Why I Wear a Kippah II: Staying in the Conversation

Last year, I posted a short reflection on why I wear a kippah, but there is another major aspect of publicly identifying as Jewish that I would like to fill in now.  I believe that, in addition to the freedoms and decrease in antisemitism that have arisen as a result of Jews fully integrating into Western society — in the sense that, today like in no previous generation, the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews can be said to be ‘Jews by choice’ — came the associated risk of stepping out of the fight for Judaism to modernize altogether.  Why, many Jews find themselves asking, would I define myself principally through adherence to a religion that does not hold the same values I do, values that I have accepted wholeheartedly from the surrounding liberal culture?  It is much easier to jump ship, remain a ‘cultural Jew’ (since it is not possible, by the tenets of Judaism, to convert out of the religion), and live in full accord with my values now.

Understandably, this is a persuasive argument, and it explains why the Orthodox denomination is the only one growing today (see, for example, here).  The problem is for those of us who wish for the best of both worlds: continuing to maintain Judaism as our primary identity, while working towards aligning our religion with our values (where the two diverge).  Given the reality that Jews can vote with their feet now, and choose whether to make their religion a part of their lives or not, this is largely a numbers game.  Despite the extremely high value that Judaism places on her long history, and the traditions that have emerged and been maintained over the centuries, the fact is that we — the Jews alive today — constitute the religion in her entirety.

If all Jews who see serious problems with the religion, given their opportunity to leave it behind and live as they wish, do in fact leave the religion, we face the unavoidable fact that the pace of change within the religion will decline precipitously.  Similarly, if the high percentage of Canadians (or Americans or Israelis, given the current election seasons) who are discouraged by the state of their country leave the country rather than trying to fix it, assuming that this was as fluid and easy as it is to change one’s ritual observance of Judaism, there is no doubt that the country would lose the richness that can only be achieved through rigorous debate and a multiplicity of opinions.

This is why I wear a kippah, דווקא (especially) when I do not fit the stereotype, as I think that it is imperative for all Jews who find meaning in our tradition, and who are disillusioned about some aspect of it, to fight for a Judaism of the future that hears our concerns and is, as a result, a Judaism that appeals to more, not fewer, people.
*To read about a Muslim woman struggling with some of the same issues, see here


3 thoughts on “Why I Wear a Kippah II: Staying in the Conversation

  1. I did not have to wait to become a rabbi to observe the profound impact that choosing to be Jewish can have on another person. I guess you could say that making Jews is our family business. My maternal grandmother, Vera Kipnis, became the first private conversion tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 70 years ago. She tutored students for their studies with rabbis from across the movements, and for as long as I can remember, my mom, Patti Moskovitz, continued the work that my grandmother began. My mother tutored students in our home, believing that Judaism was dished out with cookies, soups and sandwiches as much as through Torah, Talmud and tradition. Her students were frequent guests at our Shabbat table and held a place of honor every year at our family seder — where, if our family singing didn’t scare them away, we knew our people had them hooked for good. In any given week, I would come home from school to witness a student crying tears of joy as he or she uncovered a part of the soul that previous religion, faith or lack thereof could not touch.

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