Earlier this week, a friend and I were talking about the different ways Judaism can be viewed—is it a religion, or a culture? Are the Jewish people an ethnicity? etc. As with any group of people, there are certainly unique and shared cultural elements present in Jewish communities—which shift according to differences in time and space. But I see the cultural expressions of Jews as distinct from Judaism itself.
At this moment, I view Judaism as a path one chooses to take. For me, Judaism is a spiritual path guided by teachings of Torah and sacred acts of Mitzvot, in the context of a covenantal relationship with God. This is a very broad definition, giving latitude for various interpretations, while still defining some basic operating assumptions. I do think Torah and mitzvot must be part of the conversation in order to have a meaningful expression of Judaism. At the same time, one must not lose sight of their function as part of the great spiritual path, which ultimately brings someone to a place of greater clarity, compassion and understanding. Which is to say, “becoming more religious” must ultimately lead one to become an overall better person as well. If that's not happening, something is wrong. While it is possible to keep Kosher and still be a jerk—that’s not Judaism.
This is where the study of ethics comes in. For Judaism to truly be a compelling spiritual path, the whole system must be built upon a solid ethical foundation. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has edited a fantastic multi-volume work on the topic of Jewish ethics. Rabbi Telushkin has compiled sources from all eras of Jewish thought that demonstrate Judaism’s great concern for living an ethical life. Most importantly, he provides specific examples on how one does so in the very real situations of life—following the Jewish principle that our values must be lived out in concrete action. It is a fantastic effort, and we have the great opportunity to meet and learn directly from its author, who will be speaking here at UF next week.
We at UF Hillel are very privileged to be welcoming Rabbi Telushkin to campus this Wednesday 3/30. Look out for more information through our weekly emails and Facebook page.
This post was written by our Jewish Learning Intern Andrew Shaw.