was not.
  • The knowledge of the Torah should be gathered from all Jews, with all Jews and from the broader world.
  • Rather than dividing up and tossing others outside of the tent, the Orthodox world – Open, Modern, Centrist, Chasidish and Haredi – has the opportunity to unite to solve the challenges that face the entire Orthodox world.
  • That’s why Orthodox roundtable discussions with all streams of Judaism including Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements are essential.

Here are Rabbi Sacks’ unifying thoughts:

  • I want you, says God to Abraham, to be different. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of starting something new: a religion that will not worship power and the symbols of power – for that is what idols really were and are. I want you, said God, to “teach your children and your household afterward to follow the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.”
  • To be a Jew is to be willing to challenge the prevailing consensus when, as so often happens, nations slip into worshipping the old gods. They did so in Europe throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. That was the age of nationalism: the pursuit of power in the name of the nation-state that led to two world wars and tens of millions of deaths. It is the age we are living in now as North Korea acquires and Iran pursues nuclear weapons so that they can impose their ambitions by force. It is what is happening today throughout much of the Middle East and Africa as nations descend into violence and what Hobbes called “the war of every man against every man.”
  • We make a mistake when we think of idols in terms of their physical appearance – statues, figurines, icons. In that sense they belong to ancient times we have long outgrown. Instead, the right way to think of idols is in terms of what they represent. They symbolize power. That is what Ra was for the Egyptians, Baal for the Canaanites, Chemosh for the Moabites, Zeus for the Greeks, and missiles and bombs for terrorists and rogue states today. Power allows us to rule over others without their consent. … Judaism is a sustained critique of power. That is the conclusion I have reached after a lifetime of studying our sacred texts. It is about how a nation can be formed on the basis of shared commitment and collective responsibility. It is about how to construct a society that honors the human person as the image and likeness of God. It is about a vision, never fully realized but never abandoned, of a world based on justice and compassion, in which “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11: 9).

It looks like the Torah-based Judaism of inclusion may win.

About the Author
Vladimir Minkov graduated from the Naval Engineering Academy in the former Soviet Union, served in the Soviet Navy and there received his Ph.D. At the end of 1970s he immigrated to America where democracy and the Judeo-Christian spirituality of this country made it possible for him to actively defend both his scientific and spiritual ideas. In the USA he has found the place for his scientific public work in the spiritual realm of One God and Torah.