We are excited to begin our monthly study of The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews, this Shabbat at a lunch and learn following services. This week, we will be addressing the chapter “Citizenship” by Rabbi Jane Kanarek.
Rabbi Kanarek’s approach is to “isolate several discrete aspects of living in a democratic society…and the ways in which our Jewish texts encourage us to help create and participate in such a society” (p. 428). Her subtopics are chosen from the Bill of Rights: the democratic ideal, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, the press, and assembly, equal protection. Her goal is to demonstrate that while traditional Jewish sources from the Bible and rabbinic literature obviously don’t advocate for what we know as democracy, there are hints of the political principles we hold dear in our sacred texts.
This chapter is a great place to start a conversation about the relevance of ancient texts in contemporary times. One could argue that any attempt to read democratic ideals into the texts of a society that knew only of authoritarian rulers is futile. One could also say that the concept of hiyyuv, obligation, to a religious system is entirely contrary to principles of freedom. What, then, can traditional Judaism teach us at all about living in a world with a political system so foreign to what our ancestors understood?
We’ll discuss this big question, along with some of the particulars of the chapter, at lunch on Shabbat. For those who don’t yet have a copy of the book, you can find the chapter here: Citizenship Chapter. (You may want to print it so you don’t have to read it sideways.) Those who do have the book are encouraged to bring it to shul on Shabbat. We again thank Natalie Kotlyar for her generous gift of a volume for each HHJC member household in memory of her mother, Ida Kotlyar, and we anticipate that the books will arrive some time next week!
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise