"Whoever puts on a tallis..."
Ghost in the Machine?

A review worth reading

The Sept/Oct 2006 issue of Tikkun contains some terrific material, including a review of Reb Zalman's Jewish With Feeling, written by Rabbi Rami Shapiro.

The part that really got me was this:

I am obsessed with God and dabble in mitzvot when it suits me. And therein lies the danger of post-tribal Judaism. It can become a religion of dabblers.

This is where the Copernican revolution of Reb Zalman's theology is most clear. Just as Copernicus proved that the Earth circles the sun rather than the sun circling the earth, Reb Zalman's theology has Judaism circling God rather than God circling Judaism; instead of neo-tribalism or academic theology, he offers a heartfelt and heart-opening theology rooted in his personal encounters with God...

Because God is a verb, Reb Zalman's God isn't Jewish. She may put on tefillin, but then goes on to say Her rosary, spin Her prayer wheel, repeat Her mantrum, and recite Her ninety-nine names. And, if we are to play this out fully, may well spend a bit of eternity doubting Her own existence...

His point about the "danger" of post-tribal Judaism is somewhat more nuanced, read in context. (It follows some really interesting stuff about uniquely American Judaisms, a digression which includes the fabulous line "If Judaism were really about what Jews do, our dietary laws would revolve more around Chinese food than kashrut." Hee!) I think it's intriguing, anyway, and worth paying attention to on a lot of levels. If he's right that post-tribal Judaism runs the risk of opening the door to a kind of deep ecumenism that no longer places a premium on Jewish experience of God, what does that mean for us? How do, or should, we navigate that shift in a way that's at once true to our post-tribal values and true to our understanding of covenant?

And I think he's right that putting God at the center of our Judaism (rather than putting Torah or mitzvot -- the traditional paths to God -- at the center) can be a radical move. This is excellent stuff, so check the review out in the current issue of the magazine. (For the sake of comparison, my review of the book is here.)

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