Feb 2, 2010

A new blog post from Rabbi Josh Cahan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Joshua Cahan <joshcahan@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2010 11:26:54 -0500
Subject: RE: blog post
To: rabbicreditor@gmail.com


Sunday, January 31, 2010


A bibliographic note: While it is no secret that I am dealing with questions
that have been discussed many times before, a friend pointed out to me one
book on the topic that has been on my shelf for years but I'd never opened,
and that I (having now read it) would urge anyone concerned about the
questions I have raised to read. Larry Hoffman's The Art of Public Prayer
tackled these issue brilliantly in 1988, and is still right on the mark

It is unquestionable that Orthodoxy is the only sub-community in the Jewish
world whose numbers are growing. That said, it makes me crazy when Orthodox
leaders point to this phenomenon as evidence of the inherent correctness of
their theology. It is a lot like the Church asserting that the conversion of
the Roman Empire to Christianity in the 4th century constituted proof that
Jesus was the Savior.

Underlying this is a deeper misconception. It is easy to assume that the
reasons people belong to a particular religious community are primarily
theological. Jews believe certain things about how (or whether) God gave the
Torah, or about how (or whether) Halakha (Jewish law) developed, and
therefore join particular synagogues. But more often than not, the opposite
is the case. Hoffman argues that faith in God is not the product of rational
deductions about the nature of the universe. Faith is generated when we
experience profound moments of emotional high and spiritual fulfillment in a
religious context. Those experiences lead to an awareness of God's presence
within moments of transcendence, and to a desire build up our connection
with God. Put simply, spiritual experience creates faith, and the beliefs we
embrace about God are a largely a result of that faith, not their cause.

This is especially true of those who become Orthodox. Of the many baalei
teshuva (those who join Orthodox communities as adults) I have known, most
are very strident in asserting their belief in Orthodox doctrine. But few of
them became Orthodox as a result of this belief. In search of something,
they tried out or just stumbled upon a shul or yeshiva which offered
experiences or a community which they found deeply fulfilling. Wanting to be
a part of it, they took on the set of doctrines that their teachers taught
them were required to be full participants. Thus whether one is convinced
that Torah Codes are real, that God revealed all of Halakha to Moses at
Sinai, or that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah, often depends on who
first enabled those profound experiences.

All of this demagoguery is to make one simple point. People choose
communities based mostly on where they find social support and spiritual
fulfillment. Indeed, for young parents theology is well down the list of
priorities. But what community they choose will have a profound impact on
the beliefs and identity of their children, who will grow up shaped by their
parents' choices. And a community's beliefs will also, over time, shape the
religious vision of those who find inspiration and fulfillment there.

I am personally convinced that what kind of Torah Jews will teach to the
world depends on the kind of Torah being learned in communities of committed
Jews. If we want a progressive and socially conscious Torah to have a
serious influence on the Jewish future, our most important work has to be
replicating the major successes of Orthodoxy: shaping profound religious
experiences that draw people in, and developing real communities of shared
religious commitment and values that make them want, even need, to stay.

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Announcing ShefaJournal 5770:1 - "The Relationship Between
Conservative Judaism and the Conservative Movement"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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