Yes, there is True Judaism and there is Pagan Judaism. And Pagan Judaism may exist in any of the current denominations of Judaism – orthodox, conservative, reform, or humanistic.
How could it be if all Jews either believe in One God or are skeptical about the existence of God of any kind? The answer to this question could be found in Jewish history.
- The Jewish people left the ancient Egypt about 3300 years ago to escape the slavery and to begin the new life in the freedom. The definition of the freedom was defined as the life under a set of moral rules from a Supreme Power above us called One God – the same God for everybody, instead of the life under a set of rules imposed on them by a human god called Pharaoh.
- In Egypt, the Jewish people were still pagan in spite of the fact they were members of the Abraham’s tribe – the prophet Abraham who found One God and promised worshiping Him. However worshiping one god doesn’t mean the end of paganism. If somebody select one god of many available for worshiping – because this god is promising a better “deal” (better “goodies” for less sacrifices) – that doesn’t end the pagan life. The end of the pagan life requires the change of the life’s moral principles – a painful transition from the pagan moral rules to the completely different moral rules of One God.
- The set of new moral rules from One God was received at Mount Sinai through Moses, and this set was called the Torah. Those moral rules were indeed different.
- The old pagan moral rules were simple: you have to bribe your god by various “sacrifices” and your god will deliver the “goodies” to you by securing your military victories over your enemies: in the pagan world, there was only one way to secure all material means for survival and this way was to kill your neighbor-enemy and take all his material possessions for yourself. In contemporary terminology it is called the redistribution of wealth. The pagan moral rules assumed no personal responsibility – you bribe god and god delivers.
- The new moral rules of the Torah were completely different. The Torah’s moral rules compel you to continue the God’s creative work in our world aimed at increasing the amount of all material “goodies” in the world for the benefit of all people – not just for the benefit of military conquerors. The goal of traditional sacrifices was changed – now a sacrifice is not a bribe but rather an enhancement for better understanding of the God’s rules. The goal of human life was changed – not just to survive but to create, to continue the creative work of One God which was began by Six Days of Creation. The human creative work has to be conducted in all spheres of human life and activities and everybody have to have equal opportunities to realize their creative potentials and to benefit – spiritually and materially – from own creative work. If you capable to work you should benefit from your own work and not from expropriating the material wealth produced by other human creators. You have to become personally responsible for your own life, and the life of your family, community and people. The handicapped and elderly have to be helped but through individual charity/mitzvoth – not through government redistribution of wealth.
- Not everybody was able to make a transition from the pagan rules of bribing a god and personal irresponsibility to the Torah’s rules of serving God and personal responsibility. Those people who are not making the transition are spiritual slaves – they are still in the slavery of the proverbial Egypt – not in physical but in spiritual slavery. They are not participating in the God’s creative work and therefore they are not serving the One God the Creator. They are performing rituals in their homes and synagogues and therefore are pagans and spiritual slaves. And you may find such pagan worshipers in all denominations of Judaism.
In order to find out what kind of Judaism a synagogue practices a few simple questions should be asked:
- What is your definition of the mission of Jewish people as the Chosen one?
- What are you trying to define in the course of your Torah studies?
- How you’re defining the separation of the Church and the State?
- Do you believe in the existence of Judeo-Christian spirituality as the moral foundation of our country, the USA?
A synagogue is practicing the True Judaism if the answers to the questions above are:
1) The mission of the Jewish people as the Chosen one is to be God’s partners in everlasting creative work which began with the Six Days of Creation, with the purpose of making our world a better place for everybody as it’s prescribed by Torah
2) In the course of studying the Torah the definition of the better world for everybody and the actions on how to build it are being searched
3) Although no religious denomination may become an official spiritual voice for the government, the moral prescripts of Torah have to be guiding concepts in the government’s legislative work.
4) The Judeo-Christian spirituality is the moral foundation of our country and the Jews have an obligation to work together with the Christians in building a better world for everybody.
