Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Belated Arrival Day Post

The Head Heeb has asked his fellow bloggers to contribute their thoughts on the future of American Judaism in honor of Arrival Day, the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in New Amsterdam. I've been trying not to spend too much time on the internet lately, but I'd like to add my two cents before it's really too late. In brief:

The American Jewish community is more religiously diverse today than it has ever been. We have Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chassidim and so-called Mitnagdim, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, Humanist Jews, pagan Jews and Bu-Jews. Frumster lists over ten varieties of Orthodoxy, ranging from "Black Hat Yeshivish" to "Flexidox." Perhaps as a consequence of this ridiculous proliferation of labels, an increasing number of American Jews are choosing not to affiliate with any "denomination." Our generation has seen the birth of "non-denominational" congregations, day schools, and rabbinical schools. These are institutions that, though they may have their own philosophies, do not accept the authority of external organizations. They tend to promote the idea that we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and, ultimately, to decide what Judaism means to each of us. Jewish identity and practice are viewed in very personal terms.

There can be no doubt that the current conflict with radical Islam will influence the development of American Judaism. We may see a shift away from the idea of personal autonomy and toward a more conservative, ethnocentric, nationalist approach to religion. We may see a revival of the fight against intermarriage, a new interest in conversion, and increased emphasis on aliya (moving to Israel) as a Jewish ideal. The trend toward ever-increasing diversity may reverse, as Jews seek refuge from adversity in a more unified, clearly defined religious identity.

Whether or not these changes occur will depend both on events in the Muslim world and on how the United States chooses to manage its relationship with Israel. Either way, I am relatively certain of one thing. The terms "Orthodox," "Conservative," and "Reform," which defined American Judaism for so long, are well on their way to becoming entirely meaningless. We will have to continue to find new ways of articulating who we are and what we believe.

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