Authenticity in Judaism is a hotly debated subject. Sadly, I have often found the debate to be rather one-sided. Though I have heard liberal critique of orthodox and traditional practice, I can’t recall any such critique labeling orthodox Jewish practice as inauthentic. Sadly, I have far too often heard voices from the orthodox/traditional side label liberal Jewish practice as inauthentic. (I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are also many voices, some of them from revered and respected leaders in the orthodox/traditional communities who decry such labeling. Nevertheless, the preponderance of my personal experience, particularly in the last decade or so, has been just the opposite.)
For me, this question of authenticity is important. For me, the questioning of the authenticity of Jewish practice and praxis is troubling. (I must add that it is particularly troubling to me how many in the liberal Jewish community feed the myth of liberal Judaism’s inauthenticity, They see the orthodox as the “real Jews” and contribute generously to support Chabad Lubavitch. It’s a new Jewish form of the old Catholic practice of indulgences. Just in case it turns out that being a liberal Jew isn’t authentic, I’ll buy my way into heaven by supporting more authentic Judaism than I practice. (Now, I am not saying that all liberal Jews who support orthodox organizations have this as their rationale. I, myself, willingly support Jewish causes across the spectrum for reasons that have nothing to do with authenticity.)
I have had several situations recently in which online comments of a political nature were eventually used and twisted to make disparaging claims about the authenticity of my Jewish practice. Judaism does indeed teach us to measure our words.However, Judaism does not require us to all reach the same conclusion as to that measure. There are times when the appropriate measure is strong. I draw my inspiration for strongly worded comments from biblical sources. Our Tanakh is replete with examples.
Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Yes, he was punished for his lack of faith. We can debate whether G”d was right to do so some other time. (I suspect that to some of my accusers of late, that very notion is blasphemy.) Hosea engaged in outrageous rhetoric to get the attention of the people. G”d rarely refrains from harsh pronouncements, and G”d is often at odds with the self-description offered to Moshe.
Oddly enough, in one circumstance, by choosing to explain my choices on biblical examples like those, I was accused of megalomania for daring to compare myself to biblical characters. In the Judaism of my understanding, we have no saints, no characters beyond reproach. To compare my actions to those of a biblical character (even if the comparison is to a negative) seems to me to be exactly what Judaism wishes us to do. If I only compare myself to the ideal behaviors, what will I have learned? It is in knowing that even biblical characters are portrayed as human that lies our scripture’s greatest strength. If we had to live up to an impossible ideal, few of us would make the futile effort. Even G”d self-describes as being caring, compassionate and loving, but punishing future generations for the faults of their ancestors. People speak in strong words. G”d speaks in strong words. I won’t argue that civil and polite discourse should be preferred, but I will argue that there is a time and place for strong words. I draw upon my Judaism for the wisdom to know when the different types of responses which are available to us are appropriate.
Reasonable people can and do disagree about how to put the teachings of Judaism (as we understand them) into practice. I am glad to see that so many Jews, inspired by their understandings of Judaism, are speaking out, taking action, and not standing idly by. I am dismayed when we use our different understandings of religion to bash one another for our political views.
My practice of Judaism is as authentic as yours, and yours is as authentic as mine. If we are all the holy seeds, the remnant stump as described in Isaiah 6:13 in the haftarah for parashat Yitro, then each of us blooms as a unique flower. We each grow and bloom in different soil conditions, in different ground, in different climates. Yet we are all seeds from the same tree, descendants of that stump. Disagree with me. I will disagree with you. We may even question the other’s understanding of what Judaism teaches. But we must agree on the authenticity of our differing expressions and understandings. If we do not, then we truly are lost, we will be holy seeds no more..
©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha:
Yitro 5776 – Top Ten (Revised and Redux 5766)
Yitro 5774 – The Rest of the Ten Commandments (Revisted and Revised)
Yitro 5773 – From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities (Revised and Updated from 5761)
Yitro5772 – Why I Won’t Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging
Yitro 5771/ Redux Beshalakh 5762 – Manna Mania
Yitro 5770 – Special Effects
Yitro 5769 – Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B’Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad”nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments