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August 07, 1987 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-08-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Some fear the reduction of
Judaism to a meta-language,
a way of speaking, and conse-
quently the avoidance of prac-
ticed observances. Others fear
more the ritual behaviorism
to live with our heads in
heaven betraying the realistic
ground of a people's security,
while others worry that the
that ignores reason and feel-
ing, and turns religious
sensibility into obedient,
mechanical practice.
Some fear the dizzying
heights of universalism
clutching the air of abstrac-
tion, losing their footing on
particular soil. Others fear
the suffocation of parochial-
ism that transforms a world
people into corporate nar-
cissists.
Some fear the obsession
with "relevance" that turns
eternal truths into the putty
of fads. Others fear the ven-
eration of habit, the confusion
of antiquity with authentic-
ity.
Some fear the distillation of
Judaism into ethical culture
alone while others fear the en-
forced muteness of the pro-
phetic voice.
Some fear the unmoored
idealism which encourages us
territorial imperative has
desensitized our moral sense.
Identifying and understand-
ing the fears which tacitly in-
form all our theories and
practices may help us develop
a warmer and more natural
pluralistic outlook.
Another side to the train-
ing of the pluralist sensibili-
ty is the willing suspension of
fault finding. With that in
mind, I announced a series of
lecture-sermons on "The Best
of Judaism": The Best of Or-
thodox Judaism, The Best of
Conservative Judaism, The
Best of Reform Judaism, The
Best of Reconstructionist
Judaism, The Best of Satmer
Judaism, The Best of Luba-
vitch Judaism, The Best of
Secular Judaism — seven va-
rieties of Jewish interpreta-
tions.
The exercise is designed to
overcome invidious com-
parisons, and the "ger-
rymandering" that assigns
the best to our own jurisdic-
tion and leaves all the rest to
the others. It confronts the
avowed pluralist with a series
of questions. Can I preach
and teach another approach
to Jewish theology and obser-
vances without condescen-
sion? Can I suspend all nega-
tivities about the other's
theory and practice and allow
its strengths and affirma-

tions to shine forth? Can I
identify the elements which
attract other fellow Jews to
these movements and res-
pond to their needs?
In the course of preparing
for such lectures, I experi-
enced the temptations to find
faults in other movements, in-
stitutions and leaders. Some-
how their weaknesses are
taken as my strength, their
failings my victories, their
flawed projects as justifica-
tion for my having to do
nothing about the problems
they seek to address. With
twisted logic, I drew dan-
gerous conclusions: If they
are wrong, I am right; if they
falter, I stand erect. The con-
clusions do not follow. Erik
Erikson once commented
"You have heard of the rabbi
who felt inhibited when he
was asked to make a speech
in heaven. 'I am only good at
refutation: he said. Refuta-
tion has replaced affirmation.
Can I make a speech without
refutation?"
The exercise in pluralism is
not designed to kill the critic-
al sense or to subdue the
reservations or objections. I
bracket these, hold them in
abeyance because they tend
to eclipse the brightness of
the other side. The task is to
humanize our disagreements,
clarify our own fidelities, and
acknowledge the plentitude
of our old-new traditions.
The pluralistic exercises
celebrate no piety of poly-
theism — all the gods are
gods. It is not meant to deny
conflicting preferences. But,
in the preparation for the
series I sensed the transcen-
dent unity in Judaism, a con-
firmation of Chesterson's in-
sight that "heresies are
splinters of the whole."
The empathic exercise is
not for rabbis alone. Through
such projects, havurot and
adult education circles could
serve the well-being of the
Jewish community and the
self-understanding of the in-
dividual Jew. No one, I
suspect, will be converted
from his denominational pro-
clivity to another, though it
would be far from calamitous
if such a change took place
out of conviction. More like-
ly, the attitude towards alter-
native ways of Jewish believ-
ing, thinking and behaving
would be altered towards the
good and one's own Jewish
awareness elevated.

Rabbi Schulweis is the rabbi
of Valley Beth Shalom con-
gregagation in Encino,
California.

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