The Future of Judaism

Thank you for joining us for another morning of spiritual prayer. It is so great to see multiple generations of families together, both new members and those who have been here for decades, joining together as a spiritual community. I want to be sure that everyone knows that you always have a place here at the Jericho Jewish Center. Please be frequent visitors and please give me your input as to what you’d like to see at your Jericho Jewish Center.

For those not here yesterday, I want to briefly mention the excitement of the creation and dedication of our new Torah. During the 2018-19 synagogue year, each of us will have the opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah, of taking part in the creation of a new Torah, thanks to the generosity of Neil and Sherry Cohen. Neil’s parents, Norman and Harriet z”l were members of the Jericho Jewish Center for almost 60 years. When Norman z”l passed away last year, Neil and Sherry sought to honor him through a gift to his spiritual home, the Jericho Jewish Center. Their generosity enables us to acquire a new Torah at JJC, a welcome addition, as the vast majority of our Torot are very heavy and four of them are pasul (unfit for ritual use).

My goal is for this to be a FUN-Raiser in addition to a Fundraiser and to have 100% participation from the Jericho Jewish Center. Please see the sheets on printed resume paper in the Cocktail Lounge about the writing of the Torah as well as available donation opportunities. All donors will receive a certificate of appreciation and a special kippah in honor of this occasion. Donors will also get to write a letter in the Torah with the Sofer and will have a photo taken with him as this is done. Please also join us on Sunday October 21 from 1-3 pm for our Torah Kickoff. Lastly, please bring in your pennies, as the Religious School is trying to collect 304,805 pennies-corresponding to the number of letters in the Torah. Check out the “Torah thermometer” downstairs to see how far they’ve gotten.


What is the future of Judaism? If you were to ask Pulitzer-Prize winning author Michael Chabon, whose book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my all-time favorites, it’s not too rosy. This past May, Chabon gave the commencement address at Hebrew Union College, where he was honored with an honorary doctorate.[1]

In his HUC speech, Chabon said, “An endogamous marriage is a ghetto of two; as the traditional Jewish wedding ritual makes explicit, it draws a circle around the married couple, inscribes them—and any eventual children who come along—within a figurative wall of tradition, custom, shared history, and a common inheritance of chromosomes and culture.” Regardless of how people feel about interfaith marriage, and I am on the liberal end of our movement in this regard, to refer to an in-marriage as a “ghetto of two” is repulsive and offensive. Claiming that a shared history and tradition are bad things in and of themselves, instead of  commonalities that can give a marriage a shared language is completely off-base. I’m not claiming that people cannot find commonalities with those who practice different religions-I certainly have. However, to view an inmarriage as a prison with a figurative wall of separation is abhorrent- a  תועבה in its truest sense.

Chabon continued on this theme with his statement, “We tend to draw a distinction between walls that protect and walls that imprison, but that is only the same dark logic again, justifying itself, as always, in the name of security. Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers. Anywhere you look it is—and has always been—the hand of power drawing the boundaries, putting up separation barriers and propagandizing hatred and fear of the people on the other side.” To claim that boundaries in and of themselves are a form of imprisonment and that they lead to hating those who are outside the boundaries is myopic. There are ways to put up boundaries, to stand for something, while concurrently being accepting and embracing of those who are different or who see things differently. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Is Chabon’s Judaism the future? I certainly hope not. In jumping to his conclusion, we see that his charge to the Reform Rabbis class of 2018 is as follows as to how they should showcase their Judaism: “Knock down the walls. Abolish the checkpoints. Find room in the Jewish community for all those who want to share in our traditions. Inscribe the protective circle of your teachings around all those people whose very otherness demands that we honor our avowed commitments to peace and justice and lovingkindness. Seize every opportunity to strengthen and enrich our cultural genome by embracing the inevitable variation and change that result from increased diversity. And if—no, let’s say when—the Jews of the future find that, under your leadership, they can no longer tolerate the occupation being undertaken in their name, when they have repudiated the purity tests and the separation barriers and all the rhetoric and instrumentalities of dehumanization, let it be because you have taught them to throw open the sanctuary gates of their own best idea of themselves, and to make room at their tables, and in their families, and in their lands, for all who are truly hungry—like the book says—to come and partake.”

