Question to the Think Tank, Posed by Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden:
My distant European Jewish acquaintance asked me in an email:
“I am engaged with Judaism for 34 years now, am living in Israel, and I wonder what purpose Judaism serves?”
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.
don’t do to yourself what you wouldn’t do to others while standing on one leg.
michele bird says
it’s been many years since I’VE READ ABOUT ANYONE ASKING SUCH A QUESTION as this think tank has posed.
After many years of being shomeret Shabbat, Kashrut , learning Torah – not enough ,giving zdakkah and some other mizvot , I FEEL LIKE i’m floundering in question such as above and many others like the issue of head covering and how much hair etc. feeling that shabbat is lacking – rather i’m lacking in my obsevance and hitlavut of Shabbos – all my own undeveloped fault- my point is I need a Rav who can help me to strengthen my OBSERVANCE TO A LEVEL WHICH I HAVE NOT YET REACHED if I ASK QUESTIONS LIKE THE ONE ABOVE AND NOT HAVE TO feel that i’m no good for wanting to even verbalize my deepest thought which are full of unanswered questions.
Can i find your flock please?
Danny Halperin says
I like what Chief Rabbi Sacks says..it goes something like..
Judaism’s purpose is to be a way of living and thinking that engages with the world that is but is constantly striving for the world that ought to be.
A disclaimer. Before I begin. I go to the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is the scenod oldest rabbinical seminary in america. It believes is a scientific approach to religion, if such a thing is possible. So, for instance, we learn about source criticism in biblical scholarship. That means that we opperate from the assumption the the bible is a Godly document written by people. That contradicts traditional (read: orthodox) Judaism. It probably also contradicts some of your beliefs. So you can take what I have to say at face value, and even discrad it out of hand, if you’d like. On the other hand, I spend every day reading the bible in the original Hebrew, and my aramaic isn’t so bad either…So, to respond.Jews don’t believe in Jesus. At all. Even a little. If some of us say that he is a prophet, we are only saying it to make our christian friends feel better, or because we are a little nervous about your goals to convert us. We also don’t believe that the messiah is the literal son of God. In fact, their are many divergent traditions as to who the messiah will be. Most Jewish students of the bible will tell you that the way Christians interpret the later prophets (Especially Isaiah) as well as Daniel and Ezekiel is contradictory to the way Jews understand them. Also, there are many things that the Jewish tradition assumes the messiah will do that Jesus simply did not do. The messiah will ressurect the dead. He will gather the exiles. He will bring in a global age of peace. Also, our messiah must be from the line of David. If you read the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels, he is from the line of David, but through Jesse’s side. Well,anyone can tell you that Jesse isn’t Jesus’ father…The point is, the Nazerene ain’t our messiah. And, if pushed, I would also say that the Talmudic tradition has less than nice things to say about him.II. We believe in sin and personal responsibility. And we believe in atonement for sin. Since the destruction of our Temple in Jerusalem, that atonement comes in the form of prayer. Our daily prayers, our sabbath prayers, and the prayers for atonement at the New Year have replaced animal sacrafice in our system. We believe God forgives, but that we must also gain human forgiveness for our sins. And yes, virginia, there is a hell. But, unless you are super (like Hitler) bad, it is only a year. It is a time for the sould to be purified so that it can be close to God in the world to come. In fact, the reason that Jews say kaddish for 11 months after a person dies is to help the soul reach heaven more quickly (we do it for 11 months and not a year, because we assume that noone could be bad enough to get the whole year sentance).Judaism is both a religion of belief and of practice–the belief motivates the practice, but it is by what we do and not how we think that we are judged/Finally, no satan, at least not in the Christian sence. We believe in a prosocutorial angel, like in the book of Job, but not a fallen lucifer type angel who is the minister of hell. Those are children’s stories to scare people in to observance. Not a great way to get people to love God, in my opion. We believe that every person is born with an evil inclination, and part of our challenge is to overcome that inclination so that our soul can cleave to God.So, there you go. No Jesus. No devil. Sort of Hell. And everyone–jews, hindus, that seik around the corner–can go to heaven if they live a lifestyle filled with holy deeds and actions. But that whole “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” thing just doesn’t fly with us…Hope this helps, and doesn’t rock your faith too much. I really believe that the world needs diversity in religion. I just wish others felt the same way…