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.

Radical and ultraliberal critics of Israel present it in the darkest possible terms, as an ethnocentric, militaristic, paranoid entity. Even to the more levelheaded outside observer, the Jewish state’s actions can seem clumsy at the best of times, belligerent at the worst. But in the Jewish heart and mind, Israel deserves a special place, and a different kind of consideration. For much like the traditional institutions of Jewish communities of old, the State of Israel provides perhaps the most critical of services for its people. Indeed, it is an institution fundamental to the survival and prosperity of the global Jewish community. Through such means as the Law of Return, the IDF, and the Israeli security services, it provides Jews with a home and a sanctuary in times of emergency. It also instills in them a sense of pride that only a sovereign nation, living in its own land, can foster.

Marla Braverman, “The Zionist Imperative,” Azure No. 43 (Winter 2011), 25.