He certainly said a mouthful. A couple of the statements, like “find room in the Jewish community for those who want to share in our traditions” I can even stand behind. However, when combined with caricature and incendiary language, comparing the Jewish leadership to “occupiers” who engage in “purity tests,” we reach ground which is offensive and untrue. I imagine that his argument to intermarry in order to “enrich our cultural genome by embracing the inevitable variation and change that result from increased diversity” is offensive to everyone, whether one has inmarried, intermarried or converted to Judaism. I don’t know too many people looking for a mate who say ‘let me find someone completely different racially or ethnically from me so as to improve the human genome.’

          Why bring up Chabon on Rosh Hashanah? My purpose is not to refute his arguments per se or to denigrate him but rather to ask what do we do with this challenge? One approach was taken by three Conservative sociologists who wrote a piece entitled “Michael Chabon’s views on intermarriage are increasingly mainstream. They are also morally abhorrent.”[2] These scholars claim that “Promoting intermarriage was the opening shot in a drive to dismantle Judaism and put an end to the ostensibly inherent and inevitable injustices he insists religion perpetuates.” They offer inaccuracies in his argumentation from a sociological perspective. What is the most telling for me, however, is how they end the article, which I’d like us to explore: “We urge the proponents of welcoming and inclusion – many of whom we count as dear friends and colleagues — to think anew about where they stand in regard to Chabon’s challenge. Where would you draw boundaries? Where do you stand on maintaining some distinctions between Jews and others? Is Jewish group survival a force for good or for ill, not only for individual Jews but for humanity? Should we teach the next generation that all Jews —both those born Jewish and converts — are in a kinship relationship with one another as heirs of a unique, rich and valuable cultural heritage?

          Where do we draw the line? I’ve often been critiqued for wanting to be welcoming and inclusive at the expense of having standards. Which standards do I think serve a purpose? Here are three standards that we should strive towards in the 21st century. My first standard is for us to continue to learn about Judaism, especially the Hebrew language. Without Hebrew, one cannot fully immerse in the wisdom and power of our tradition. Even the most faithful and thoughtful of translations will not do justice to the core texts of our people. Hebrew language is essential-and it is never too late to learn. I am now working with my fifth conversion student on Hebrew, and I started with each one from the Alef-Bet. It’s amazing what adults can pick up through diligent study. Rena Klein and Hanit Gluck teach Hebrew at our synagogue on Tuesday evenings and are always looking for new students, and I welcome the opportunity to teach anyone Hebrew: one-on-one or in small groups.

       My next standard is a commitment to Jewish ritual and traditions, growing in one’s observance step-by-step. Don’t get me wrong-I would love if everyone kept all 613 commandments-or at least those applicable for us to keep outside of Israel and at a time without a centralized Temple in Jerusalem J. What is clear to me, however, is that while Jewish pride and identity are important, they are insufficient. To be a “cultural Jew,” a “member of the tribe,” eating latkes on Hanukkah and matzah on Passover, misses the richness of our tradition in all its beauty and all its complexity. One can of course do this through a process of evolution, the paradigm of the Conservative Movement. Start slowly, coming to our Sukkot Service and Dinner on Sunday September 23rd beginning at 6:00 pm, our Simhat Torah Extravaganza on Monday October 1st at 6:15 pm, dancing with the Torah, and perhaps coming back on Tuesday October 2nd at 9:00-or at the latest-10:00 am to receive an Aliyah (be called up) to the Torah. Come on Purim to hear the Megillah and dress in costume. Take Shabbat, one day a week where you turn off your phone and focus on family and friends. What’s important is not which step one takes first but that a step be taken. In every other aspect of life we grow and evolve, so why should our Judaism remain at the place it was when we were a kid?

