All of Judaism

by Avi Kallenbach

I was asked recently in an interview if I was theoretically given a few million dollars to start a Jewish highschool what would I teach? This is (more or less) what I answered: “I doubt i’ll have enough time in the day to teach everything I want to teach, but I suppose it would be a full Jewish curriculum. Not full in the sense that many Yeshivot think that teaching a lot of Gemara is a full Jewish education, and not in the sense that some Modern Orthodox institutions think that teaching the philosophy of the Rambam is a full Jewish education. No, I would teach everything, Tanach, Talmud, the Rationalist philosophies of the Middle Ages like those espoused by the Rambam, and the more mystical philosophies of Kabbalah and Chassidut, I would teach the modern Jewish thinkers like Heschel, Jacobs, and Soloveitchik. I would teach Jewish law, ethics, thought, and philosophy from all corners of the Jewish world from all ages in Jewish history. From the most skeptical rationalists to the most far-out mystics. I would teach all of it.”

This all reminds me of a great quote that I saw in the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv in the name of one of the Chassidishe Rebbes (i don’t remember the source) it said “Can you really call him God if there is but one way to serve him?”

I was not privileged enough to be taught the full gamut of Jewish ideas during my high school education and was taught one philosophy which was labeled “Judaism”. Given the opportunity I would allow people to learn all of it, all of “Judaism” that is, in all its diversity and with all of its differences. There isn’t one ‘mesorah’ but many and people should be exposed to all sorts of different ideas, and not taught the one ‘Judaism’ that their particular institution has chosen”

Unfortunately I don’t have a million dollars to start my dream institution and as far as I know neither do my fellow writers, however we are privileged to live in an age where ideas can be distributed freely. Let’s think about Judaism as “diversely” as possible with our different opinions and different views. I hope that in some way this blog with its many writers will be able to present a diverse picture of Judaism that goes beyond one definition or one “mesorah”.



Filed under Kabbalah and Chassidus, Miscellaneous, Rationalism

5 responses to “All of Judaism

  1. Kovi

    Could not agree more. Note – this does not mean I draw a moral equivalence between all forms of judiasm, but rather that one cannot exclude any of them from the dialogue of what it is to define Judaism. For example, I would call a chareidi who claims Judaism is about locking women in the house and fighting all other forms of judaism tooth and nail – or a reform rabbi who preaches to his congregation denial of the existence of God – corrupters of Judaism in that they attempt to change the very mahut and central principles of judaism until it is unrecognizable from its origins. However, I do believe to exclude either of those opinions from such a curriculum would simply leave you with an incomplete Jewish education.

  2. yitzy

    kovi, if i may say so, that is bull shit. In no way does reform ‘judaism’ have any connection to judaism bar the fact that possibly most of the members are halachically jewish. If you define them as jewish you may as well define christianity as jewish as it too was started by jews who decided to modernise/get rid of the oral law, the written law, jewish philosophy…

    Whatever the faults of charedim, chassidut, modern othodox, mizrachi etc… they will all accept the basis of the oral law as well as the written one. Hell, even the karites still accept the written law. The reform accept nothing.

    Learning about reform ‘judaism’ has no place in avi’s school unless it is categorized under ‘learning about other religion like scientology, christianity, islam, reform…’.

  3. Kovi

    it does have a place, because, as you said, most of them are Halachic Jews and not only that, they comprise a very large minority? or id say majority even – of world Jewry and as such cannot be dismissed. Whether or not you legitimize their corruption of the religion – which I have made quite clear I don’t – you cannot deny the movement as part of the spectrum of national Judaism and as such it must be addressed in any serious attempt to educate about global Judaism.

    This is very relevant now because although reform is a small minority in Israel, it is the majority abroad and there is currently a huge debate in that the reform abroad are demanding the Jewish state acknowledge reform conversions and grant citizenship to those proselytes courted through their system, which the state will not do because they are Halachicly not jewish. The entire debate focuses around where the boundaries exist between Judaism as a religion and Judaism as a nationality, and the paradox that while one need not practice religion to be considered Jewish from birth, one DOES need to practice it in order to BECOME jewish from the outside.

    Would avi’s offered all-encompassing jewish education be relevant if it ignored this most basic and fundamental debate?

    • yitzy

      Judaism is a religion and and nationality. As Rav Kook would say ‘asher bachar banu micol ha’amim ve’notan lanu et toroto’. We were chosen as a people and given the torah.
      Reform judaism is a new religion that people of the jewish nationality are part of and even created. Exactly like christianity.

      The debate is only within the reform world. The orthodox world doesn’t even consider them. All they are doing is redefining the word ‘judaism’; the result of which will make life for orthodox jews slightly more confusing but won’t change anything. They can call themselves rabbis, priests or hippos, they can make aliyah, yerida or go and live on the moon, they can get money from the israeli state or print forged banknotes. Their new meaning of the word ‘jewish’ will not be accepted by those who have had the monopoly on its use for thousands of years.

      I wish someone would sue them for stealing the word ‘judaism’ and putting it in the name of their new religion.

      I could be wrong, but i assumed that when avi was using the word ‘jewish’ he was referring to the original definition.

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