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Secular, Conservative, American Jew

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My Religion

My definition of religion is likely different than that of most of the students at _________ _______. This is not only because I grew up with different experiences but because I am a secular, conservative, American Jew. The difference between a conservative Jew and other Jews is that we believe in the binding nature of Jewish law but believe that the law can change, while others believe that Jewish law comes from G-d and cannot be changed, and still others believe that the Torah was not written by G-d, but by man. Clearly there is a lot of flexibility about certain aspects of those beliefs, and a lot of disagreement about specifics, but that flexibility is built into the organized system of belief that is Judaism. This basic flexibility has taught us that the most important trait of being Jewish is to ask questions and to believe in yourself. I have been educated in this manner since I can remember and just graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America: Prozdor program. It is because of this education and the basic principal of asking question that made me believe that religion is not about praying to G-d but praising mankind.

Most secular American Jews think of their Jewishness as a matter of culture or ethnicity. When I think of Jewish culture, I think of the food, of the Yiddish language, of some holiday observances, and of cultural values like the emphasis on education. But this is really just Ashkenazic Jewish culture, the culture of Jews whose ancestors come from Western Europe. Jews have lived in many parts of the world and have developed many different traditions. As a Sephardic Jewish friend likes to remind me, Yiddish is not part of his culture, nor are bagels and lox, chopped liver, latkes, gefilte fish or matzah ball soup. His idea of Jewish cooking includes bourekas, phyllo dough pastries filled with cheese or spinach. His ancestors probably wouldn't know what to do with a dreidel.

There are certainly cultural traits and behaviors that are shared by many Jews, that make us feel comfortable with other Jews. Jews in many parts of the world share many of those cultural aspects. However, that culture is not shared by all Jews all over the world, and people who do not share that culture are no less Jews because of it. Thus, Judaism must be something more than a culture or an ethnic group.

There is a certain amount of truth in the claims that, my religion, is more than just a religion, a race, or an ethnic group. None of these descriptions is entirely adequate to describe what connects Jews to other Jews. And yet almost all Jews, including me, feel a sense of connectedness to each other that many find hard to explain, define, or even understand. The best explanation is the traditional one given in the Torah: that the Jews are a nation. However, some Jews, like me, don't like to use the word "nation." Jews have often been falsely accused of being disloyal to



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