Letters to a Buddhist Jew
By Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb

Rabbi Akiva Tatz and a questioning "Buddhist" Jew discuss, in a series of letters, fundamentals of Jewish faith. A must for kiruv/Jewish outreach professionals and for any searching Jew!

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Sinai and Beyond

Akiva,
Sinai is the formative experience of Jewish identity. But the fact that no one else has claimed such a mass revelation doesn’t make this one “true”: it simply makes it unique.

Where I get confused, and where many other Jews of my stripe would be pulled up short, is in your statement that “we met Him…Only because we lived through that cosmic meeting are we prepared to accept the words of prophets who spoke later in history.” What you say next is made doubly true: “We are by nature a skeptical people; only the very highest standard of evidence is good enough for us.”

I have listened to the tape in which you give an enthralling explanation of what that meeting must have been like. But I do not consider myself to have been there. When you say “we met Him,” whom do you include in that “we”? From this question proceed a host of others that are annoying in their naivete, but which will be asked nonetheless: where has He been since; why is there no archaeological evidence of our sojourn in Egypt, of the meeting at Sinai, the trek in the desert; why are there no independent first-person accounts of that sojourn anywhere other than the Torah (and other such evidentiary objections) and why are we as Jews so consistently wracked by dissent and disagreement about exactly who we are, what we are called upon to do and by whom, when His words (if His words they were) and directions to us were so indelibly clear, and the consequences for not following them so dire?

Were we literally “there,” in some past life, or were we there by virtue of continuity, through the very DNA we carry, whose molecules had that event impressed upon them? We have already abandoned or modified so many of the mitzvot He detailed, is it possible that we have lost our connection with Him already and don’t know it? How do we know if we’re doing the right thing if we don’t even know if He is?

I do not wish to debate this, but only to point out that most Jews that I know – most of whom are relatively literate Conservative Jews – do not, cannot believe that they met God, that God was met, or even that Torah was given at Sinai. And if they are conflicted or in doubt about this, how can they really consider themselves Jewish, foster Jewish continuity or continue the sacred work of Jews in the world?

For me to understand what you mean when you say “we met Him,” I need to know this: were you and I, in some fashion, there? Because if we were not there, then either we have met him since and many of us don’t even know it, or we are taking “on faith” the fact that 80-odd generations ago, He was met.

David,
Since we do not experience the original historical event as personal we must investigate its veracity in other ways, and that is why the study of the history of Torah transmission is so important. I have already referred you to works, both classic and modern, that examine this transmission history – it is basic Torah material.

Archaeological evidence: I shall attach three references detailing the archaeological evidence of our sojourn in Egypt as a start for your research on this subject. (What archaeological evidence would you like for the meeting at Sinai?)

Were we all at Sinai? In reality, we were all there at a deep level, and knowledge of that experience is possible. In fact, we have a tradition that one of the specific problems of our age is a dense block in consciousness that makes that knowledge hard to access. This block is an important facet of modern Jewish disaffection; detachment from the core awareness of Jewish identity is at the heart of the problem.

Why do so many Jews of this generation hardly relate to their Jewish identity at all? The Talmud states: “Every seventy years a star rises that misguides the sailors.” Seventy years is the conventional measure of a generation; each generation in Jewish history is tested by a particular mistaken ideology. Great ideological movements contrary to authentic Jewish values sweep through the world and the Jewish people; each generation is tested and tempted by one of these, and many succumb in the face of a new and apparently redeeming approach to life. Seventy years later the idol crashes and a new one arises; again a generation is tempted and again there are casualties.

The opinion of great Torah minds of the last generation was that the test of that generation was the communist and socialist idea; many Jews were swept away by its promise of a perfect society. Seventy years after its grand entrance, it crashed and exited the stage of human ideology, one more failure in the long series of human ideas intended to build a universal messianic reality.

Now what is the ordeal of our generation? What star misguides those who would navigate a course through our part of history? What misperception tests and tempts the minds of Jews today?

It is quite likely the blurring of the distinction between Jew and non-Jew.

In the modern Jewish mind a transition has taken place to a universal grasp of man without distinctions. The unique nature of the Jewish people and its path through history are becoming blurred in the minds of modern Jews. The special beauty and greatness of our people, a sense of the miracle of our existence despite the concerted efforts of vast sections of humanity to destroy us throughout history; the sharp awareness of these things is being lost. There is no longer anything specifically Jewish at the center of the personal sense of identity of many Jews today.

The deepest element of the sense of self that has always lived in the heart of a Jew, that natural pride in being a child of Jewish history, is being lost. It is fundamental to understand that this is unnatural; the star that rises and misguides the navigators is unnaturally placed, it does not belong in that part of the firmament. That intelligent Jews should regard their Jewishness as irrelevant, unworthy of even a passing thought, is nothing short of miraculous.

For an idea that has been at the forefront of human consciousness for millennia, at the focal point of world history throughout the ages of human activity, to pass so far out of the consciousness of its sons and daughters that they are prepared to give it up without engaging it even superficially is remarkable. Souls hewn from the rock that formed Abraham, children of a family whose story spans history, whose ancestors changed the world most profoundly and consistently, scions of an epic of unparalleled survival – and these survivors find all this irrelevant. Not worth considering; simply irrelevant.

The Jewish mind is asleep, drugged by this unusual and unprecedented ordeal. The vibrant and aggressive Jewish mind, that sharp and inquiring mind that has examined and penetrated, discovered, conceived and invented in all areas of knowledge, has lost knowledge of itself.

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