What Cultural Judaism Lacks


The Jewish Week makes it a policy to glorify “cultural” Judaism frequently at the expense of “religious” (especially Orthodox) Judaism.

Yet the paper also laments the lack of Jewish involvement of half the Jewish population of New York,

as per the latest UJA-Federation of New York study. Many articles ponder how we can get more Jews involved.

In the Dec. 21 “Directions” section (Dec. 28) there were two articles that demonstrate the fallacy of idolizing cultural Judaism.

An article making Ed Koch into a Jewish landmark (“The Mayor Who Put Jewishness In Your Face”) describes how he was able to make being openly Jewish acceptable in the public eye. And I certainly am grateful for all the good Koch has done. Sadly, however, the end of the article points out that he plans on being buried in Trinity Cemetery. He may write on his tombstone how “Jewish” he was, but it was not important enough for him to be buried with his Jewish family in a Jewish cemetery.

Ted Merwin makes the argument in the Back of the Book (“The Nearness Of You,” Dec. 28) that Jerusalem plays no role in his life. His aspirations are to spend time in New York City. He takes the 800-year-old poem of Yehuda Halevy that epitomizes the yearnings of Jews for 2,000 years to return to Jerusalem, and debases those holy feelings with his desires to return to New York.

Cultural Judaism may feel good, but unfortunately it is not what has kept us going through the exile and will not engage the next generation. If you are truly worried about engaging the next generation, study Yehuda Halevy and other classic Jewish texts and ask the members of the Hebrew Free Burial Association why they spend so much of their time and energy making sure every Jew can have a Jewish burial. These are avenues that will lead the next generation into involvement with real and meaningful Judaism.