I’ve been thinking about the new study by Steven Cohen about the changing face of the New York Jewish community –more orthodox and ultra-orthodox, less liberal. A part of me thinks that this is not a big story. It has almost nothing to do with Judaism or American Judaism and everything to do with shifting residential demographics and New York real estate. Middle and upper middle class liberal Jews families leave for the suburbs. And the ones who stay in New York tend to be less (and less) observant.
I think the good folks over at Commentary are too quick to crow about the death of liberal Judaism. And if it is indeed true that liberal Judaism is kaput, well, I think that says something pretty sad about Judaism and liberal Judaism, that American Jews have still not figured out how to fuse religion, devotion, and genuine freedom.
By freedom I don’t mean the fake “religious freedom” of politically religious conservatives that tends to mean the freedom to discriminate against people and to limit their rights. I mean the freedom to move through worlds, secular and religious, with open hearts and critical minds. If all that’s left of Judaism are the itchy appeals to authority and obedience, and the anger and anxiety about Jews, Judaism, and Israel that get expressed in non-liberal Jewish circles, well then, I guess it’s no surprise that liberal people will shy away from it like a bad smell. If that’s what’s left of Judaism, it’s not worth having.
Clearly, liberal Judaism has its work cut out for itself, no matter where it finds itself, in New York or the suburbs. Personally, I have grown increasingly tired with the artless conservative claptrap inundating contemporary Jewish philosophy –heteronomy, law, the political, authority. I wanted to create a more felicitous place. That’s why Moses Mendelssohn remains the patron saint of jewishphilosophyplace.