Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "On "The Stain of Sin""

This is a marvelous post.

I have too much to reply to it to actually do so, but I would like you to know that I am and will be thinking about it.

I'll take a quick moment to say something explicitly that I don't think you state quite explicitly enough here: both Christianity and Judaism are responses to the destruction of the Temple and all the Judaism that preceded it. Among other things, of course. But there's this sense, I think more among Christians than Jews, although we have internalized it as well, that there were Jews (in the modern sense) first, and then Christians split off from that, like the Jeffersons from All in the Family. In fact, you could make an argument that modern Christianity is Pauline, and therefore predates modern Judaism which really Judah the Prince -ine. I think that's wrong, as Modern Christianity is at the earliest Nicine, but the point isn't to be accurate in that sense, the point is that neither is Solomonic, or Mosaic, or Abrahamic. They took that tradition and, in the tradition of that tradition, made what they would of it.
Anyway, lots of people who are looking at religion generally, and who live in mostly Christian areas, make the mistake of thinking that what Christianity took from Temple Judaism is what Judaism is, where Judaism is mostly stuff created after all that, together with some stuff that Christianity took from Temple Judaism and some stuff that Christianity didn't take as well. You can't work from one to another.

Hmph. That was long, for a quick moment. I really ought to take longer and make it shorter, but then my blog would get jealous...


Posted by Vardibidian at March 8, 2006 10:27 AM

A very good point, V.

I was actually wondering about your take on it, and so I hope that you will be unable to resist the temptation to comment further. :-)

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 8, 2006 12:49 PM

On that issue of Christianity and Judaism (among others) being post-Vespasian responses to and reimaginings of ancient Israelite religion, a little thought experiment:

If King David were to find himself transported by time travelers to the modern era, and had a chance to look around and acculturate, whom would he be most comfortable with? To whom would he dedicate his considerable artistic, political, literary, and pugilistic talents?

Got your answer ready? Here's mine:

I think David was devoted to several things -- outside of art, wine, sex, deserving the loyalty of warriors, and a good party. I think he was concerned with passionate love of God; with the fortunes of his royal lineage; and with the fortunes of his nation.

But his nation is gone. He wouldn't recognize the modern Israel (which is mostly situated where the Philistines were in his time), any more than he would modern Palestine (which is where Israel was) as anything like the nation he ruled, despite an abundance of people who revere him as an ancestor in one, and as a prophet in the other.

He might recognize the land around Jerusalem -- but he wouldn't recognize the city, which is mostly Turkish, and surely bears no resemblance to whatever was there (if anything) when he got there.

David was a king of a small embattled country, a promiscuous lover, a hot-blooded fighter, a passionate devotional singer to God, the kind of guy who'd get drunk and dance on the tables singing how God was going to liberate his nation, then get in a fight over a woman.

He was also a monarchist.

If he came back, he'd probably look for people of his sensibilities, who consider themselves monarchical vassals of the House of David and of his lineal descendants.

And you know who that would be, right?

The Rastafarians. (As Matisyahu seems to have figured out...)

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 8, 2006 02:38 PM

Your piece provoked me to write a note I called On ďOnÖĒ; in writing that piece, I found myself putting some words in your blogmouth that really shook me. Iím rattling them around now, and Iíd like to explain what I mean, and why they are shaking up my worldview, and why if I adopt those words, it will be a big deal to me. Whether I do or not, I am grateful for being shaken up by the words (even if the words themselves are not yours, and if you disavow them after reading all this). So. In order to explain all this stuff, Iím first going to have to lay out a good deal of my own personal philosophy, which I will do as briefly as I am capable. Which wonít be very brief, Iím afraid, because Iím that way. In an attempt to keep it a little briefer than it might have been, please take in my perception and it seems to me as qualifiers for pretty much any sentences following; Iím not claiming Universal Truth but describing the view from here.

How I perceive the universe

First of all, the universe is tremendously complicated, and each bit of it is so complicated that itís beyond human capacity to encompass. Just as the plane is infinitely large, and any finite subset of the plane, however small, still contains infinitely many points, so is the universe both too large for our comprehension and too small. Yet we muddle through anyway, for which gift alone all creatures with breath should praise the Creator (as they understand the Creator, which is also incompletely).

