This week, the Boston Magazine (Dec. 2018), published a powerful article by Erick Trickey, entitled “Has Boston Given up on God?” This is a devastating piece against old time religion. The author points out that “Religion’s importance in people’s lives is on the decline across the country,” evidenced by the fact that so many religious institutions are simply shutting down their operations. He also states that “people who say they are not affiliated with any religion, [is] at 32 percent of residents.” To counter this negative trend, Trickey points out, new belief systems are emerging based on “higher education’s critical thinking, science’s demands for evidence, technology’s drive for results, liberal politics’ notion of progress and social justice.”
That is what I want from my Judaism. We have a long tradition and we want to preserve it by adapting it to the needs of the time, just as Rabbinic Judaism radically transformed biblical Judaism, and medieval Jews started to view Judaism through the prism of their time and place. Reform Judaism is one of the modern answers. I would argue that even Orthodox Judaism today has had to change since its medieval practices.
I grew up Orthodox, and was in fact the Hazan Kavua (permanent prayer leader) of my Junior congregation, but, after I went to law school, I simply could not abide by the theology and practice of my religious community in Istanbul, and chose Reform Judaism as my new path. It has been my salvation.
In our time, we, too, need to stress the rationalistic elements of our Jewish tradition, because I believe most of our people now are demanding it. We, too, must look at our religious patterns critically, and search for reliable evidence regarding our religious beliefs. Otherwise, we will lose our constituency that will go elsewhere for its spiritual needs.
Soon, in the Jewish community, we will be celebrating Hanukah. Pray, let us not retell the story of the so-called “Hanukah miracle,” that kept the candles lighting for 8 days, but, discounting this improbable rabbinic teaching in the Talmud (TB, Shabbat, 21 b), let us concentrate on the importance of the holiday as a festival of lights that figuratively opens the blind eyes, and deaf ears; and as the holyday that celebrates religious liberty.
Spirituality is the study of ultimate concerns, and there is plenty to discuss it within a rationalistic frame of mind.
Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
Nov. 27, 2018.