Saturday, 7 November 2009

New Jews

The recent article on the "New Jews"
ostensibly praised this variety of new innovations that individuals have undertaken to express their "faith and ethnicity", i.e. their Jewishness.I'm just wondering: what does that mean?

Let's first deal with the issue of faith. If one has new ways to express a faith, one has to question
whether they are actually new ways to express the faith or changes in the faith. CNN seems to imply that all these changes fall into the former category. It can easily be argued that this is not so -- these new expressions reflect a change; the question is how far a change and whether these changes actually reflect the creation of a new religion. Maybe this is really what CNN is trying to say: Jews are changing Judaism. But then understand what you are doing and why there may be opposition to what you are doing. People may also wonder: why do you still insist on describing this new religion as Jewish? Its the same question with Jews for Jesus. You want to follow this faith, that's between you and God. But call it as it is -- its Christianity. But why is it so important for these people to see themselves as Jews and their faith something Jewish?

Similar questions to some extent can be asked about ethnicity. Are there borders on ethnicity? What does it mean to express your ethnicity? If an Italian said he/she was now going to express his Italian ethnicity by eating sushi, what would you say? What if he/she said this was done by colouring the rice in the sushi in the colours of the Italian flag? The further question is: what is the motivation to do this? A punk rocker who breaks a beer bottle over his head is so proud of the Jewishness within his act for he quotes Torah in it -- but is that not like toivel v'sheretz b'yado? Can quoting Torah make an act that may be inherently contrary to Torah values become Jewish because of these quotes? If a person wants to be a punk rocker, that's the person's business -- by why is it so necessary for this person to be a Jewish punk rocker when Jewishness challenges this whole expression? Maybe its about wanting to change the definition of Jewishness? But then say that. But then what makes the new expression Jewish? What is this Jewishness? And if you are trying to change it, why bother -- just go do it not as a Jew?

Its not that the boys in the picture have tattoos all over their bodies that specifically bothered me about the premise of this article. I mean, I don't know why people get tattoos but, on the personal level, that's their business. But why tattoos of a magen dovid? Because they want to express their Jewishness? But isn't a tattoo itself a challenge to Jewishness itself? I'm not even referring to Halacha. Doesn't a negative feeling to a tattoo permeate the Jewish world? So things are changing, you might say. So why keep Jewishness anyways?

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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