Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Organized Religion"? Not Really - Tuesday Kavvanah, 1/24/2012

As a rabbi, I advocate for Judaism.  Whenever I meet somebody who tells me that s/he does not believe in "organized religion", I can't help but joke: "You call this organized?"

To the uninitiated, the assortment of Jewish rituals - the mumbling of lengthy pages of tefillot, or the dietary restrictions, or the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week, as a short list of examples - might seem at best curious and at worst burdensome.  Indeed, many Jews agree.

We are living in what you might call a devoutly independent age, in which what JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen has termed "the sovereign self" is the overriding personal element in our interaction with the world.  Individual choice is the ultimate guide.  Jewish practice, although hardly conceived in any orderly way, seems to have been designed to thwart this inclination.  Tefillah / prayer generally requires a minyan, a quorum of 10 people.  Jewish learning traditionally requires a partner, and often takes place in a beit midrash, a house of study.  Kashrut, lifecycle events, and many rituals necessitate communal involvement.  You can't be Jewish alone.

So while I hesitate to call Judaism organized, it surely works hard to build community.  And in these times, what could we possibly need more than relationships with others?

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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