Embracing All of Judaism

First day Sukkot, and I have shaken my lulav with etrog, prayed in accordance with our tradition, and read the Torah and haftarah portions. I prayed from the 19th century Seder Avodat Yisrael, IMHO the finest nineteenth century prayerbook and commentary, by Seligman Baer, an Orthodox scholar. The Torah portion I read from my facsimile copy of the Lisbon Bible of 1482, produced in 1988 in Israel. It's a gorgeous Bible, and the reader can see the beauty of the scribe's hand writing, as well as the minute variations in each letter when a scribe produces the text rather than moveable type. The scribe was Samuel Ibn Musa, and he produced this excellent Bible not long before Jews were entirely expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, meaning during a time of persecution. Then I read the haftarah from the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) haftarah commentary, produced in 2002 in Philadelphia, Pa., with its commentary by contemporary Bible scholar, Michael Fishbane.

My sermon over the High Holy Days emphasized our role as liberal Jews in creating a modern Jewish State, (see below for the sermon) in accordance with the vision of Ahad Ha'am, a place that would spiritually enrich the entire Jewish people worldwide. Here I sit with lulav and etrog grown in Israel, reading a copy of the Torah from Portuguese Jewry, from a facsimile of the finest Jewish Bible of the period (the original is in the British Library). The siddur is Orthodox with an excellent commentary from an Orthodox Jew who wrote but never held a university post 150 years ago. Then reading the traditional haftarah with commentary from a modern scholar who has taught at Brandeis and the University of Chicago, superb contemporary non-sectarian universities, and is published by the excellent American Jewish publishing house called the JPS.

And what is my point? I have two: It is not only less conflictual it is more accurate to perceive the modern Jewish community as world-wide, consisting of a wide variety of scholarly streams from which sincere modern Jews are choosing their personal practices. I selected an Orthodox siddur because of its quality, while still praying the liberal text in many instances. Of course, the universal language of the Jewish people is and has been for 3 millennia Hebrew. But most Jewish literature exists today in English also. Hebrew literacy does permit more options, but the idea is the same. Israel, the only Jewish State in 2000 years, must be a state for ALL of the Jewish people who take Judaism seriously, so that we may flourish and be the Light to the Nations that Isaiah (Isa. 42) and even modern Jews envision.

Second, and finally, the obligation of the modern Jew is, as it has always been, education. An elementary school Jewish education, as most people receive, will not be either satisfying to adults or constructive of a creative Jewish future. Education requires time and devotion, and is acquired steadily over years. As we begin a new year and once again enter into the cycle of Torah reading, perhaps others will join me in choosing a personal entrance point into Judaism, something that interests you, and starting to pursue that several times a week, if only for a short while each time. Keep a text with you, in your purse or car; turn to it frequently when you have free time, rather than to your cell phone for the umpteenth time that day. It will improve both your knowledge and your spirituality, and bring you closer to the meaningful life you seek.

Judaism is a superb spiritual tradition, but it requires not only faith but devotion of time and personal knowledge. What in life that is satisfying does not require those things?

May the coming year bring nahat ruach, spiritual satisfaction, to you and the House of Israel.

Chag sameach

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.