Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow

This article, on MyJewishLearning.com, has an interesting premise: the Pew survey (there it is again!) shows that most American Jews–even those that believe in God–are basically not observant, but nevertheless proudly identify as Jewish. The author, Joshua Ratner, suggests that it’s always kind of been like this, and maybe we should embrace that by focusing more on training a cadre of leaders and less on the kinds of outreach programming that has, so far, not been all that successful in getting the “Jew on the street” seriously attendant to Judaism as a religious life-system.

On the one hand, I sort of agree with this, because it’s true of many other groups–the interests of the group are often best advanced by leaders as opposed to trying to bring the whole group into a leadership role for itself. There are many reasons for this.

On the other hand, I worry that Ratner gives up a bit too easily because his focus is on Jewish religion (which he likely means as belief in and service of the divine). He, as other authors, sort of nod at the “cultural Jew”–Ratner actually says, “whatever that means.” If we’re getting people to engage–whether they engage in a theistic or non-theistic version of Judaism–we’re doing part of the job of being Jewish leaders and helping to perpetuate Jewish identity and Judaism in all its forms.

No, I don’t think you’ll drag people into Judaism as religion (as defined above). But you’ll get people into Judaism writ large–and that’s a good thing.

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