The human ability to muddle through is primarily due to our extraordinary talent for pattern-matching and modeling, which we do (and train ourselves to do) by telling and listening to stories. Stories tell us what the universe is like, and then, when weíre trying to figure out what the universe is like, we use the stories to match patterns, and when we find out what story we are in, we can use that to make decisions about how to act. This helps us both reduce the universe to the bits of it we can use, but fill in the gaps in what we can perceive. In other words, it helps us muddle through.

What do I do now

A couple of years ago, I wrote

If I may be allowed to pontificate, Iíll say the basic human question is ďWhat do I do now?Ē To put it more pedantically, ďGiven the state of the universe as I perceive it, what should my goals be, and what actions should I take to achieve those goals?Ē Thatís three questions, now: How should I best perceive the universe? What should my goals be? How do I work towards them? All of those are tough; ethics, metaphysics, psychology, history, politics, physics, all that stuff comes into it. But thereís moreÖ

If I want to know how to behave, I need to know something about the universe. The more I study it, and the more other people study it and tell me about it, the better Iím able to choose which stories are central, which stories really do tell me something about the universe, which stories I am really in (All of this presupposes that the universe actually exists, which I believe is the case. The existence of the universe, or at any rate my faith in the existence of the universe is another magnificent gift of the Creator, halílu Yah). Ultimately, when I choose what I should do now, Iíll make better choices if I draw on better stories, and draw on them with some knowledge of how I go about drawing on them (which is another story, and one Iím telling you now). There are, of course, infinitely many stories; the universe of stories is like the universe, there is more there than we can use.

The Story of Religion

To me, religion is the core story, the story we cling to that provides the frame for everything else. That story is what the world is really like, and even if it isnít like that in some places or times, itís the real story that we eventually come back to. The big story is the one that all the others have to fit into, somehow. Thereís some sense in which we get to pick that story, but for many people, that story, like all the best ones, is a story we canít remember ever first hearing. We canít remember a universe that wasnít perceived through that story, and weíre not really sure there ever was such a universe, because after all, the story usually tells us there wasnít.

For Christians, for most Christians at any rate, the core story of the universe is that the Lord so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thatís quite a nice story, although honestly it doesnít do much for me, which frankly I wouldnít expect it to, since I didnít hear it until I was twenty. And, of course, there are different versions of this story, including the one that ends ďand They killed himĒ and the one that ends with the bit about the thief in the night. If you perceive the universe one way, well, itís big enough to confirm that, and if you perceive it another way, well, that story is contained in it, too. Particularly when the story you think you are in influences your actions to the point where you create that story around yourself, and particularly when itís a story everybody shares to some extent.

For me, the core story that tells me what the universe is like is that we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Again, this story has several different versions, but in the one I have held in my head, part of it is that we were not particularly deserving of either slavery or redemption. We are grateful for what the Lord did for us, of course, and part of that gratitude includes acknowledging that the Lord didnít do it because we were particularly good, or kind, or ethical, or powerful, or tall, or musical, or clever. Not that any of that is the point of the story, you understand, just that the story implies that (a) slave arenít slaves because they are in any particular way slavey, but rather because of social and economic forces beyond their control, and (2) liberation, Gd-given or otherwise, is not dependent upon deserts (or deserts) but droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven, upon the just and unjust alike.

Of course, the story is also that we are Different, we are Chosen (vaddevah dat means), and that we shouldnít trust outsiders. A good deal of my adult fiddling with the story has been to break that down (Jethro!) but still, that story is how I see the world. As I pass the story on to my daughter, I try to pass it on with the good and not so much the bad, and I have no idea how much I will succeed, or if she will ultimately simply reject the story altogether. Well, thatís for time to tell.

Fighting for my Judaism

It seems to me that many if not most Jews of our generation (and Iím assuming you are more or less of my generation, that is, post-Boom) grew up with a different core story. That story is that the Nazis killed six million of us in the gas chambers, and nobody did a damn thing about it. This is a tremendously powerful story, and at least most of it is true, and it, too, is part of the universe. On the other hand, what an awful story to have as the central story of what the universe is really like. I understand how it happened, and I have sympathy with my Hebrew School teachers, but I think that it was Bad for Jews. Since I came to this opinion (and all of this thinking, about stories, and the universe, and religion, and so on is the product of the last dozen years or so, begun really in my late twenties), I have been thinking, lazily, of ways to combat the tendency to replace Exodus with the Holocaust. Mostly, as I am insufficiently energetic or ambitious to do much more than chat about things in shul, I have been keeping this struggle in mind as I raise my daughter.

