Habonim Dror North America

Judaism: What Happened To The Cultural?

In Habonim Dror North America Today on March 8, 2010 at 11:36 pm

By: Itamar Landau

At this past Veida the movement made a decision that will impact the chinuch that goes on at every Machaneh this summer and into the future. After long and thoughtful discussion, the Veida voted overwhelmingly to change the name of the pillar back from Cultural Judaism to Judaism. So what’s the deal?

Some of you may not remember this but the pillar had been called Judaism until Veida XIV in 2005 when it was changed to Cultural Judaism. So does this year’s Veida decision mean that the previous one was a mistake? That we’ve wandered in error for the last four years?

I don’t think so. As I see it, both Veida resolutions are part of an ongoing push by movement members to educate more seriously about Judaism. For a long time Judaism was the forgotten pillar (just ask Sacha Baron-Cohen). Our education about Judaism only went so far as to say, “There are lots of different ways to be Jewish, and that’s great.” The standard peula at machaneh would ask chanichim what it means for them to be Jewish, maybe ask them what they do at home for Shabbat, and possibly introduce some information about the different denominations. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself. It’s important to see and respect different approaches to Judaism, but what about our approach? Where and how do we find meaning in Judaism?

And out of these questions came Cultural Judaism as a pillar. We as a movement decided that while we value that there is difference within Judaism, we are not a pluralist movement. Rather we are a movement that understands Judaism in a specific way. We don’t believe the texts came from the mouth of God and we don’t believe that they have authority over our lives. Rather, we believe Judaism is the culture of the Jewish people and that we have the authority to shape and change Judaism and apply it to our current situation as a people.

So why did we get rid of the “Cultural”? Does this mean we’re going back to a vision of Judaism where everyone just does as they please? No, not at all. Instead, movement members felt that the term Cultural Judaism limited our feelings of ownership over Jewish life and limited our claim to take responsibility for shaping its future. It also gave us a simple cop-out to not engage with a lot of the content of our heritage. Now, there were plenty of people who thought that Cultural Judaism has been a very useful term in clarifying our particular approach and in fact this Veida resolution says specifically that the term should continue to be part of our lexicon. But at the end of the day, we seek to understand and create Judaism, not just as the Judaism that we happen to be comfortable with, but as the Judaism that we believe is right and true and good.

And in that spirit this year’s Veida resolution went beyond changing the name of the pillar, it also took a stab at clarifying how we as a movement understand Judaism:

Judaism is the entirety of the culture of the Jewish people. It includes traditions, rituals, history, food, values, spirituality, religion, etc. We believe that an evolving Judaism, rooted in shivyon erech ha’adam (the equality of human value), can and should be an inspiring and empowering force in our chaverim’s lives, our communities, and in Israel.

Habonim Dror’s understanding of Judaism includes all of the following:

· Claiming the Jewish historical heritage as our own, and aligning our future with the future of the Jewish people

· Striving to be a light unto the nations, based on the vision of social justice and human equality that comes to us from the Prophets and from the Chalutzim

· A commitment to the Hebrew language as a tie to our heritage and to Jews throughout the world

· A connection to the Jewish homeland, characterized by activism, cultural and political knowledge, and a feeling of ownership and responsibility over Israeli society and Zionism as a whole

· The creation and the practice of certain Jewish rituals and traditions that build community and strengthen values using food, song, dance, prayer, meditation, the observance of Shabbat, Chagim, etc.

· A commitment to the Jewish people worldwide

· An active engagement with the critical issues of our Jewish life today, including Israel, kashrut, how our communities are structured, etc.

· The knowledge and exploration of Jewish texts and stories, including the Tanakh, the Talmud, Jewish thought, Zionist texts, folktales, etc.

· A holistic way of life that guides us personally and collectively, and also evolves intentionally to both reflect and shape our values

Hopefully this definition will be a useful tool for us all personally and as educators. But this year’s Veida resolution was by no means the end of the process; it was only one more step. A step that should put out a challenge for every movement member to engage with Judaism, struggle with its traditions, pour over its texts, experience its rituals, contemplate its values, and on and on as you find what is right and true and good within it.

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