Can You Be a Jewish Buddhist?

What’s the difference between Crayola Crayon’s blue-green and green-blue? And what’s a JuBu (or a BuJu)?

According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, there are a large number of Jews represented in American Buddhist Centers, and perhaps more than 30% of all newcomers to Buddhism are Jewish. Of course, this statistic doesn’t tell us what percentage of Jews have turned to Buddhism, but it is not an insignificant number. Much higher is the number of Jews interested in Buddhism and drawn to its practices, even if they do not become Buddhist or part-Buddhist (ie., a JuBu or a BuJu). The first question I have is: what drives this phenomenon? And the second question is: why does the fusing of Judaism and Buddhism, or the assimilation of certain Buddhist practices into Jewish tradition, not rub the Jewish community in the same way that it’s rubbed by the assimilation of Christian practices into Jewish tradition?

Parallel to the trend of secularism in the American Jewish community is the trend of American Jews searching for spiritual fulfillment in the midst of an increasingly materialistic culture. For whatever reason, they do not find that Judaism fits their spiritual needs (I would say in most cases this is the fault of inaccessible Judaism rather than Judaism lacking these spiritual avenues) and look to other traditions to meet these needs. Some reject Judaism altogether, others transfer certain practices like meditation to a Jewish context, and a number become “JuBus” or “BuJus,” identifying themselves as a fusion of two identities. This attraction towards Eastern practices is also a well-known trend among Israelis who travel outside of Israel (and look outside of Judaism) for meaningful spiritual experiences in India, Thailand, and elsewhere. There are many Jewish institutions from the entire spectrum of denominations that have noticed these trends and shifted their programs accordingly. For example, Jewish meditation programs are now quite popular.

And while some would claim that meditation practices are Jewish not Buddhist in nature, having their roots in the mystical tradition (Kabbalah), others are not bothered by the concept of adopting certain Buddhist practices into Judaism. My question is, why this calm, even embracing attitude when children of interfaith families want to celebrate with their extended families drives the Jewish community crazy? What lies behind the perceived clashing of certain practices? Likely it has to do with contrary religious tenets, the most obvious example being the Christian belief that Jesus was the Messiah, contrary to the Jewish belief that the Messiah has not yet arrived. Or maybe it has to do more with the similarities between the religions; Judaism and Christianity share sacred texts and are rooted in the same traditions, engendering a greater need to draw distinctions more sharply. But another possibility is simply that Christianity is the dominant religion in this country, and so is seen as more of a threat in the overall context of assimilation. Any other thoughts? Perhaps some thoughts from those who are or know JuBus?

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