Last week, I went to Toronto to see Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”. It is a play about lies, corruption, politics, and fanaticism. It is about greed and self-interest. It is about narrow view points and fear. It is about doing the “right” thing even when it may harm others. It is about a community whose people have conflicting values.
Seeing this play made me think about the values and the voice of my Jewish community. How do we express our values? Do we look at the world through a single lens?
We, as progressive Jews, know that some rights and wrongs are not always simple. For example, when I was a child, you were Jewish if your mother was Jewish. Today the URJ allows patrilineal descent. What was right has evolved because Reform Judaism has become more inclusive. How do we as Jews work within the community to speak with a harmonious voice that supports our ethical commitment? How do we deal with change, progress, and conflicting viewpoints?
In the introduction to our siddur, I found a significant answer:
In any worship setting, people have diverse beliefs. The challenge of a single liturgy is to be not only multi-vocal, but poly-vocal — to invite full participation at once, without conflicting with the keva text (First, the keva text must be one that is acceptable; hence, the ongoing adaptations of certain prayers, over time, such as the G’vurot). Jewish prayer invites interpretation; the left hand material was selected both for metaphor and theological diversity. The choices were informed by the themes of Reform Judaism and Life: social justice, feminism, Zionism, distinctiveness, human challenges. The heritage of Reform brings gems from the Union Prayer Book and from Gates of Prayer, as well as from Reform’s great literary figures over the last century and more.
Theologically, the liturgy needs to include many perceptions of God: the transcendent, the naturalist, the mysterious, the partner, the evolving God. In any given module of prayer, e.g., the Sh’ma and Its Blessings, we should sense all of these ways. The distinction of an integrated theology is not that one looks to each page to find one’s particular voice, but that over the course of praying, many voices are heard, and ultimately come together as one. The ethic of inclusivity means awareness of and obligation to others rather than mere self-fulfillment
An integrated theology communicates that the community is greater than the sum of its parts. While individuals matter deeply, particularly in the sense of our emotional and spiritual needs and in the certainty that we are not invisible, that security should be a stepping stone to the higher value of community, privilege and obligation. We join together in prayer because together, we are stronger and more apt to commit to the values of our heritage. Abraham knew that just ten people made a difference. In worship, all should be reminded of the social imperatives of community.
I knew there would be a Jewish solution to “An Enemy of the People”.