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A new Jewish household comes into being, from the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-06). Public Domain.

I once knew a lovely Jewish couple who loved one another dearly. They were both funny, intelligent people. He had grown up in an Orthodox household in Brooklyn. She grew up in New York, too, but her family was proudly secular. I don’t know the story of how they met and fell in love, but I bet that first year together was interesting. Until they died, they were pillars of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ and their Jewish heritage was important to them, even if they expressed it very differently.

I know another couple. Again, they love one another dearly and have been married for many years. He’s a Reform rabbi and would go hungry before he ate pork or shellfish. She taught in the public schools for years and is more concerned with social justice than with kashrut. When they eat out, she orders shellfish and he does not bat an eye. Their grandchildren are growing up as Jews, and every household in the extended family is a little bit different.

A third couple: a Reform rabbi and a secular Israeli. The rabbi grew up Conservative, but when he was moved to go to rabbinical school, the Conservative movement wasn’t yet ordaining gay men, so he attended the Reform rabbinical school. He was my kashrut teacher. His beloved grew up as a secular, Mizrahi Israeli, who served his time in the IDF and who absolutely loves many forms of traife (non-kosher food.) Again, two Jews who express their Jewish identities in very different ways.

Opposites attract: it’s a principle that seems to apply to religious practice as much as it does to other things. The three couples I mention above are or were happily married. (The first couple are now deceased.) Their Jewish observance is different, but that difference has been bridged with love and respect.

When I look at the Jewish people at large, I see a great deal of fighting and scornful disdain. Whether it is the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel refusing to allow Reform and Conservative Jews to use public mikvaot (ritual baths) or liberal Jews speaking disparagingly of “the Orthodox,” (see examples in every comment section in The Forward) it breaks my heart.

We are all Jews. We do Jewish differently. Our era is not unlike that of the first century of the common era, when Judaism was highly diverse and it was not at all clear which of its factions would survive. I doubt anyone would have bet on the rabbis, who were a bunch of wild innovators who both revered and tinkered liberally with tradition. (They replaced the Temple sacrifices with the more portable prayers of the Amidah. That’s radical.)

I don’t know what Judaism will look like in 500 years. I believe that those Jews will look back on the present time with both wonder and sadness. I wish we could all get along.

 

 

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