Torah and Veda are two ancient sources of spirituality still vibrant today. Torah is conveyed through the sacred language of Hebrew and Veda is conveyed through the sacred language of Sanskrit. The focus here is on meditation, mysticism, philosophy, psychology and the underlying spirituality that has been incorporated into religions, and not as much on the religions themselves. Your comments and posts are welcome.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why Be Jewish?

At the culmination of this Passover, I am pleased to announce the imminent official publication of my new book, IVRI: The Essence of Hebrew Spirituality; 21st Century Perspectives on an Ancient Tradition. I expect it to be officially published around mid-April. In anticipation of its imminent official publication, I am below providing one last excerpt to tantalize your taste-buds:

“Why be Jewish?”

In one of the chapters of this book, I addressed Secular Judaism in response to issues posed in an edition of Jewish Currents magazine. In the next edition the editor posed a follow-up question to the earlier discussion about the future of Secular Judaism. The question was “Why be Jewish?” My answer is a suitable conclusion to this book:

In the hopes of not getting bogged down in a morass of endless discussion concerning definitions, philosophies, psychologies, cosmologies, ontologies, theologies, etc., let’s start with an existentialistic approach. A good start to an existentialist approach is the fact of birth, and thus individual existence.

Whether we like it or not, some people are born to Jewish families. How is a Jewish family defined? Well, one or both parents were told by their families sometime after they were born that they are Jewish, and they incorporate that designation, however murky and amorphous it may be, as part of their identity — of who and what they are. Part of the raising of their children is to tell them that they are Jewish, so they carry on that nomenclature as part of their identity, however unclear the definition may be. And so it goes through generations. For the sake of simplicity, I won’t get into issues relating to assimilation (those born Jewish, but who either are not told they are Jewish or, even if told, abandon any sense of a Jewish identity) or conversion (those not born Jewish; as part of choosing to go through the conversion process, they have already addressed this question). The question is “Why be Jewish?”, and I’m limiting the discussion as relating to people who have some identity of being Jewish by virtue of their birth and being told by their parents that they are Jewish, if nothing more.

So people are Jewish, first of all, because they were told they were Jewish sometime after they were born. From childhood forward, many things happen to such individuals and their Jewish identities, which are as varied and as unique as the sum total of all such people. Some may reject their Jewish identity, some may embrace it, and some may neither actively reject nor embrace it. They don’t deny it, maybe just passively acknowledging it, because that is what they were told as children. Some may give their Jewish identity a lot of thought, and mold and shape it, emotionally and psychically investing heavily in it, while others may put varying degrees of lesser effort into the matter.

So the question of “Why Be Jewish?” really means “Why expend time and energy and psychic resources into investing in a Jewish identity?” After all, except for converts, Jewish identity is first of all a matter of circumstance of birth. How do we deal with that circumstance? What do we do with it? Do we think it is even worthwhile addressing? Those are the real questions.

Succinct definitions of Hebrew Spirituality and Judaism: Hebrew Spirituality is a spiritual teaching, distinct from religion, received and expressed by humanity through the medium of the sacred language of Hebrew. Judaism is a religion that evolved out of Hebrew Spirituality.

I am a proponent of Hebrew Spirituality. I could probably be a proponent, to a lesser extent, of a form of Jewish religion devoid of the many doctrines and dogmas that have developed over the centuries in the various forms of Orthodoxy. They encompassed the prevailing standard until various drastic reform movements began appearing over the last 300 years. There are ongoing efforts to define a Jewish religion or identity imbued with deep spirituality, yet devoid of traditional religious doctrine and dogma. Sometimes it seems more difficult than it should be.

Theistic spirituality generally leads to religion. Non-theistic spirituality remains a possibility for those not attracted to religion. There needs to be a recognition of a sphere of non-rational intuition (as distinct from irrationality) that is not in conflict with rational reasoning, but parallel to it. The integration of the rational with the non-rational leads to the spiritual.

Humans are composed of body, emotion, mind and spirit. Spirit is at our core; it is our essence. We are undeniably spiritual beings. And thus spirituality is important to our sense of identity, meaning, purpose. Many spiritual traditions have appeared throughout history, and the spirituality expressed through the Hebrew language is a significant and ancient one that has endured in some form or other for thousands of years. Anyone born Jewish is somehow connected by circumstance of birth (even if deemed nothing more than an accident of birth) to this ancient tradition of Hebrew Spirituality. The undeniable existential fact of being born Jewish should provide sufficient cause to at least give some serious consideration to incorporating Hebrew Spirituality into their lives, as part of their inherent spiritual nature and identity. Maybe it is worth preserving. Maybe it is worth enlivening.

Why be Jewish? That is why.

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