In an effort to be bipartisan, a pair of articles, one appearing in the Wall Street Journal and the other appearing in the New York Times, discussed a phenomenon that has been in the air for a few decades yet has flown under the radar for most of us. The subtle and sensitive issue (at least for some) discussed in these two pieces is the quiet encroachment of contemporary Christian practice (particularly in the fundamental Christian community) into the sphere of Judaism, specifically Jewish ritual and symbolism.
The Wall Street Journal piece took a thorough look at the Christian practice of conducting Passover Seders that are re-engineering the Exodus/Passover narrative into a Christian narrative. This goes beyond the simple, albeit completely inaccurate, portrayal of the Last Supper as a Passover Seder meal.
The piece in the New York Times discussed the growing popularity of the “Christian bar mitzvah” for 13-year-old true believers. The underlying argument and supposition here is that today true believing Christians are more authentically Jewish than we Jews ourselves. I seek neither to castigate nor defend this encroachment. A significant factor in Christian attraction to Jewish ritual and symbolism is the lack of similar ritual and symbolism in Christianity. To be clear, Christianity has its own ritual and symbolism; it’s just not comparable.
This is not the same issue as non-Jewish family members participating in Jewish family life cycle events. The latter involves a non-Jewish family member affirming and supporting a family’s commitment to establishing a Jewish home and living a Jewish life. Regardless of intention, the Christianizing of Jewish ritual and symbol renders Judaism irrelevant and Jews invisible.
This is likewise not a call to arms. I’m not suggesting that we are “at war”. What I am suggesting is that we need to get more comfortable with and more effective at getting our message out there. Even our non-Jewish friends have trouble understanding what we do and why we do it. The reason for this is apparent and singular: we are not sufficient or confident in our knowledge of what we Jews do and why we do it.
Our limited Jewish literacy and our ambivalence about it have created a vacuum of Jewish knowledge and understanding for the community and us. Filling or back-filling this vacuum is daunting and overwhelming; nevertheless the possibility, feasibility and necessity for taking at least one step forward is apparent I hope to all of us. In fact we have in our hands an excellent opportunity to address both our need to educate ourselves and to educate the community. Our Love Thy Neighbor program series is our worthy and vital effort to fill the Jewish knowledge vacuum.
How do we move our region toward becoming the kind of place our children deserve? We do it by living and sharing what we know. Our goal is not winning a war or acquiring converts (although our door is always open). Love Thy Neighbor is about dialogue and education; it’s about us offering the community Jewish knowledge and giving ourselves an opportunity to become more knowledgeable about ourselves in the process.
The “God in the Box” documentary film (www.godinthebox.com) is nonsectarian in its approach and its appeal. Random folks on the streets of cities across the United States walk into a portable video recording booth and answer two simple questions: What do you think God is? What do you think God looks like? These are not “Jewish questions” but they certainly lead to Jewish answers and conversations about God and God’s presence in our lives.
Our approach to theology is broad and imaginative. We are generally not very concerned with what God is; rather we are more concerned with what God wants. Nevertheless, a relationship with God, however we define God, leads to questions about God’s nature and “appearance.” This kind of “wrestling with the divine” is at the essence of the Jewish experience. It behooves us to develop the ability to communicate this idea/concept/value to our friends, our community and our children as well.
We are God wrestlers. Our faith does not lead to theological certainty; it only leads to more wrestling. And wrestling never weakens anyone’s faith; wrestling only strengthens it.
For their sake as well as for our own, actively and wholeheartedly support our Love Thy Neighbor program series.