Archive for May, 2011


American Judaism is in crisis. But it isn’t the crisis that mainstream American Jewish leaders would have you believe. … The real crisis is one of meaning and engagement. For the first time in centuries, two Jews can marry each other and have Jewish children without any connection to Jewish heritage, wisdom or tradition.
Part of the problem is that there are very few places that offer Jews an opportunity to experience the power and mystery of Jewish tradition firsthand. Even people who are in-married by and large have little connection to Torah, Jewish practice and values. They are dependent on others to translate Judaism for them, and they trudge to High Holiday services to receive the requisite “Be good!” sermons, only to return to their lives unchallenged and unchanged.

We do not have the luxury of assuming that Jews will feel engaged in the Jewish tradition just by experiencing a few inspiring programs. Jews must become self-directed translators of the Jewish tradition — for themselves and their peers. This means less focus on “experiences” and more focus on the building blocks of educational discovery. This is not about religious indoctrination. This is unlocking the power of Jewish heritage.

The answer has to lie in peer engagement — through hosted meals, through study classes and pairings, through grass-roots communities and learning circles. In this world of social networks and mobility, our only chance for real engagement involves an empowered, educated corps of peers who have not devoted their lives to becoming Jewish professionals, but who can live out a rich Jewish culture and heritage and connect others to that experience.

Elie Kaunfer, “The Real Crisis In American Judaism,” The Jewish Week (9 April 2010), 1, 12, 14.

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The beginning of rationalizing Talmud study as a necessary component in a broader Jewish studies curriculum is the recognition that rabbinic Judaism is the historical victor in the narrative of the Jewish people. While second commonwealth Judaisms may have been a story of sects, by the gaonic period one of these “sects”—namely, rabbinic (talmudic) Judaism—became the Judaism of the majority, despite challenges from groups like the Karaites. This development sets the stage for further advances in Judaism and Jewish life from the early Middle Ages on. Therefore, the Talmud is the key to in-depth understanding of most of the disciplines which constitute Jewish studies, because the culture it created is the foundation on which they are built. Even the Bible, as crucial as it is for the understanding of the Jewish experience, is significant for later Judaism only as it is interpreted by the Rabbis.

Michael Chernick, “Neusner, Brisk, and the Stam: Significant Methodologies for Meaningful Talmud Teaching and Study,” The Initiative for Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies, Working Paper no. 19 (May 2010), 2-3.

Radical and ultraliberal critics of Israel present it in the darkest possible terms, as an ethnocentric, militaristic, paranoid entity. Even to the more levelheaded outside observer, the Jewish state’s actions can seem clumsy at the best of times, belligerent at the worst. But in the Jewish heart and mind, Israel deserves a special place, and a different kind of consideration. For much like the traditional institutions of Jewish communities of old, the State of Israel provides perhaps the most critical of services for its people. Indeed, it is an institution fundamental to the survival and prosperity of the global Jewish community. Through such means as the Law of Return, the IDF, and the Israeli security services, it provides Jews with a home and a sanctuary in times of emergency. It also instills in them a sense of pride that only a sovereign nation, living in its own land, can foster.

Marla Braverman, “The Zionist Imperative,” Azure No. 43 (Winter 2011), 25.