It remains to be seen what kind of political and cultural alliance can develop between (a) secularists who are more patient with religious liberals than the New Atheists are and (b) religious liberals themselves. And this is where the issue of giving religious ideas a “pass” has become especially difficult. Political liberals of secular orientation tend to give religious ideas a pass because they hope thereby to achieve issue-specific alliances with faithaffirming Americans on the environment, health care, foreign policy, taxation, and so on. Why mess things up by embarrassing the faithful and demanding that they repudiate more resoundingly their more conservative coreligionists? In the meantime, religious liberals are under constant attack from their conservative coreligionists for being on a slippery slope to secularism and are thus reluctant to break ranks with more conservative believers to an extent that secularists would find productive. Hence these religious liberals, too, prefer to seek issue-specific alliances with secular liberals and leave potentially divisive religious argumentation aside.

David A. Hollinger, “Religious Ideas: Should They Be Critically Engaged or Given a Pass?Representations #101 (2008), 151-152.

Halacha is the most characteristic and developed expression of Jewish thought. Although one cannot acquire a complete picture of the rabbinic mind without knowledge of midrash aggada, its rhetorical style, particularly its use of hyperbole, can make it an unreliable source of rabbinic theology. Jewish tradition has always expressed itself most rigorously through halacha. The rabbis of the Talmud are never more themselves than when they are operating in the realm of halacha.

Rabbi Ozer Glickman, “Think Local, Act Global: Tzedaka in a Global Society,” in Toward a Renewed Ethic of Jewish Philanthropy, ed. Yossi Prager (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 2010), 276.

We also need to realize that guilt doesn’t work anymore. The escalating rate of intermarriage and the Holocaust are themes that do not motivate today’s teen. Kids can tell when we are there for them and when we are there for ourselves. If we are here for ourselves because we are worried about the future of the Jewish community, then why would they buy it?

Marc Fein, “Reaching the iPod Generation: NCSY Regional Directors Share Strategies on Raising Children to Love Judaism,” ed. Bayla Sheva Brenner, Jewish Action (Summer 5771/2011), 29.

Perhaps the moral fatigue of living in a pluralistic society, surrounded by many competing ethical systems, makes us long to turn to legislation as the master source of what is right and wrong. When we do this, consciously or unconsciously, we are inevitably disappointed in the law. A great many of these disappointments stem from the fact that we are looking for something that is not there: a coherent moral code. This disappointment is, in my opinion, to the greater good: as long as we are disappointed by law when we try to read it ethically, one hopes we will be less likely to mistake it for a moral code.

Alice Sturm, “The Amoral Law”, Hypocrite Reader, Issue 2 (March 2011).

Giving tzedakah offers us a tangible way to combine our agenda for social justice and preserve the Jewish people. In America, we have been blessed with wealth; we must use it to bring blessing on all Jews, America and the world.

Scott A. Shay, Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem & New York: Devora Publishing, 2008), 252.

We are hindered in our ettorts to understand the Mishna and its relation to preceding traditions by our lack of evidence for exactly what Judah the Prince did with the earlier traditions and for what purpose. Albeck has claimed that he was writing a law code, others a textbook for study, others a suggestive summary of the law meant to lead the reader to other sources. See the outlines of theories in J. Neusner (ed.), Modern Study of the Mishnah.

Anthony J. Saldarini, “‘Form Criticism’ of Rabbinic Literature,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 96, No. 2 (June 1977), 264, n. 26.

The challenge for American Jewry is to harness the heritage and impulse that all Jews have for social action and direct it within a Jewish context. Social responsibility must be a part of our identity as Jews, with our particularistic impulse and universalistic impulse balanced in an ever-shifting duality determined by the needs of the times. However, one side can never be to the exclusion of the other. While social action has served as an exit lane for Jews, there is no reason it can also not serve as an entry lane. Many Jews, certainly young adult Jews on campus and in the early post-college years, are seeking social action opportunities. American Jewry needs to provide a Jewish context for these opportunities. Our heritage makes this a natural opportunity for Jewish engagement. Jewish social action must be linked with Jewish learning. As such, opportunities for social action should be an entry point for a deeper commitment to Judaism.

Scott A. Shay, Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem & New York: Devora Publishing, 2008), 236-237.

What concerned Jews was the freedom to practise their faith, not a desire to convert others to it. Judaism admits converts but does not seek them – not because it is exclusive but because it does not believe that you have to be Jewish to achieve salvation, a place in ‘the world to come’. What interest could a non-Jewish public have in the Sabbath, Jewish dietary laws, Jewish marriage and divorce, circumcision or any other particularistic Jewish practice? Jews were and are a minority in every country except Israel, and have lived with that situation for millenia. They have no desire to impose their views on the majority. Their interests coincide with the basic principles of liberal democracy: minimum government interference with private religious practice and a public policy that is, as far as possible, neutral or inclusive on controversial moral issues.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 115.

American Judaism is in crisis. But it isn’t the crisis that mainstream American Jewish leaders would have you believe. … The real crisis is one of meaning and engagement. For the first time in centuries, two Jews can marry each other and have Jewish children without any connection to Jewish heritage, wisdom or tradition.
Part of the problem is that there are very few places that offer Jews an opportunity to experience the power and mystery of Jewish tradition firsthand. Even people who are in-married by and large have little connection to Torah, Jewish practice and values. They are dependent on others to translate Judaism for them, and they trudge to High Holiday services to receive the requisite “Be good!” sermons, only to return to their lives unchallenged and unchanged.

We do not have the luxury of assuming that Jews will feel engaged in the Jewish tradition just by experiencing a few inspiring programs. Jews must become self-directed translators of the Jewish tradition — for themselves and their peers. This means less focus on “experiences” and more focus on the building blocks of educational discovery. This is not about religious indoctrination. This is unlocking the power of Jewish heritage.

The answer has to lie in peer engagement — through hosted meals, through study classes and pairings, through grass-roots communities and learning circles. In this world of social networks and mobility, our only chance for real engagement involves an empowered, educated corps of peers who have not devoted their lives to becoming Jewish professionals, but who can live out a rich Jewish culture and heritage and connect others to that experience.

Elie Kaunfer, “The Real Crisis In American Judaism,” The Jewish Week (9 April 2010), 1, 12, 14.

The beginning of rationalizing Talmud study as a necessary component in a broader Jewish studies curriculum is the recognition that rabbinic Judaism is the historical victor in the narrative of the Jewish people. While second commonwealth Judaisms may have been a story of sects, by the gaonic period one of these “sects”—namely, rabbinic (talmudic) Judaism—became the Judaism of the majority, despite challenges from groups like the Karaites. This development sets the stage for further advances in Judaism and Jewish life from the early Middle Ages on. Therefore, the Talmud is the key to in-depth understanding of most of the disciplines which constitute Jewish studies, because the culture it created is the foundation on which they are built. Even the Bible, as crucial as it is for the understanding of the Jewish experience, is significant for later Judaism only as it is interpreted by the Rabbis.

Michael Chernick, “Neusner, Brisk, and the Stam: Significant Methodologies for Meaningful Talmud Teaching and Study,” The Initiative for Bridging Scholarship and Pedagogy in Jewish Studies, Working Paper no. 19 (May 2010), 2-3.