A Judaism Made Infinitely Malleable Can Provide Neither Community, Nor Comfort, Nor Transcendence

Feb. 18 2020
About Jonathan

Jonathan Silver is the editor of Mosaic and the senior director of Tikvah Ideas, where he is also the Warren R. Stern Senior Fellow of Jewish Civilization.

In Remix Judaism: Preserving Tradition in a Diverse World, Roberta Rosenthal Kwall writes that non-Orthodox Jews wishing to maintain a connection with Judaism do so by picking, choosing, and reshaping traditions and practices in ways that they find meaningful. And that, to Kwall, is a good thing, even if it may not be ideal. Jonathan Silver remains unconvinced:

[B]y ceding the normative standard to which Jewish life should aspire, Remix Judaism would make it harder to be part of a community, to pass a moral inheritance to your children, and . . . to encounter transcendence mediated through God’s covenant with His chosen people.

Without striving to obey a law derived outside of the self, those who remix Judaism are borrowing Jewish tradition in order to adhere to their own law. They will likely find that they are not being enlarged by tradition but rather diminished—and, in Tocqueville’s phrase, could become “shut up in the solitude of [their] own heart.” In the paradigm of “remix” Judaism, each Jew’s practice is his own creation, utterly unique and without a shared communal reference. When we bow our heads to the work of our own creation, we are bowing to ourselves.

Perhaps most unfortunate is the fact that remixed Judaism is bound to disappoint us in moments of existential crisis, when we need the consolations of tradition the most. Near the end of the book, Remix Judaism explains how to adapt Judaism’s mourning rituals to grieve, and it is an illustration of how ultimately impractical this practical book turns out to be. That is because choosing is impossible at the very moment when grieving is necessary.

Devastated from overwhelming sorrow, is the mourner supposed to start googling how to recite kaddish, the traditional prayer celebrating God’s majesty around which Jewish mourning is organized? Say you do, say you stumble through the transliterated Aramaic and decode the translation, with its grandiose praise of God and not a scant reference to the deceased. What then? You’ll find it frustrating. You’ll come to resent Judaism as insensitive and irrelevant.

[By contrast], say you spend your life [hearing the recitation of kaddish at synagogue services]. The recitation is automatic and calming, its cadence is an anchor. . . . Then, when the moment of crisis comes, instead of groping to read meaning into this foreign text, you encounter hidden resonances in the words that are your daily companions. This blessing truly can comfort you. But it takes a lifetime of conscious effort to prepare for that moment.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Kaddish, Mourning

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security