My last standard, but certainly not least, is to be part of the Jewish community, seeking something greater than just oneself. Rabbi Dr. Danny Gordis has bemoaned that in the modern world we have shifted our Judaism from centering on communal events to focusing on life-cycle events, involving ‘me, myself and I.’ He wrote: “Jewish tradition has long understood that for Judaism to play the significant, emotional role in our lives that many Jews want it to, Jewish life cannot be relegated to a few important days a year or major life-cycle events.”[3] Living, organic Judaism requires being part of a community, coming to daily minyan to join those mourning who are saying Kaddish, trying to seek out G-d (or if you don’t believing in G-d, appreciating something greater than oneself), showing gratitude through reciting 100 blessings per day. Most people I encounter, whatever their religious background or faith, have told me that in life they aspire to something greater than just themselves. Judaism offers that, as it is meant to be lived not monastically or ascetically but rather communally. Judaism is NOT primarily a set of dogmas, or beliefs, but rather a this-worldly religion focused on connecting with those around you. The reason most synagogues here are called ‘centers’ is because they were designed to be community centers-places for Jews to congregate together. This does not mean being in the shtetl, or ghetto as Chabon says, but rather positive, meaningful interactions with G-d and with one’s fellow human beings. If you do not feel this connection with your neighbor, that s/he is someone to learn from and grow with, then there is the danger of being stuck in a ghetto.

Please turn to your neighbor today ‘in the pews’ and introduce yourself to him/her. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”


          Today is the 17th anniversary of the atrocity known as September 11th when two airplanes with terrorist hijackers crashed into the World Trade Center (just over 31 miles away), a third crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth, set to hit the US Capitol, had patriots who revolted against the hijackers, leading to the plane crashing in Pennsylvania. We don’t do enough to commemorate this day-one in which Glenn Jonathan Winuk, the son of a congregant, was murdered as he worked in the World Trade Center. Some rabbis will choose to connect 9/11 with the Akedah; only instead of a near aversion of human sacrifice, there were 2,996 people murdered on 9/11. I have chosen instead to focus on how 9/11 unified the American spirit, making so many of us show our pride as Americans and our love for our country. Even now, when we appear to be more divided than ever, it is beautiful to see the spirit, determination, and excitement that people exude in striving to make a difference. We see the record number 309 women running for Congress, the Parkland High School students (and others) fighting for increased gun control and the 18-year low of 3.8% unemployment (as well as record highs in the stock market). For Israel we have seen the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognition of that Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as well as the cutting off of aid to Israel’s neighbors who support terrorism. We have much to be proud of in showcasing the United States’ democracy and in fighting the terrorist regimes who seek to undermine it.

          The way to respond to Chabon and those like him is not merely by criticizing, ignoring or dismissing them but rather by becoming more committed Jewishly as well as to Israel. If we truly believe that endogamy is of value and that Israel is central to our lives, we need to show it not merely by paying “lip service” or making strong statements but rather through our actions. Every fiber of our being needs to stand for Jewish pride: to learning more about our traditions and customs, coming to synagogue more, exploring keeping Kashrut and Shabbat. Playing off a prayer we said this morning: כל עצמותנו לגאות יהודית: every fiber of our being to be used for Jewish pride. Too often we know people who follow the self-defeating pedagogy of “Do as I say-not as I do.” If the future of Judaism is exclusively pediatric, sending the kids and grandkids to Religious School but keeping ourselves on the level of a 7th grade education, then we will fail. Actions speak louder than words and if we feel a certain way strongly or believe that something is of crucial importance, we need to show it through every fiber of our being. Integrity means תכו כברו, that our inside is exactly the same as our outside. If we don’t demonstrate this, speaking but not acting, saying “what a shonda” but not vigilantly standing up for what we believe in, than Chabon and those who think like him will win. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy like 9/11 to make us recognize that our values are in danger, rather than mindfully and proactively living each day to the fullest as proud Americans and proud Jews.

          With this in mind, I will read aloud the poem “One” by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins and ask that you turn with me to Page 115 as we will read together aloud the Prayer for Our Country.


[1] Michael Chabon attacks Jewish inmarriage and Israel’s occupation in speech to rabbinical students By Ben Sales JTA May 25, 2018


[2] Sylvia Barack FishmanSteven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer, JTA, June 8, 2018.

[3] Rabbi Daniel Gordis, God was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 110.

One thought on “The Future of Judaism

  1. Dear Rabbi,

    I truly love reading as well as listening to your beautiful sermons.

    I would greatly appreciate that wherever you will end up serving, please keep me on your mailing list for all the future sermons that you will write and deliver.

    Sincerely, Robert Hordos


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s