Welcome to Being Jewish, our twenty-week program for people converting to Judaism or choosing to more strongly affirm a Jewish identity (confirmation).
First, we want you to know something.
At Kehillah, you matter! These two words are the underpinning of everything we do. Take a look at our Start Here page to learn more about who we are and what we are about. Converting to Judaism means becoming part of a global community, but we also want to make sure that you like being part of our local community, too.
What is Progressive Judaism?
There have been many attempts to codify what progressive Judaism is. Calling Jews an “evolving religious civilization” was the contribution of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and the Reconstructionists. We can remove a national concept of Jewish identity in favor of a completely religious one rooted in Ethical Monotheism like the early Reform rabbis. Conservative Judaism seeks a middle ground, while being influenced by philosophies as far reaching as Jewish Renewal, Modern Orthodoxy and secular humanism.
For our purposes, we are not going to codify what the Progressive Judaism lens is, but instead simply offer its characteristics which can be found in all forms of non-Orthodox Judaism:
- Spirituality – modern Judaism in your modern life
- Learning – empowering you to make Jewish choices
- Community – the best journeys are with those we care about
- Creativity – Judaism unbound
The Judaism we are practicing, to be the Jewish people we want to be, have these four characteristics in common. How that plays out for each of us as individuals or as a group will always be diverse and ever changing. Perhaps this more than ever is what progressive Judaism is: a journey, not a destination.
So Who Are the Jews?
“Judaism is the universal religion of a particular people.” Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler’s quote very clearly states the reality of Judaism as it has been lived for thousands of years. We are a universal religion in that none of our ethical ideas runs contrary to the way any good person would live their life. Additionally, our texts are open to anyone who wishes to learn from them (and even the holiday of Passover commands that we invite non-Jews.)
At the same time that we are universal, we are particular. Land, language, history, food, culture, family, memory, nationality and many other features set us apart as a unique group. While some of us are born into this group, there is a mechanism of assimilation (what we call conversion or others call adoption) that makes us part of this peoplehood. One can be a Jew without every attending a single synagogue service. One can attend synagogue services without ever becoming a Jew. As Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner said in his book To Life!, “Jews are not a club. We are a family.”
This week we’ll learn about the very early history of the Jewish people, some thoughts on how we can think of ourselves as both a religion and culture, and a rebuttal to all of this. It would be impossible to give you the entire history of the Jewish people in only a few hours of reading. Don’t worry — more will come later. Consider this a taste of Judaism, not a buffet of Judaism.
Your Reading This Week
Who Are the Jews: my favorite selections from A Provocative People by Rabbi Sherwin Wine and Liberal Judaism by Rabbi Eugene Borowitz.
Classical Reform Judaism: take a look at Classical Reform Judaism, A Concise Profile, which I think offers an interesting counter-argument to the “Jewish peoplehood” concept in favor of an entirely religious one.
While it’s not worth posting, there are some videos posted on YouTube where Jews debate whether Jewish identity can be cultural/secular. One from an atheist rabbi who says yes, and one from an atheist activist (born Jewish) who says no.
Who Is A Jew?: oddly enough, Wikipedia’s article on this is quite good. Having said that, don’t get too hung up on “will X group accept me?” We can talk about that at our meeting.