Theology

Judaism is declining, but Jews are not

toa-heftiba-295050-unsplashReform Judaism is dying, according to an article by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin in Forward. As secularism increases, the number of synagogues decrease. The same happens to churches, too, except Christians don’t make up less than 1% of the population like Jews do.

Jewish converts to Christianity wouldn’t be nearly as controversial if not for the minority status of Jews worldwide. Consequently, I lived for years with tension between following what I believed to be true, and not wanting to dishonor my ancestors, who were persecuted for their Jewishness.

I’d be lying if I said that tension was fully resolved.

The reality is that most Jews in America are secular. Many describe their religious affiliation as atheist or agnostic first, and Jewish by birth second. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, more and more Jews are embracing the cultural aspects of Judaism over the spiritual (which is the track I have followed as well).

But lack of belief doesn’t have to mean the death of Judaism. By virtue of its origins, the existence of Christianity ensures that Judaism will continue to be studied (ideally, anyway). Being the religion of Jesus and the apostle Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament) ensures that Judaism will always be relevant.

The need for Jewish education in churches, and in other pluralistic settings, is evident in passages like this one:

At the wedding, an Episcopalian friend marveled at the Eisner facilities. “If only we [mainstream Protestants] had something like this!” I told her that, decades ago, the Dalai Lama sent emissaries to Jewish summer camps — to see how informal religious and cultural education could really work, and how it could nourish a Diaspora community.

 

I don’t know many secular Jews who believe that Judaism has nothing to offer this world anymore. I certainly don’t believe that. Even if I never converted, Judaism found ways to sneak into my life without my intending it. It characterized me in ways I did not expect. I imagine the same is largely true for even the most non-religious Jewish-born people.

Part of my spiritual journey has been learning to respect how people identify themselves spiritually, even if I disagree with them. I don’t believe it’s fair for people to tell me I’m no longer Jewish in any sense, as if my heritage disappeared the moment I accepted Jesus as my savior.

And as an Episcopalian, I learned through many altercations on the internet just how annoying it is to be told I’m not a True Christian because my politics lean to the left. So I no longer consider myself a gatekeeper for who is allowed to use certain labels. That’s God’s job (though I’m sure He’s more concerned with the heart than the label).

So for what it’s worth, Judaism as a religion may be on the decline, but Jews are not. I am fully invested in using my Jewish background to build bridges wherever I can. I’m still here.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “Judaism is declining, but Jews are not”

  1. This is a fascinating article which explores the tensions between one’s ethnic heritage and
    one’s faith. It is interesting to compare it with other ethnicities and how they view their
    religious and sociocultural identities. A few thoughts for reflection:

    1. Most African-American Christians lean left in politics. Most of us do not support the Tea Party,
    the Alt-Right or Republican Party politics. We don’t confuse a political party with God, or even
    God’s will. We know that salvation does not reside in any politician or political party–nor do
    we vote according to what any clergy “endorses.” We do not assume you are not a believer
    if you cannot embrace conservative politics or politicians!

    2. Among African-Americans, all three Abrahamic religions are found and there are
    some Black Messianic Hebrews/Jews as well. Some who follow forms of Messianic Judaism
    may be found in Messianic synagogues. In addition to this, some Black churches also
    celebrate many aspects of the Hebrew heritage, including the Shalosh Regalim (the three
    pilgrim festivals); using ritual items (such as kiddush cups, tallitot, shofarim). None of this
    is entirely new–African-American Christians have always integrated Hebraic form and ritual
    within their churches, starting from the first churches organized among slaves in the 1600–
    1700’s.

    3. In the United States, you have the right to define your ethnicity and ethnocultural identity
    by whatever markers, protocol or standards you wish. Many ethnic Jews certainly embrace
    religious traditions other than forms of traditional Judaism. The idea that ethnic Jews lose their ethnicity upon embracing Jesus and/or joining a church is not a BIBLICAL idea; it reflects a
    EUROPEAN idea that Christianity detaches a person from their ethnicity. This same idea
    accompanied European missionaries of various churches for several centuries as a result
    of a mistaken attachment to European customs/traditions that were often forced upon other
    cultures. I have often asked traditional Jews exactly what ETHNICITY does a Jewish person
    “become” if they choose the Judeo-Christian faith as their religion. The answer is usually:

    A. Well, they’re just not Jewish anymore–because they don’t believe what their people believe;
    B. They are still Jewish, BUT they are “cut off from their people.”

    This leads to beliefs that defy the reality of genetics, for example. I remember a discussion with
    a Messianic Jew (who had been raised Baptist and converted to a form of Messianic Judaism)
    who insisted that even the Cohen Modal Haplotype–a specific genetic marker found in males that
    links them to all Levites and Aaron’s lineage in particular isn’t enough to make you a Hebrew/ Israelite/Jew. Obviously, any male who possesses the CMH is Jewish by biblical standards.

    4, Christianity is a Jewish faith with fully Hebraic roots. Churches have often preserved Hebraic
    customs and traditions within their liturgies and worship structures. Black Methodist churches,
    for example, have always said the Shema as part of the Sunday morning liturgy since the
    1780’s. Black churches have always passed down knowledge of our Hebraic roots and
    connections as descendants of African Hebrew ethnic groups through our worship, Bible
    study, music and family oral tradition. This explains the persistence of Hebraic customs, equal
    treatment of Old and New Testament texts; vestmented clergy and choirs; and literal application of worship actions found in the psalms.

    In Euro-american churches–including liturgical churches–Jewish tradition persists in
    worship forms and ritual actions. Many American Christians do not realize how Jewish/Hebraic
    their own worship traditions are, or how the Old Testament worship forms are part and
    parcel of Christian worship.

    Like

  2. I remember a couple, friends of my parents, who were Jewish (Which explained the fancy candelabra they had and only used around Christmas time. that I admired as a child, when I eventually learned what it was.). I have no clue how religious they were, but the husband enjoyed acting in amateur Yiddish theater for many years.

    Like

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