This, of course, goes back to asking what do I do now. Because I care about Jews and Judaism, I want to do something that will be Good for Jews, and within a very limited set, one of the things that I can do is to raise my family Jewish, and not just Jewish, but Jewish in a way that is Good for Jews. And because I want to raise my daughter as a Jew, and I want what is best for her, the Judaism I want to raise her in is a Judaism that is in itself Good for Jews. I think (with Douglas Rushkoff, though I disagree with almost everything else he says) that Judaism has in large measure lost sight of itself. If Iíve got the description right, and the goal right, and I still donít see an action, perhaps I need to start again, yes?

A Different Story

In writing about your essay, I found myself writing this:

Iíve whinged before about how my fundamental understanding of the Jews boils down to we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And I will still say that, because itís true, and itís true to myself the way I understand it. And that story is part of both Judaism and Christianity. But itís also true, as Mr. Rosenbaum points out, that you could boil the story of the Jews down to the Temple was destroyed, so we wrote the siddur.


What has been rattling around for me since than is whether that story, the story of the siddur, is really what the world is like. Or, taken from another point of view, when my daughter asks me what the universe is like (not that she will ask like that, but when she asks what it means that she is Jewish, as she does ask), which one do I want to tell her? Because, honestly, I think that is what I want the universe to be like. What I want her world to be like. Because, letís face it, the Temple is being destroyed (as it is in every generation, as it always is for everybody), and sheíll need a good siddur.

And yet.

Where is the Lord in all this? Because when I say that all living things should praise the Creator, I mean it. That, too, is part of the story, that the Lord made the world in seven days (vaddevah dat means, because if itís like building a house in a week, than that story is not the universe I perceive, but if it means that what we have is a gift, a tremendous gift that implies a Giver, and a Giver and a gift that we canít completely comprehend, then that is the universe I perceive). And the Lord didnít give us the siddur. Itís not even like the mishkan, where yes we put the thing together, but to his specs. The siddur is a magnificent thing of constant creation and redaction (which is why the story appeals to me in the first place) but why bother? And the answer to why bother is that we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.


The easy answer, finally, is of course to reject the idea that any of it boils down to a single sentence. And I accept that, yes. But my most powerful religious ritual is the Passover meal, for which we turn our house upside-down, and at which we feast like kings, and at which we say we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And the more we tell the story of the departure from Egypt, the more are we to be praised. And, really, the more somebody tells of the departure from Egypt, the more I praise them. And we donít do that for the story of Jacobís ladder, or for Ezra ďfindingĒ Deuteronomy, or for the Binding of Isaac. Yes, we have holidays and rituals for all thatówe have at least two for the gift of Torah, and we celebrate the Creation once a weekóbut itís not the same. And, more crucially, we donít have a Yom ha-Mishnah or whatever we would call it. We have tisha bíav.

And I donít want to take away from tisha bíav; I, too, mourn the Temple, even as I donít want it rebuilt. And I donít think we need to stop grieving over the Temple, even as we celebrate the siddur. I donít want to lose any of our stories. But they arenít all the core story, they arenít all how the universe really is.

Ultimately, thereís tremendous power in single sentences, in the moral at the end of the story, in reduction. Ultimately, thereís tremendous power in being able to say, briefly and simply, who you are. It will be more complicated than thatóeverything always is, and it will be more complicated than any lengthy and nuanced answer as well. Thereís a reason the guy with the fright wig has a John 3:16 sign. And a fright wig. Thereís a reason why the Hagaddah is the way it is. Thereís a reason why weíve been fighting for fifty years over the Pledge of Allegiance. And thereís a reason why childrenís books have only a few words.

At this point, then, itís all still rattling around. Iíve written a lot of words to clarify, and probably also to muddy, what may be to you utterly pointless. And it certainly doesnít have much to do with the Stain of Sin. I didnít have anything to add to that, anyway; the universe he perceives is in that area not much like the one I do. But in explaining to Mr. Duncan what the Judaism you perceive is really like, you brought me to question my own perception of the Judaism, and since itís all your fault, you bastard, Iím kicking it back to you.

chazak, chazak, vínitchazek,

Posted by Vardibidian at March 9, 2006 03:55 PM

Ben has that effect on people, V. :)

He has said, casually and without any apparent effects on the structure of the Earth's mantle, things that have shaken my worldview utterly. Generally, ultimately, for the better.


