There are several denominations of Judaism, as you know, Reform, Orthodox and so on. But many of the people in my congregation belong to a new branch called: “I Just Try to be a Good Person.”
People who belong to this denomination often express ambivalence or a generally spiritual orientation to the question of God. Many of these Jews also call themselves “cultural” or secular Jews. Many of these congregants mention to me, their rabbi, that they are bad Jews.
I beg to differ.
The path of Judaism addresses practice and belief as well as actions, values and emotional well-being. Jewish guidance on many practical and important problems is usually wise and useful.
Jewish laws around speech, for example, overlaps with good mental health advise. There are rules about lies, gossip, nicknames and confrontation. When you use your words to reconcile and to speak truly and fairly, you are practicing a high degree of Jewish observance.
There are rules about creating safety in your built environment. When you shovel your walk, or tighten your hand-rail, you are being a good Jew! When you reuse and recycle, you are observing a Torah commandment from the book of Deuteronomy.
There are practices in our arsenal that teach us how to cultivate appreciation, patience, equanimity and so on.
What my Good Person congregants might mean is something closer to “I don’t do the big identity markers that make us different. I don’t go to services. I don’t keep kosher,” stuff like that. But the laws and rules and values that we share with other religions and other schools of thought (public health, environmental policy, mental health, education) are part of our path too, our Jewish “tool kit” as my Teacher Reb Zalman, OBM used to say.
The Hebrew root for the word “Hebrew” is Gratefulness and the root of “Yisrael” means Seeker or Noble Struggle.
Are you cultivating Gratefulness? Are you a Seeker? Welcome to the club