By Aaron Giannini
Dear Abbyraham is a witty, intelligent and beautiful column that answers your chosen questions about (and/or relating to) the Chosen People. I choose the questions though. Does that make me G-d? I would say it’s up for debate.
I was in an argument with my Jewish friend about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I didn’t agree with many of the actions of the Israeli government, especially in terms of building new Jewish settlements in politically contested areas. He said that I wasn’t a Jew if I didn’t support Israel, and that a lack of unconditional support is the main problem with American Jews today. I got pretty mad at him, and I think I may have lost a friend. What do you think, Abe?
Pretty Schmucked Up
Hey there, Schmucked Up,
First of all, thanks for writing to Dear Abbyraham.
Your friend sounds pretty heated about this issue. It sounds like he needs to take it down a notch or two (or seven) and learn that supporting Israel doesn’t have to mean alienating everyone who doesn’t share his uniquely one-sided view.
Part of what makes the conflict in the Middle East so sensitive is the tendency for many on both sides to see the world completely in black and white. “Those who are on my side are good, those opposing my side are evil.” Your friend clearly feels passionate about supporting Israel, but he has no right to equate your political stance to your religious one.
This is what pisses me off about American politics just as much as it does Israeli. The idea of “unconditional support” goes against everything that allows us to make our own decisions. I myself have been asked numerous times if I unconditionally support Israel, and my answer is always no, just as I don’t unconditionally support America’s policies or the Democratic Party or any other group I’m a part of that makes decisions which influence lives, because people are fallible. The Israeli government, just like the Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank, is made up of people with faults. Just because you generally support the decisions of one group more than the other does not make every action by that group morally right. One thing your friend needs to do is learn to think for himself. You can support Israel without being blind to its faults, just like you can love someone who is flawed because you know that nobody’s perfect. Try to think objectively. Weigh out the issues before you make a decision as to whether or not Israel is justified, not as an entity but in specific actions, and encourage your friend to do the same.
Many religions use holy texts and spirituality to define what makes a person part of a religious community, especially Abrahamic ones. Most people I know who identify as Christians truly believe in Jesus as their savior and in G-d’s power to hear our prayers, and my experience with Muslims has been similar in that it fundamentally requires faith. However, most of my Jewish friends don’t even believe in G-d, let alone a personal G-d that answers prayers or wants you to act a certain way. As a non-Jew, I’m not sure if this is just a coincidence or if Judaism really doesn’t require you to believe in G-d. Is it still even a religion?
– Goy and Confused
My Goy friend,
As I sit at Joe’s eating my fat slice of Hawaiian pizza, I feel glad that I can have confidence in three beliefs at the same time: (1) that I am still very much a Jew, (2) that G-d probably won’t hate me or make me burn in the afterlife, and (3) that ham and pineapple are delicious on pizza.
One of the cool things about Judaism is the fact that there is no official creed or set of beliefs you have to adopt in order to be part of the Jewish community. The amount of sects that exist in Judaism include people who believe that the Old Testament is literally the word of G-d, people who just hold some of the traditions, and some people who don’t believe in G-d at all. This is in part due to the emphasis of Judaism on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. Literally, “the correct action” rather than “the correct belief.” What binds Jews together into a community isn’t shared faith. In fact, an important Jewish value is actually to question authority rather than follow it without evidence.
I believe that Jews share a culture that transcends the idea of faith. Perpetuated by the stories we tell and the holidays and traditions we hold, Jews share a sense of common values that has little to do with belief in G-d. We share a history of overcoming extreme hardship, a culture formed by the telling and retelling of the stories of our ancestors. These stories always seem to have relevance to modern events. If anything, they provide moral insight and new perspectives on how to see the world. Whether we know it or not, these stories influence our actions and encourage a mindset that questions perceived truths in a society where narrow-mindedness is not criticized, but often rewarded.
Some may argue that many who call themselves Jews aren’t really members of the Jewish community because they don’t follow certain rules, adhere to specific traditions, or believe in a G-d that created the Earth in six days. While I can understand this orthodox view of Judaism as a religion, I can’t relate to it. For me, Judaism is more about the way in which we view the world and the actions that are influenced by this lens. Giving charity and respecting elders are two examples of what I’m talking about; both are inherently Jewish values, and I feel that they actually influence my behavior towards the homeless and elderly. More than anything, for me Judaism is about the traditions that remind us of tikkun olam: our obligation to “repair the world” through our actions rather than simply pleasing G-d through prayer or faith.
Published on page 7 of the Spring 2011 issue of Leviathan.