What Jews Believe

(A Torah scroll laid out for repair by a sofer, a Hebrew scribe)

One of the things that bothers me a great deal is the believe by many (Jews and non-Jews) that there is a single true Jewish belief on everything from God to food. You can image how happy I was to see this class that Rabbi Larry Milder is offering.

Let me share a story that addresses this. I attended a lecture on Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) given by a local Orthodox rabbi. A woman in the audience asked a question that related to her own dishes. The rabbi replied by sharing his own view and the view of his colleague in the next town. “So,” he said, “take your dishes to the rabbi that fits you.”  What did we learn?
1. Orthodox rabbis do not agree – even on the seemingly small stuff.
2. They are just fine with having differing views! They just want it to work for the Jews.
3. As the same rabbi said, the overriding goal of Torah interpretation is to be liberal to humans.
Conclusion: Always assume the best.

Rabbi Milder’s email about his class:

What Jews Believe About…
Here’s the slippery slope:

When you hear someone say (or write): “Judaism teaches that…”, your antennae should go up.
It may be correct to say that Judaism teaches X. However, it may also teach Y.
The question you should ask is: Says who?
Is the teaching from a particular time period? Did our beliefs and values change over time?
Does the teaching reflect a particular point of view, and are there alternative teachings from other perspectives?

These are meta-questions. It’s not that Judaism doesn’t have beliefs, or values, or stand for something. Rather, we should recognize the multiple voices that inform our tradition.

This is a strength of Judaism. A fundamentalist tradition that cannot change, that cannot consider alternative perspectives, is prone to collapsing like a Jenga puzzle when one of its foundations is pulled out.

The Talmud, itself, is notable for its inclusion of majority and minority opinions. The majority counts; it stands for the consensus point of view. But the minority perspective gets to be heard.

It is with this in mind that I will be presenting this fall’s adult education class, titled not “What Judaism Teaches About…”, but rather, “What Jews Believe About…” Sometimes, we don’t all believe the same thing.

I will address topics that challenge us, precisely because they cut to core beliefs. Some of the topics we will consider include:

Who Is a Jew?
The Difference Between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism
The “Chosen People”
Life After Death

In addition to presenting alternative perspectives, and where I land on each of these topics, I know that they will prompt engaging discussion.

Class will meet for 8 sessions on Thursdays from 7:30 – 9:00 pm, in person and online, beginning October 20.
Register here.
This class is offered by Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Ct, Pleasanton. Proudly co-sponsored by Building Jewish Bridges.