We at JOI have been saying that the Jewish community needs to better articulate “Why be Jewish” for a long time (most recently here), especially as we are working with interfaith families. But I would rephrase the question somewhat and add: Why raise Jewish children? Why stay within the orbit of the Jewish community—even if I am married to a Jewish person and raising Jewish children? Of what benefit is it to me? These questions have to be deliberated and answered. That is why I was thrilled to be part of the recent conversation initiated by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. And I look forward to a continued discussion. In the meantime, I share some of the reasons suggested by Richard Price in a July 2007 commentary in the New Jersey Jewish News:
Because Judaism provides the road map for living a holy life in accordance with the spirit if not the letter of Torah, one of the most important and influential documents in the history of humanity. We are Jewish because we wish to be engaged with the world. We are Jewish because we want to preserve a religious heritage that goes back thousands of years. We are Jewish because we wish to better the world through acts of social welfare and social justice. We are Jewish because we are inexorably bound together as a spiritual community. We are Jewish because we wish to be part of a community of shared values, placing a premium, for example, on education and the need to care for others in need. We are Jewish because we believe in the centrality of Israel.
We are Jewish because it is a passionate undertaking. We are Jewish because it brings us joy through the observance of our holidays and through the mitzvot we perform. We are Jewish because we seek to make a qualitative difference in a resistant world. We are Jewish because we possess a moral compass that imposes a high standard upon us. We are Jewish because we understand the power of memory and the promise of tomorrow.
In sum, our individual lives matter and much is expected of us because there is much to do. Judaism is an intensely personal faith and it gives each of us the opportunity to spark a difference in the world.
What do you think of Mr. Price’s reasons? Which reasons would you add of your own?