These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Ben Barer – Why I Wear a Kippah II: Staying in the Conversation

Posted on November 6, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cross-posted from Ben Barer‘s (Fall ’10, Fellows ’11-’12) blog:

Last year, I posted a short reflection on why I wear a kippah, but there is another major aspect of publicly identifying as Jewish that I would like to fill in now. I believe that, in addition to the freedoms and decrease in antisemitism that have arisen as a result of Jews fully integrating into Western society — in the sense that, today like in no previous generation, the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews can be said to be ‘Jews by choice’ — came the associated risk of stepping out of the fight for Judaism to modernize altogether. Why, many Jews find themselves asking, would I define myself principally through adherence to a religion that does not hold the same values I do, values that I have accepted wholeheartedly from the surrounding liberal culture? It is much easier to jump ship, remain a ‘cultural Jew’ (since it is not possible, by the tenets of Judaism, to convert out of the religion), and live in full accord with my values now.

Understandably, this is a persuasive argument, and it explains why the Orthodox denomination is the only one growing today (see, for example, here). The problem is for those of us who wish for the best of both worlds: continuing to maintain Judaism as our primary identity, while working towards aligning our religion with our values (where the two diverge). Given the reality that Jews can vote with their feet now, and choose whether to make their religion a part of their lives or not, this is largely a numbers game. Despite the extremely high value that Judaism places on her long history, and the traditions that have emerged and been maintained over the centuries, the fact is that we — the Jews alive today — constitute the religion in her entirety.

If all Jews who see serious problems with the religion, given their opportunity to leave it behind and live as they wish, do in fact leave the religion, we face the unavoidable fact that the pace of change within the religion will decline precipitously. Similarly, if the high percentage of Canadians (or Americans or Israelis, given the current election seasons) who are discouraged by the state of their country leave the country rather than trying to fix it, assuming that this was as fluid and easy as it is to change one’s ritual observance of Judaism, there is no doubt that the country would lose the richness that can only be achieved through rigorous debate and a multiplicity of opinions.

This is why I wear a kippah, דווקא (especially) when I do not fit the stereotype, as I think that it is imperative for all Jews who find meaning in our tradition, and who are disillusioned about some aspect of it, to fight for a Judaism of the future that hears our concerns and is, as a result, a Judaism that appeals to more, not fewer, people.