Question to the Think Tank, Posed by Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden:
My distant European Jewish acquaintance asked me in an email:
I answered him in a one-liner. He wrote back:
“Thanks. That was what I needed to read.”
What would you have answered him? What is Judaism’s purpose?
Think Tank Members Replies:
You could tell your friend that he can take out of it what he feels to be meaningful.
Judaism serves to remind me and the world that we can live noble and purposeful lives wherein our time and energy are meaningful and important and that therefore we must take our time and our actions very seriously, leading to a sense of fulfillment – which is simply another word for deep happiness.
That it serves many different purposes for many different people (path to God, community, individual growth, intellectual stimulation etc.); but if it is leading to negative consequences then something has gone wrong.
If I wanted to be cute I would say that Judaism has no purpose – Judaism is the purpose. But that does not serve the truth. The truth of the matter is much more fundamental than that. Asking this question is like asking, “what is the color of Judaism?” or “what height is it?” or “how does one wrap it around a pole?” These are all meaningless questions because these categories are not to be applied to Judaism just as the category “purpose” can not be applied to it.
Judaism simply is. It has no purpose. (This is my one-line reply.)
To provide a system of observance and thought which empowers its adherents to live in alignment with their essential nature, the material reality of which their physicality is a part, and the infinite reality which is the source of everything and beyond everything
(On my widescreen high resolution laptop that’s one line if I use a very small font.)
Whether Judaism serves that purpose, or ever did, or was ever supposed to, I don’t know. I hope it does, or something like it, and I remain unconvinced that Jews across the centuries have martyred themselves because they preferred death to tying their shoelaces in the wrong order.
Whether Judaism has one purpose or another is up for us to decide. We even will decide halachic matters on that basis. That is the meaning of: It is not in Heaven.
Moshe-Mordechai’s reply to his acquaintance:
I thought its goal to be to elevate ourselves morally and after that to lead the whole world to paradise on earth for all.