Are the Jews, when parting with a synagogue, abandoning God or just their congregation and rabbi?

Only about 20% of Jews are attending Shabbat services at a synagogue – the rest do not participate in the spiritual life of a Jewish congregation. The Jewish majority have parted with Jewish congregations. Have they parted with God and Judaism, or they just parted with their congregations and rabbis?

The answer is they have not parted with God and Judaism – they have parted with their congregations and rabbis, and here is why.

Judaism, like any other religion, is exploring – in its unique way – the question of what is the God’s purpose in creating the humans and how this purpose have to be fulfilled.

The Torah declares that God created the humans in His image and that His image is an image of the Creator.  This Torah’s declaration defines the God’s purpose in creating the humans. This is to assign them the task of continuing His creative work in building a better world for everybody. The other Torah declarations guide us to do it by the moral laws conceptualized in the Torah.

One of the moral laws is Free Will, which God gives to all human individuals. That is up to us the human individuals to make our own individual choices on what to do in our individual creative endeavors (family, community, politics, social actions, professional activities, inter-religious efforts …), and be personally responsible for our choices.

The individual Free-Will choice has to be coordinated with the collective Free-Will choices. There are two basic collective Free-Will-choice-making realms.

The Jewish collective Free-Will choice is made in Jewish congregations by rabbis and congregants. The non-Jewish majorities shape the societal collective Free-Will choice based on the societal traditions.

A truly Jewish individual has to decide what collective Free-Will choice – that of Jewish congregation or that of non-Jewish majority – is closer to his/her own Free-Will choice. That is not a competition between Jewish and non-Jewish, or between remaining Jewish and assimilation. That is a competition between two competing Jewish ideas on being the Chosen.

Some Jews believe that the Jews are the Chosen to build a better world only inside the Jewish realm and then to let everybody else to look at this better world and decide to follow or not to follow. For those Jews, the collective Free-Will choice of the Jewish congregation is the way to go. About 20% of the Jews go this way.

Many Jews believe that the Jews are the Chosen to build a better world together with the non-Jews, tailoring the Torah prescripts to the non-Jewish traditions. For those Jews, the collective Free-Will choice of the non-Jewish majority is the way to go. The 80% Jewish majority go this way. They are parting with their congregations since the Free-Will choice of their rabbis and congregants conflicts with their understanding of their mission of the Chosen. This “partying trend” may be slowed or even reversed if the rabbi-congregant spiritual relationship becomes a two-way avenue – instead of the traditional one-way avenue from a rabbi to a congregant.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana described in Jerusalem Post the relationship between a good rabbi and his congregants as a one-way avenue in the following way:

“1. Personal example. The rabbi is first and foremost a spiritual role model. He embodies the personality traits – “Midot,” we call them in rabbinic language – that one should seek to emulate, that we want to give over to our children.

  1. Surrogate parent. The rabbi should be both a Father and Mother figure to us. Though he cannot and should not actually replace a parent, he can often do things, which our parents are unable or reluctant to do.
  2. Leaders as ladders. The principal task of the rabbi is to take each and every person, wherever he or she may be at that moment on the spiritual ladder, and raise him or her to a higher level.”

All those three items are a one-way avenue for the rabbi-congregant spiritual relationship. If we add one more item (#4) to the qualities of a good rabbi, the rabbi-congregant spiritual relationship would become a two-way avenue, and the “parting trend” may be slowed or even reversed. This item could be presented as the following:

“Cherishing the intellect and encouraging the Torah-related thoughts of his congregants – not just as a teacher (“I know better since that is my profession, or I am closer to God!”) but also as an equal participant in tailoring the Torah guidance to unique individual life circumstances of the congregants. Teaching the congregants not only rabbi’s (traditional, rabbinical, sages-wise …) interpretation of the Torah but also how to apply (interpret, tailor …) the Torah concepts to unique individual life circumstances. Appreciating the innovative thoughts on the Torah even if they deviate from the traditional thoughts.”

Published by Vladimir Minkov

Vladimir Minkov Ph.D. is a nuclear scientist, published author and writer. He is the co-author of "Nuclear Shadow Boxing", a scientific history of the nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and USA during the cold war and is the author of many books on the Jewish identity in the Judeo-Christian civilization. Having lost much of his family in the Holocaust and finding his search for spiritual development stifled in the Soviet Union, Vladimir migrated to the United States in the late 1970s. Here in the USA Vladimir work as a scientist on various peaceful applications of nuclear energy together with American and Soviet/Russian scientist. After his retirement, he concentrated his efforts on the study of the morality of the Judeo-Christian Western Civilization connecting the morality of public life with the morality of religious life with the emphasis on the USA and the State of Israel.

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