Not long ago, I participated in a discussion where the notion that Judaism could cease to exist — in its more explicitly religious forms — without a great loss to Jews or others was broached and reached a certain level of consensus. The conversation stayed with me, mainly because I could not find a reason to reject this notion, and that troubled me. Here is an argument for why Judaism, or any religion, ought to be preserved, in response to this past conversation:
I reject the idea that I could be alright with Judaism petering out in the space of a few generations, for the apparent benefit of people being able to understand each other in a deeper sense, or (in other words) to be less fundamentally divided.
First, this implies that the end-goal would be that we would all be clones. Since we (moderns or post-moderns) value diversity, that cannot be a desirable goal. If the response is that somehow religions are qualitatively different from other characteristics that make up a utopian diverse society — and that therefore religions ought to go, but other characteristics that make a society diverse should not — then I reject that too.
Judaism, like all religions, is a voice. To be ambivalent (at best) about it’s ceasing to exist is being content to see a unique human perspective about the human condition (and all that entails) die off. Just as we (again, moderns/post-moderns) are dismayed to hear how many languages of the world we no longer have — due in no small part to ‘globalization’ and the increasing global footprint that an individual (at least a Westernized individual) has — we ought to be concerned about the prospect of a religion dying off.
The notion that Judaism is a human voice carrying back millennia describing the human condition and certain human’s responses to that condition is not novel. We tacitly admit that we think of Judaism this way when we ask “What would Judaism say about x?” We don’t mean one person who is Jewish, since it has been many centuries since anywhere near the majority of Jews would agree on one person to represent Judaism to the world. So, instead, we are querying what the tradition of Judaism has said about x over the course of its existence in the marketplace of ideas. And, of course, I do not mean to imply that Judaism has one voice, but rather many (arguably as many as there are people who have any connection to the religion). Since no one is wholly Jewish to the extent that their identity is uni-dimensional, Judaism ceasing to exist would not ‘silence’ anyone, but it would rob each of us, and those with whom we interact, of a facet of our voice.
I can think of few things that I want more than to ensure that each and every voice, however dominant or suppressed it has been over the course of human history, is sustained, remembered, and listened to.