Recently, a local colleague of mine published an article in a national newspaper in which he called for "Judaism to be relevant." When I met him in a semi-public setting, I asked him what he meant by that. He said: "we have to meet people where they are."
I pressed him for his own osition on Judaism and he said:
"we can't be all things to people."
We subsequently had lunch and I discovered that, despite the above, he is a thoughtful, learned rabbi.
Why does an intelligent Rabbi need to speak in cliches in public and how can such a public stance ever be relevant.
But I think my colleague is on to something: take the organized Jewish community's response this week to the shameful Israeli parliament law criminalizing of free speech on West Bank settlements (anti-boycott law). For over a year, as the Knesset bill wound its way through committee and preliminary votes, the progressive Israel/Palestine blogosphere has warned of this impending train wreck. In my own clergy world I tried repeatedly to have a statement issued warning against this law. Nobody was willing to be the first to condemn Israel. This week, the passing of the anti-boycott law, did the trick and produced a sudden torrent of high-minded resolutions. Following on the heels of the U.S. State Department, the ADL (!), and a range of Israeli organizations, American Jewish religious organizations have suddenly discovered their voice. Handel in Judas Maccabeus might have called this outpouring of righteous condemnation: "pious orgies".
How relevant can Judaism be when it only comments on the past?
Oh, and had the issue not been about muzzling human rights activists and criminalizing free speech but something really important, say, making sure that Reform Jews get the same discriminatory privileges as Orthodox Jews, you can bet that the organized Jewish community in the U.S. would have been fully engaged in blocking that law.