Posted by matthulan at March 9, 2006 04:41 PM

Thanks for that excellent comment, Vardibidian. I will have to dwell on it a while.

I like this a lot:
Because, letís face it, the Temple is being destroyed (as it is in every generation, as it always is for everybody), and sheíll need a good siddur.

And I also think I should think about "Where is the Lord in all this?"

My easy answer would be "well, who do you think we wrote the Siddur for?"

But I need to think about it.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 9, 2006 05:23 PM

Anyway, lots of people who are looking at religion generally, and who live in mostly Christian areas, make the mistake of thinking that what Christianity took from Temple Judaism is what Judaism is...

It occurs to me that this is pretty much the same kind of thinking that leads to: “But if humans are descended from apes, how come there are still apes around?”

(It also occurs to me that to the extent I have a core story, at the moment, it’s: All this, just with brains evolved for the use of small tribes of African plains apes? Freeeow!)

Posted by David Moles at March 14, 2006 07:18 AM

That's a good core story! :-)

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 14, 2006 12:22 PM

I feel I should clarify, although clearly David Moles has the perception not to need it, that when I say that religion is the core story I neither mean that people who aren't religious are somehow missing core stories or that any core story is by tautological definition a religion. That would be cheating.

In other words, in Mr. Rosenbaum's words in fact, that's a good core story.


Posted by Vardibidian at March 15, 2006 07:20 AM

No worries -- I didn't mean to imply that I thought you were implying that. :) I just grabbed the "core story" idea and ran with it.

And, you know, from a purely mercenary, writerly point of view, it seems like a useful concept. :)

...Anyway, I've just written more on the subject than I can comfortably fit in this comment box, so: Stories was everything, and everything was stories, #2.

Posted by David Moles at March 15, 2006 11:05 AM

I have a couple of questions relating to B.R.'s Judaism specifically. Starting with:

Two things that were not said explicitly, but that I'd inferred by nine years old: 1) I knew it was a metaphor. 2) I knew the definition of sin was up to me.

How would this statement change between strands Judaism, to the best of your knowledge? Would it be true in an Orthodox synagogue, for example?

You also mention that your Rabbi was female, and you talk about a lack of obsession with sexual sins -- how the attitude of your synagogue towards homosexuality was one of pity, not codemnation. Once again: how specific is all of this to Reform Judaism? I seem to remember reading an article about women praying at the Western Wall, and having men cursing at them the whole time; I've actually got links in my bookmarks folder to articles about the rarity of and obstacles facing women Rabbis. (Don't ask me why, because I honestly don't remember, except that it was interesting.) And what about homosexuality? How would homosexuality be treated in an Orthodox congregation? Um, again, to the best of your knowledge...

Lastly, at one point you said: I'm going to talk about Reform Judaism as actually practiced in late twentieth and early twenty-first century America, not because I think it's the best monotheism (God forbid I should convert anyone to Judaism -- you don't need the grief, believe me) but because it's mine.

A few months ago, on our way across town to look at houses for sale, our realtor started telling us about kosher practices. Somewhere in there she inserted a similar parenthetical comment, and added: "If you were to tell me, right now, that you wanted to convert to Judaism, it would be my job to talk you out of it. The rule of thumb is, you try three times to talk a new convert out of it. If they still want to convert after all that, then you let them be."

So, my question is: why? Specifically, could you elaborate on what you mean by "you don't need the grief, believe me"?

Posted by Jackie M. at March 20, 2006 03:26 PM

Great response. I've posted my own comment on me own blog; I wasn't sure if I should cross-post it here so your own doesn't get too jealous, but, you know it's kinda looooooooong (again!). Sorry, I'm just enjoying the debate too much.

Posted by Hal Duncan at March 20, 2006 08:26 PM

Jackie, great questions.

> How would this statement change between strands Judaism, to the best of your knowledge? Would it be true in an Orthodox synagogue, for example?

I am no expert on current Orthodox practice; perhaps others will join in. But it's perfectly clear that traditional Judaism has taken great pains to specify exactly the *praxis* that is required of us, while allowing free speculation about the *meaning*. The closest thing to catechism in Judaism are Maimonides' rather minimalistic thirteen principles and even these are just one philosopher's opinion. For conversion, "profession of faith demanded is limited to the acknowledgement of the unity of God and the rejection of idolatry."

