Friday, February 1, 2008

Membership in a Synagogue

2/1/2008--This week I renewed a domain name I have had for a number of years: (I have to apologize for this to Rabbi Arthur Blecher, whose new book, The New American Judaism, has nothing to do with my work. But I had the domain name long before his book came out). I wrote a book several years ago, entitiled, New American Judaism, but the book never found a publisher.

Renewing this name reminds me of the journey I have made from more or less a regular Jewish believer, to a radical Jewish believer, to a non-Jewish secularist with close ties to monotheistic religion. I have finally become comfortable telling people that I am not Jewish but a secularist. Of course, my thinking and orientation have not changed that dramatically, only my terminology.

All of this raises the question of why I still belong to a synagogue. I am a member of a reconstructionist synagogue in Pittsburgh, Dor Hadash, which is a wonderful place, and where I raised my children, and which helped me come to my voice in religious matters. I once gave a class there on The New Testament for Jews and publicly introduced my book, American Religious Democracy, there for its first public discussion.

I have a great deal of affection for the people of Dor Hadash and am happy to continue to pay dues to support its admirable blend of Jewish tradition, open inquiry and progressive political action. Nevertheless, if maintaining ties to Dor Hadash were just a matter of nostalgia, I would resign from membership and continue to send dues as a contribution. And I yet may do just that.

The problem is a practical issue of ritual, public prayer and community. As I point out in the book, Hallowed Secularism, the new secularist has no outlet yet in these directions. I need the renewal and communion of public prayer, especially the dramatic intensity of the High Holy Days. This need is not personal in the sense that it could be satisfied by something I could do on my own. Yet, it hardly seems to make sense to go to Jewish services if I have just resigned membership in the synangogue. (Not that anyone at Dor Hadash would object).

This is the large question confronting Hallowed Secularism on a number of levels. How do we make the transition from a basically religious community, in which secularists act as parasites on the religious life of organized religion, to a secular community practicing a mindful and deepened secularism? I don’t have the answer to this yet.

1 comment:

  1. I think my book "The New American Judaism" has more to do with your work than you suspect. As the rabbi of a humanistic congregation which takes a secular approach to Judaism, I found your post very interesting.
    Art Blecher