Judaism Is A Pluralistic Hippie. Even If We Don’t Realize It.

Judaism is just a beautiful religion.  It allows so many people to believe in so many different things at the same time.  There may be some avenues, some paths, that seem to inherently contradict in philosophy (for example, insular vs open), and yet they are both fully accepted.  Fully apart of the belief system.

You can be a right-wing nutball.  Or a left-wing heart-on-your-sleeve sort of person.  It doesn’t matter.

You are still an orthodox Jew.

And then, then it goes even further.  It says, “If you believe in One G-d, if you have a few rules put in place… well, by gosh, welcome to the club!  Okay, no, not the Jewish club (trust us, it’s not for everyone).  But no worries, we’re talking about the G-dly club, the club of people who care about raising the world into a holy place and making it a dwelling place for the Ultimate Truth.”

All that to say that you don’t have to be a Jew to be a part of the Master Plan.  You don’t need to even believe in the same thing!  You can even have a belief system that is very much at odds with mine!

But we’re on the same page, you and me, because we have a few core things down.  And, honestly, if you ain’t no idol worshipper, then you’re pretty good in my book.

(Orthodox) Judaism is a pluralistic, liberal, open, embracing religion.  There are so many different ways of looking at the world that are embraced, that are true in the sense that they are avenues to connecting to the One above and below and everywhere all at once.

Believe in evolution?  Awesome, no worries.  Don’t believe in evolution?  Also good.

Are you a lady and also wear tefillin every day?  Rock on, rock star.

Do you hate everything I’m saying now and think I’m just being a ridiculously liberal fool? No worries, my brother (or sister).  I love you (well, I should) all the same.

And yet you and I, why does it seem we keep getting sucked into the small arguments?  The petty ones?  Why does it seem that so many arguments, from the web, to newspapers, to just life, center around this finger-pointing, this belief that there is only my belief and no others?

The funny thing is that no matter how liberal or conservative Jews are, it seems that many of us have given up on our pluralism. Every debate seems to center around a “you vs. me” dynamic.  A dynamic that there can only by one truth, and that anyone that deviates from that truth is a heretic.

Even if that is not said, it is what is implied, it is our language that expresses that.

I believe that this has come, not from Judaism, and certainly not from G-d, but from our “society”.  The secular society that is.  The world where we investigate and dissect and pick apart and cut out all the false truths and bring out what we believe is the Real Truth.  And then all the folks with their false theories are thrown to the side and laughed at.

“Hahahaha, there were once people that believed the world was flat!  Fools!”

Why else would debates around religion be so poisonous?  So full of that judgmental tone?

Because we, as a people, have approached it like a bunch of secular scientists, saying that the truth I have arrived at is more valid than your truth.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten how deep G-d is, how vast, how infinite.  It’s as if we forgot that we started off with twelve tribes, and that we’ve only broken apart more since then.  It’s as if we don’t realize how deep Truth can be, how infinite Infinity can really be.

Judaism is pluralistic.  But we aren’t.  We’ve chosen not to be.

So I say it’s time we all wore our hippie clothes, sat by a bonfire, took out some guitars and mandolins, and started strumming “Kumbaya”.  Because Judaism is, like, deep, man.  And our different truths shouldn’t divide us.  They should unite us.  Because the one thing we all have in common is that we are different.  And that G-d has chosen different avenues to tap into our hearts and minds.

And I know you may come and tap me on the virtual shoulder known as the comment section and say, “But, Elad, that’s like moral relativism, bro.  Judaism doesn’t believe in that either.  Stop singing and come back to earth.”

And I’ll simply say back, “Yes, yes, it’s true.  But, friend, we’ve gone too far the other way.  Even the most liberal of us are stuck in this mindset that everyone else has it wrong.  We need some Kumbaya to get us back to where we’re supposed to be.  We need more love.  We need more singing.”

So join me in the circle, friend.  And let’s sing.


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9 responses to “Judaism Is A Pluralistic Hippie. Even If We Don’t Realize It.”

  1. Yadidya Greenberg Avatar
    Yadidya Greenberg

    So true… I also feel that since Orthodox Jews tend to set the tone for the whole Jewish world we really need to embody this pluralisim all the more and once we do it will become stronger and more authentic in the other Jewish movements.

  2. daniel.saunders Avatar

    Agreed we need more love and tolerance and agreed that, in theory, Judaism tolerates a lot of internal doctrinal and halakhic differences. But it can’t be totally
    pluralistic because does have some red lines, partly in dogma (the Rambam’s
    thirteen principles of faith) and especially in halakha. To pick an extreme example, no mainstream Jewish group could say that Jews for Jesus have acceptable beliefs and practices, even if we acknowledge that halakhically most of them are Jewish because they have a Jewish mother.

