Reflecting On Judaism img

I present my latest compilation of essays on various aspects of Judaism, aspects which interest me greatly. I hope that you, too, will find them of interest. Much that I write reflects the views of learned, orthodox Jews. What I think is original is the way I have presented these views, hopefully without distortion, which sometimes results in the questioning of conventional wisdom.

I confess that the reaction to the compilation has left me disappointed with our Religious Establishment. My essays are not an attempt to knock the Jewish religion; I love it too much for that. They are a serious effort to understand those aspects of our teachings and practises which can be, and often have been, subject to different interpretations. I have sent bound copies to many rabbis, some of whom are friends, some acquaintances. Two replied encouraging me to ‘keep up the good work’, one replied that I raised difficult questions, but only two were prepared to comment, favourably, on some of the issues I discuss. Most rabbis, however, did not want to express a view.

For a long time I could not understand why this should be. Rabbis are the people to whom we are advised to go to discuss and receive answers on such issues, but from recent reports in the press and elsewhere I believe that I now know one possible reason which explains their silence.

In his book ‘Judaism on trial’, Rabbi Dr. Nathan L. Cardozo describes how he was approached by some of his religious teachers, people whose knowledge of the Talmud and other classical works exceeded his own by far. He was surprised to hear from them that they had lost their faith and urged him to explain why he believed that Judaism was such a great religion. They would prefer to reject it but were unable to do so for, if they did their families and friends would ostracize them. They retain the outward appearance of rabbis only because of Peer Pressure. More recently I read in the press the results of an enquiry into the beliefs of clergy in the Anglican Church. It showed that one third did not believe in the Resurrection and two thirds did not believe in the Immaculate Conception.

People are people irrespective of their religion. It could be that many rabbis have questions and doubts similar to mine. In the current climate of orthodox fundamentalism on one hand and religious polarisation on the other, they choose not to express their doubts nor enter into a discussion about them outside their own immediate intimate circle. Again, fear of Peer Pressure inhibits them.

The reaction from laymen proved to be the opposite of that of the rabbis. I have received many messages of congratulations, numerous requests from persons unknown to me asking for a copy of the compilation. I have been invited to address small groups and many recipients use the compilation as a ‘coffee-table book’ to serve as a talking point when they receive visitors.

I wish to thank my friends Mark Kosky and Norman Oster for persuading me that these essays would be of interest to a wider circle and encouraging me to publish them. I also thank Dr. Bernard Fisher for kindly offering to proof-read them for me.

May 2005

E-mail:woolf@reflectingonjudaism.com