A Judaism Made Infinitely Malleable Can Provide Neither Community, Nor Comfort, Nor Transcendence https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/religion-holidays/2020/02/a-judaism-made-infinitely-malleable-can-provide-neither-community-nor-comfort-nor-transcendence/

February 18, 2020 | Jonathan Silver
About the author: Jonathan Silver is the editor of Mosaic.

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 on Commentary: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/when-secular-ideals-corrode-jewish-tradition/

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