The Jewish tradition has certainly also always been to make vast use of metaphor in interpreting the Bible; the more Orthodox you get, the more important mystical (e.g. Kabbalistic) interpretations become wherein nothing is as it seems.

As for the definition of sin, the Orthodox are much more likely, I think, to see that definition as produced by a communal process of scholarly debate, rather than individual introspection. But even if they have a large body of laws on what is permitted, mandatory, discouraged, and forbidden, the ritual of repentance is still communal and unmediated -- there's no father confessor to explain what God wants in your particular instance, and if you seek a rabbinic opinion, it'll have to be at your initiative, and it'll be just that -- an opinion. When everyone falls silent during the Amidah on Yom Kippur, you still have to decide for yourself where you sinned.

the attitude of your synagogue towards homosexuality was one of pity, not codemnation

Just to be clear, that was my Dad's attitude. It might have been representative of that Conservative shul in 1979. It would probably be seen as offensively homophobic by many or most of the congregants of our current, Reform synagogue, which annually sponsors a booth at DC Gay Pride Day. Reform Judaism's official position on homosexuality is here (short version: they're all for it, here are some sample commitment ceremonies). Here is one potential (but not authoritative theological) reasoning for the change.

Reform Judaism's unofficial position is "Nu, at least he's Jewish."

(Seriously; it's currently way easier to find a Reform synagogue that will host a gay commitment ceremony than one that will host an intermarriage -- but we'll get into that particular social neurosis some other time.)

Orthodoxy, of course, is against (male) homosexuality. This seems to be a reasonably clear and comprehensive explanation of the Orthodox position. What's worth noting, though, is that there's no equivalent in Judaism of the Pauline/monastic impulse to regard the body and the world as fallen and evil. We are commanded to enjoy Creation -- we are also commanded to order it.

Rather than the idea that sex is inherently sinful, a necessary evil to be tolerated for the purposes of procreation, sex is something that the Orthodox are commanded to enjoy (oneg, the commandment to enjoy creation, is central in Jewish thought). Women are seen in the Talmud (typically in the classical near east, I think) as the more carnal sex, and men are obligated to provide sexual satisfaction to their wives.

"The times for conjugal duty prescribed in the Torah are: for men of independent means, every day; for laborers, twice a week; for donkey drivers, once a week; for camel drivers, once in thirty days; for sailors, once in six months." (Ketubot 61b)

"A man is forbidden to compel his wife to have marital relations...Rabbi Joshua ben Levi similarly stated: Whosoever compels his wife to have marital relations will have unworthy children." (Eruvin 100b)

More here.

Basically, sex is treated like food: it comes in kosher and trayf. Male masturbation, male homosexuality, and condoms (at least before AIDS) are like shrimp, pork, and cheeseburgers. Sex in marriage is kosher -- eat up!

Division of roles between men and women is a topic which is hotly debated within Orthodox Judaism -- while Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism are all solidly egalitarian and have been ordaining women for decades. I should say, egalitarian at least in theory, because I haven't seen your bookmarks, and we do live in a sexist world. But, back in 1978, it was never represented to me as at all odd that Avis was our rabbi. Everyone agreed she was an excellent rabbi.

As for "you don't need the grief, believe me", there are a couple of answers.

Judaism is a tribal religion, not a world religion like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Marxism. World religions are answers to the question "how should people act in general?" Tribal religions are answers to the question "how should our people act?"

Becoming Jewish doesn't have much to do with accepting a set of philosophical postulates; nor is it necessarily an emotional experience of catharsis like finding Jesus. It's more like becoming Navaho. It's more an acculturation than a conversion in the Christian sense.

Many Christians, historically, believe that being Christian is the best way to get into heaven; it is thus incumbent upon them to evangelize. Jews, by contrast, think it's harder for Jews to get into heaven (insofar as there's a heaven), or to be moral, than it is for non-Jews. We have, traditionally, 613 commandments to follow, you have seven. "A non-Jew who keeps the Noahide Law in all its details is said to attain the same spiritual and moral level as Israel's own high priest/cohen gadol" (Talmud, Bava Kamma 38a)

From the point of view of the orthodox, if you're not Jewish the sexual law is greatly relaxed. Incest, bestiality, adultery, and male-to-male anal sex are still out; other than that, go nuts. You're also welcome to your shrimp and cheesburgers; just don't eat "flesh that was torn from the body of a living animal", because that's, like, fucked up.

