A Few Thoughts on Jewishness (2)

Allow me to repeat what the Bu-Jews I know tell me (there are a startling number of them): “You cannot be a Buddhist.” Apparently, Buddhism is not a faith, but more like a non-faith. (Non-) Buddhists out there, please correct me if I’m wrong on this.

I think it is this “non-faith” factor that accounts for its compatibility with Jewishness in a way that, say, Christianity is incompatible. It’s one or the other.

The Tanakh is explicit about Jews messing with other religious ideas, most likely because Jews in those days were often messing with them. Otherwise the pronouncements against Ba’al and other minor deities lose their sense. Here’s a choice prohibition, (almost) randomly stumbled upon:

Leviticus 19.19 (קדשים): Do not turn to idols or make molten gods for yourself. I the Lord am your God.

Roger Kamenetz wrote a book called The Jew in the Lotus, about his experiences of cross-pollination. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for some time. Sooner or later I’ll get to it.

My point, if I have one, is that Jewishness is to some extent separable from Judaism. Of course, they are linked in inseparable ways, which it has been the job of modern secular Jewish culture to discover. How far can you stray before you’re no longer Jewish? Without a formal negation, an outright refusal, a trashing of Jewish identity in all its forms (and even then, there is good reason to believe one is still Jewish), it’s a tough call. And yet, we are the ever-dying people–presumably because so many of us get interested in extending our Jewishness to include forbidden territory.

The great debate is: who will win out in the end? The fact that the future of the Jews is seen as a competition between “traditionalist” and “humanistic” should tell us all something about the nature of the problem. If there is a problem. Once it was assumed that, to be Jewish, you needed to believe in the Jewish God. That is no longer the case. Even Jewish atheism is just another galaxy spinning around in the ever-widening universe of Jewishness.

You can be good without God.

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