Is There One Right Way To Be a Jew?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Jan. 28 1999 9:30 PM

Is There One Right Way To Be a Jew?

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Dear David,

Advertisement

It is with a certain amount of sadness that I write this, my last, response. I have come to crave that daily Klinghoffer missive, that tart and confident riposte, brimming with pride and learning and energy.

Of course, I disagree with most of what you say.

Perhaps it is all my fault. You asked me, most recently, "to defend not so much the authenticity but the internal coherence of a liberal outlook on Judaism."

I prepare to do so, and then I read on: "Maybe that's one reason people our age don't take Reform and Conservative seriously," you write.

And I say to myself, My new friend David may be clever and well-meaning and generous in many ways (or maybe not--I don't yet know you) but he is really, really myopic.

I am delighted that you've found your home in Orthodoxy. But look out the window once in a while. There are actually lots of people, people our age, who do take Reform and Conservative (and even Reconstructionism) seriously. I'll introduce you to some if you want, but I think you must know them. After all, you've been citing Heschel, who taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is Conservative, and where lots and lots of people, our age, go to become rabbis and whatnot. They aren't in it for the money, either. They take it seriously. Some of them are pretty tough, too, so I hope they don't know where you live, because if I were them, I'd think you were calling me a faker.

I don't think you're calling me a faker, of course. That would be professional discourtesy. I'm more of a standard-issue dunderhead, blind to the salient facts of the Truth you love.

You tell me the burden of proof rests on me. It is my job, you tell me, to prove that Torah is not the Truth, the literal word of God.

OK, here's my answer: I don't know. And when there is something I don't know, I ask questions and then ask some more questions until I feel that I do know, or believe that I know. Could it be that I'm simply a more primitive version of you, working my way up the ladder toward Truth? Sure. But I'm not willing to believe that which I don't fully believe. Does that mean I can't participate in the same tradition as you? Nope. I don't know what your role is meant to be on this earth, but I doubt it's to step on the fingers of people on the rungs beneath you, if that's how you choose to see things.

In my own family, I have seen how the zeal of the convert plays out. It is an astonishing thing, how all that longing and questioning one day explodes into ... surety! It is the same for a political convert as a religious convert (and I realize that you are both) or, for that matter, a former smoker. There exists within all these people a need to prove not only that what they have come to believe is the only truth, but that what they used to believe is the most untrue thing of all.

There is a lot to be said for this sort of zeal. But it is, by its nature, myopic. Even God, and I'm guessing here, doesn't like a sore winner.

That said, I'm guessing you're a swell egg. I like your writing, too. I think our central difference is this: I am attracted to questions and you are attracted to answers. If you think that makes me a less valid Jew, then you win. But if not, you also win.

All best,
SJD

  Slate Plus
Slate Archives
Dec. 22 2014 3:01 PM Slate Voice: “Santa Should Not Be a White Man Anymore” Aisha Harris reads her piece on giving St. Nick a makeover.