A synagogue is practicing the Pagan Judaism if the answers to the questions above are:
1) The mission of the Jewish people as the Chosen one is to be performing religious rituals, celebrations and services at synagogues in spiritual isolation from the entire world
2) In the course of studying the Torah the definition of better religious rituals and their history is being searched
3) No religious denomination may become an official spiritual voice for the government and the government’s legislative work has to be guided by a human atheistic ideology – not by the moral Torah prescripts as the foundation of a Judeo-Christian society
4) We the Jews and they the Christians have nothing in common – we the Jews have only one wish that they live us alone.
And here is an opinion of orthodox rabbi Eugene Korn that is essence supports my thoughts presented in this post.
Rabbi Eugene Korn is North American director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, and editor of Meorot—A Forum for Modern Orthodox Discourse. He published his opinion in the article “In The Name Of Judaism, Haredim Have Turned Inward”.
Religious life in Israel led by the Haredim is hurdling toward at an alarming speed. Many of the boys of the yeshiva world, the men of adult study communities, their wives and their daughters inhabit a universe far removed from society at large. They have divorced themselves from responsibility for the welfare of the broader Jewish people and their institutions, and from concerns for justice, social policy or building a better world where people can lead better lives. They lack personal identification with Israeli society and persons beyond their small immediate observant circle.
All they do is done in the name of Judaism and its religious values. Truth be told, however, their lifestyle represents an assimilation to a Christian philosophy of withdrawal from society and the material world. This worldview was initiated by the (Jewish) Essenes who influenced early Christianity. But these isolationist Essenes were forcefully repudiated by the Pharisaic rabbis who the laid the foundation of normative Judaism and the rich Jewish heritage that our parents and grandparents gave us.
For most of our exilic history Jews fought assimilation to Christianity that destroyed Jewish identity. During the Middle Ages assimilation took the form of conversion to the church, and post-Emancipation it morphed into blending totally into gentile society, though this latter phenomenon is really an acceptance of secular values.
The real threat of assimilating to Christianity today, however, is found in adopting the worldview that teaches that God is found only in isolation and personal contemplation, but not in the material world or in human striving within society. This was the theology adopted by early Christian monks and ascetics, and it stood in stark contrast to rabbinic Judaism.
All of the great rabbis of the Talmud and medieval times participated in society and their communities, nearly all worked in professions unrelated to teaching or study, and all felt a religious obligation to contribute to the larger public good. They lived the rabbinic adage, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” There was one Talmudic sage, Shimon bar Yochai, who advocated a religious life of exclusive study and avoidance of society, but the Talmud unequivocally rejected him for this, and says he later repented and grew to value human social activity as essential to religion.
What the rabbis understood early on and what Shimon bar Yochai came to realize later in life is that much of the Torah commands us to bring spiritual values into the material world and human society.
Although the rabbis over the ages rejected monastic isolation, this type of assimilation is growing rapidly today. Are not the burgeoning populations of today’s yeshiva students — who have no desire to ever leave their study halls and are absorbed exclusively in individual contemplation — and religious Jews who cloister themselves in isolated communities and feel no responsibility to contribute to broader society, really a version of Christian monks, albeit with families?
This phenomenon is ripping away at Israel’s social solidarity, politics and economics, with many seeing it as a greater threat to Israel’s survival than her external enemies. While more intense and overt in the Jewish state, this dynamic is on the rise in America also. How many religious students or adults strive to connect to the Jewish people as a whole, not just like themselves? How many feel a deep responsibility to contribute to wider American society, participate in its public institutions or repay the benefits of America’s blessings? Sadly, too many rabbis and religious adults have lost interest in relating to the entire Jewish people in a real, not merely rhetorical, way. And many have even lost the vocabulary to deal with larger society’s burning challenges of social policy, the economy, poverty, justice and the building of a civil culture.
Jews have always rejected Christianity — in all its various forms. They held fast to Judaism’s original covenantal vision of bringing God and divine values into the material world, into every arena of human endeavor, and of fairly sharing society’s burdens and blessings. Surely we need to resist assimilation to alien ideologies that include monasticism and separatism, even when advanced in the name of God and Torah. This is the only way we can remain strong as a people and be faithful to God’s calling to Abraham to “be a blessing,” so that “through you all of the nations of the earth will be blessed.”