So why take on the 613? Because they are mitzvot -- obligations which are also privileges, duties which are inherently joyful. (It's like being a writer. Most people don't have the duty to themselves to write every day. It's a duty that often sucks. It's also a glorious privilege.)

That's the traditional view. Obviously, I don't follow the 613 myself. But I nonetheless find the traditional view on prosyletizing and conversion healthy and sensible. I like the idea that the attitude to converts is one of sympathetic skepticism: not "Oh goodie!" but rather "Are you sure?"

I guess part of my reaction of "you don't need the grief" has to do with that suspect old Jewish core story, "people are always trying to kill us."

But more broadly, I also think the traditional attitude captures my sense of the world.

I don't think Rabbinic Judaism is the right way to do things. I think it's one way. I kinda like it. The Jews are not the Chosen People in the sense of being spiffier or better than anyone else, but rather in the sense of having been chosen to do a particular job -- like being Line Leader or Door Holder in my daughter's kindergarten class. There are lots of jobs to do.

We don't all need to be geeks hijacking heirarchical purity religions and turning them into ever-evolving moral debates grounded in transcendent imagery. Some of us need to be involved in passionate affairs with personalized, incarnated visions of God. Some of us need to be steely-eyed revoilutionaries eschewing every language other than modernity. Some of us need to be anarchic mystical roving Shaitans tearing down every structure and making goat noises.

Core story about evangelism: "Dude, don't follow me. I'm doing my thing. Do your thing. I can't wait to see what you come up with."

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 21, 2006 11:10 AM

I think it was Abraham Joshua Heschel who said that the reason Jews didn't prosyletize wasówho wants to live in a world with nothing but Jews?

I grew up in a Conservative shul, and in the late seventies, they did not allow women to read Torah, they did not allow women to witness Torah reading, and they certainly weren't hiring women as rabbis. On the other hand, we knew that there were women being ordained, and we knew that we were somewhere in a specrtum of Jewish practice ranging from strict segregation in synagogue with women behind a curtain, and equal opportunity, with all of us being Jews. I still find it moving to see a thirteen-year-old girl get a bat mitvah where she does all the things the bar mitvah did last week; I hope my daughter understands that only intellectually.

As for homosexuality, in the late 70's in the Conservative shul I attended, it was simply Not Discussed. Certainly not around children. So I can't help there, other than what is implied by all that.

Now, to confuse things further, the last shul I was a member of (as an adult, last year more or less) was an independent shul, using a heavily-edited Reconstructionist siddur. It was aggressively egalitarian; the rabbi was a woman, women read Torah and led services, and there was no apparent difference in the schooling. I didn't know any openly gay members, but I think our policy, insofar as it was formed, was close to Ben's, with perhaps a more pretentious attempt to celebrate life in its diversity. Furthermore that particular shul was incredibly open to mixed marriages, such as mine, and to including non-Jews (vadevah dat means) in services to the extent they wished.

I'll also add that the shul I attended before that was also not affiliated, although they used a Conservative siddur and appeared to me to be straight-ahead Conservative with a vocal faction of near-Orthodox members. I don't know what percentage of shuls really belong to one or another of the affiliations, and certainly the percentage of Jews who are even members of a shul at all is pretty small. So it's misleading to look at the affiliations and their semi-official positions as having all that much to do with the spectrum of belief, particularly on controversial issues such as sex, gender and conversion.

Oh, and Ben, you left out the political history of conversion. I was always taught that conversion was too risky, and that as part of adapting Judaism to the Diaspora, we decided to keep our heads down, rather than drawing attention to ourselves by sending missionaries around. I just wanted to add that to the mix; I think your point about a tribal, rather than a world, religion is the main point.


Posted by Vardibidian at March 21, 2006 11:24 PM

Why do the comments appear in reverse chronological order when I link to this post?

Posted by Jackie M. at June 19, 2006 08:39 AM

Try now.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 19, 2006 01:26 PM

Dropping by a few years later to link to Hal's response

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 5, 2012 04:44 PM

And while I'm at it, I'm going to link to my gloss on Jonah at Moles's place, in a response to this post.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 5, 2012 04:55 PM

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