As we enter the Jewish new year, we at Gather the Jews have decided to launch a new feature in our newsletter. Each week I’ll share a (hopefully) provocative idea about being 20 and 30-something Jews in 21st century America.
The easier choice, of course, is to keep my opinions to myself. Sharing my thoughts in such a public forum comes with the risk of offending or alienating all of you, of being perceived as not open or welcoming, or of incorrectly presuming that anyone actually cares about what I have to say.
But I worry these types of fears have led to an overly validating and sterile conversation about Judaism– one that affirms everyone’s Jewishness without questioning what it means or why it matters. The result is a real-life Jewish version of the movie Big – we find ourselves as adult Jews with an adolescent understanding of our Jewish identity. After all, most of us were 13 the last time we thought critically about being Jewish (if that’s what you can call what we did in Hebrew school).
I also worry that we’ve lost a critical piece of what it means to be Jewish by sacrificing our Judaism to the gods of inclusivity. We haven’t always been so affirming of one another. Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish were study partners about 2000 years ago in what is now the State of Israel. When Reish Lakish died, Rabbi Yochanan tried to replace him with another Rabbi who supported every opinion that Rabbi Yochanan stated. But that’s not what Rabbi Yochanan wanted or needed. He complained: “When I used to state an opinion, Reish Lakish would raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law.”
An important part of being Jewish is arguing – not for argument’s sake, but because dialogue and disagreement make us more thoughtful and more understanding people and Jews. Done right, discussing our different opinions can actually foster authentic, honest, and deeper relationships with one another. I hope Rabbi Rants can spark these types of provocative conversations, or at least push us all to think more critically about certain aspects of our Jewish identities.
I look forward to a year of disagreements, growth, and connection. Share suggestions in the comments below for future rant topics. Shana tova – and tune in next week for my first Rant of 5777!
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