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Rational Reasons to Value Judaism

12/11/14

By Fred Claar

There are many things to teach about Judaism. Most common are history, holidays, Israel, Holocaust, Hebrew decoding, and prayer. All being taught is good, but none of them are rational reasons to value Judaism.Star_of_David.svg

If Jewish students reaching Bat/Bar Mitzvah could articulate what makes Judaism special and unique, Judaism might become a much more highly valued part of their identity.

The question today’s Jewish students ask is not “How to be Jewish” and not “How to create a Jewish identity”. Rather, they ask, “Why be Jewish” or “Why take being Jewish seriously”. These last two questions often have not been answered.

Most non-orthodox Jews today have a Jewish home experience limited to only several days of involvement per year. That is another vitally important topic in Jewish education. Bringing Judaism into non-orthodox homes is essential to properly educate Jewish students. That important topic is beyond these short remarks, and it is a much more formidable challenge than what I am highlighting here.

No Jewish student should be allowed to graduate from school until they can articulate several unique aspects of Judaism that are special and rational to all of mankind. Below are several of many to make my point and to be food for thought within the entire Jewish teaching community.

hebrewWe focus on this world. Our Torah is quiet on the hereafter. Judaism believes in an afterlife, but it is not emphasized. Judaism focuses on this life. Repair this world.

We struggle with God. Abraham and Moses argued with God. Jacob wrestled with God. Israel = struggle with God. Some religions require surrender or faith. There can be satisfaction in growth through struggle.

We elevate critics into our scripture. Our prophets severely criticize Jews for not being good enough. We are the only religion to include critics in our Bible.

We are a people and a religion. All Jews are connected. We speak out for others. Some religions are silent on destruction of coreligionists or easily kill other coreligionists. Religion alone could be private, but Judaism is a connected peoplehood.

Our view of human nature. We are born neutral, neither good nor bad. There is a tug of war between our Yatzer Tov (good impulses) & Yatzer Hara (bad impulses). It is normal to have bad thoughts. It is our actions, not our thoughts, which are most important to Judaism.

The five concepts, plus others, very briefly outlined above do not suffice as Jewish education. They are important steps in answering questions about the value of Judaism to any individual, whether Jewish or not.

2 responses to “Rational Reasons to Value Judaism”

  1. Ellen Rank says:

    Fred Claar reminds us that today’s students are asking, “Why be Jewish” or “Why take being Jewish seriously.” As we design learning experiences, not only is it essential that we plan the knowledge learners will acquire but we must design with a vision of how the learning will connect the individual to the community and what the individual will be able to do as a result of the learning. Most importantly, to empower students and to pave the road for them to personally be able to respond to “Why be Jewish?” we must intentionally provide opportunities for students to reflect on what the learning means to them personally.

  2. Michael Mellen says:

    In a setting where Judaism is no longer a must and Torah is no longer considered the word of God educators and learners struggle with making meaning out of sacred texts and tradition. Fred Claar begins to address these issues by beginning with the questions of the learner today, questions that ask how Judaism is relevant to each of us and to our community in the every day. The answers that he provides challenge us to consider what meaning we carry each day that might make a difference in the lives of our learners and in the heartbeat of our community.

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