    I’m also not at all convinced that intolerance has been imported from wider “secular society”. The incredibly bitter arguments between the early Hasidim and the Mitnaggdim were largely before Enlightenment secularism reached Eastern Europe. Likewise the arguments over the Rambam’s writings were long before the Enlightenment and secularization. There is a herd instinct in people, a drive
    to conformity, that doesn’t need to be ascribed to outside sources. I think a person has to be very comfortable and secure in what they believe to accept other people think differently and not feel threatened. This may be worse in a community that is constantly under attack, literally and ideologically, from external forces.

    But, as I said, I agree we need more love and tolerance – though I’m probably more of a belated Romantic than a hippie.

  3. Carly R Avatar
    Carly R

    Beautiful!
    !שבעים פנים לתורה

  4. MichelleK Avatar
    MichelleK

    This is SO great! I attended a pluralistic Jewish high school at the same time that I was becoming Orthodox, and I am so glad I did! It was difficult at times, with clashing views and never ending discussions, but through that experience I became open-minded and willing to listen to others. I was never “stagnant” in my Orthodoxy because people were constantly asking me questions, and I constantly had to search for some kind of answer. I really wouldn’t trade it for anything. Discussing Judaism with other Jews is so, so beneficial. Thanks for this!

  5. Yehoishophot Oliver Avatar
    Yehoishophot Oliver

    “All that to say that you don’t have to be a Jew to be a part of the Master Plan. You don’t need to even believe in the same thing! You can even have a belief system that is very much at odds with mine!”

    I’m really confused at how you could think this. I am interested to know which torah source you think supports this.
    1. Everyone is “part of G-d’s master plan”, regardless of their beliefs, because He created him or her. But this is not in any way an endorsement of that person’s beliefs or behaviors.
    2. Judaism is about the absolute truth of G-d and the revelation of His absolute Will in the world, the Torah. One who denies G-d, or even one who denies the Torah, is a heretic. Even if that person is not technically a heretic, because that term presupposes a certain amount of knowledge, that person certainly espouse s heresy, which means to say that their ideas about absolute truth are false, which means

  6. Milhouse Avatar
    Milhouse

    This is something of a straw man. There is probably no society that is so restrictive that there are no choices to be made within it. Certainly there’s no religion the size of Orthodox Judaism that can possibly try to prescribe everything in every adherent’s life. That is only possible, if at all, in small monastic orders. So the fact that the Torah, with all its many restrictions, still leaves lots of room for individuality shouldn’t be a surprise.

    As for the whole “you don’t have to be Jewish” thing, that’s also a straw man. It comes from confusing the Jewish nation with the Jewish religion. Judaism absolutely does require that every human being accept the Jewish religion. “Moshe Rabbenu commanded in G-d’s Name that we force everyone in the world to accept all the laws which which Noach was commanded, and whoever will not accept them shall be killed.” What’s more, they must accept that these laws are binding because G-d commanded them in the Torah. In other words, we expect that every person will accept our religion as true in every aspect. That the Torah is literally G-d’s word, and everything it says is therefore true. That’s no different in scope from what the Christians or Moslems expect everyone to accept.

    The difference is that when one accepts the truth of Christianity or Islam, that makes one a Christian or a Moslem. But accepting the truth of Judaism does not make one a Jew. It makes one an adherent and believer in the Jewish religion, but not a member of the Jewish nation. Nationality is not the same thing as religion. A person born in America can reject everything it stands for, he can join al Qaeda, he can burn the flag, and yet he remains a US citizen. Nothing can take that away from him so long as he doesn’t voluntarily renounce it. Meanwhile someone can be born a foot outside the US border, can believe passionately in America, can memorize the Declaration of Independence, the constitution, and all the writings of Patrick Henry, and yet so long as he has not been lawfully naturalized he remains an alien. Similarly, someone born a Jew can be an atheist, a Buddhist, or even a Catholic and a Cardinal, and he will still be a Jew; a bad Jew, an apostate to the religion, but still a citizen of the nation. And someone who was not born to a Jewish mother, but who believes every word of the written and oral Torah and all the rabbinic traditions, remains a gentile until and unless he is lawfully converted. We demand that everyone accept our religion; we do not demand that they join our nation. This is a demand that Christians and Moslems don’t make either, because they don’t even have the concept.

  7. […] On an individual level, calling ourselves orthodox only produces negative results.  It creates complacency.  Saying we are orthodox implies that we have reached our destination, that there is nowhere else to go.  It creates division: suddenly non-orthodox Jews are “outside”, they are no longer a part of our community.  They can even be seen as a danger.  Someone who has trouble, has doubts, with their beliefs, can be made to feel like a pariah simply because they have chosen to call themselves orthodox.  It causes confusion.  Someone who dresses like an orthodox Jew can be seen as closer to G-d than someone who is inspired by the ethics and morality of the Torah (In his book, “A Jewish Code of Ethics”, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin claims in the very first line: “This book has a simple thesis: G-d’s central demand of human beings is to act ethically), but who does not keep Shabbat or wear a kippah.  It destroys the beautiful, multiplicity of our tradition, in which multiple people can believe and act in different ways and all still be right. […]

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