- Stephen HRM
On Jewish Traditions
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
One of the most curious facts about the Jewish faith is that it has survived despite the endless tsunami of threats and challenges Jews have had to overcome since God took them out from Egypt and into the wilderness.
It is no small achievement, no other civilization has been able to achieve such longstanding survival, let alone having done so when being sojourners in foreign lands and subject to constant attacks on their identity and livelihood.
Divine providence has no doubt played its role, but, so has the determination of Jews to maintain their cultural identity.
Much of the Torah pertains to the sacrificial system, and so central is it to the Torah, and so central was it to the practice of the faith in the wilderness and in Temple times, that without it the historical record would suggest that Judaism should have become a reality only on the pages of history books.
That this inevitability did not occur was in no small part due to the work of Jewish leaders and Rabbis who sought to ensure that the symbolic meaning of the sacrificial system remained part of Jewish life. It is from this desire that many Jewish traditions came into being.
It is an unfortunate part our movement that there seems to be, in some congregations at least, a hostility towards these Jewish traditions.
There are a handful of reasons provided to justify this hostility, the most common I have heard see no distinction between the practice of Jewish traditions with the Christian practice of keeping Christmas and Easter, while others seem to naturally recoil at all things Rabbinical or from the Sages given their unbelief in Jesus Christ.
No matter the specific reason provided, the simplistic nature of these arguments is problematic, and at times creeps uncomfortably close to anti-Semitism. One cannot make the claim that the practice of traditions are inherently wrong – while some traditions certainly are, we are nevertheless creatures of culture and traditions and customs should therefore be judged on their individual merits, and in this case, with service to God in mind.
Yet, as is the case, there is often little evidence provided justifying the supposed sinful nature of particular Jewish traditions and customs. One is then left with the impression that the issue is the Jewishness of these particular acts. Such arguments are superficial and often hypocritical given that those who hold such views often have no problem with the Book of Jasher or the Book of Enoch, as has become common in our movement, but recoil at the use of a Haggadah or reference to the Talmud for some linguistic or cultural insight into the Torah.
It may be that I am being too harsh – though there is much more to say on the matter, but I should perhaps concede that there may be some benefit to keeping the Jewishness of our faith at a safe distance. Still, I cannot see it and rather cannot help but see the Jewishness of our faith as an opportunity to connect to a family rich in history whose existence throughout history has stood as a perpetual testament to the glory and love of our God and Messiah.
One of the most beautiful gifts God endowed us with is our ability to create and mold a cultural identity. Our customs and rituals, when done right, are beautiful expressions of family and community that connect us to a proud history, a future hope, and closeness to God that is not only commanded but impossible to achieve without the communal bonds that only our traditions and customs can provide.
There is no doubt that to accept all traditions uncritically is wrong. We should not view them as commandments, nor should we ever feel pressured to become “more Jewish” as a requirement to serve God. Still, in the end, no matter what one thinks of Jewish practices and traditions, they are our brothers and sisters and when gifted a relationship with a family member who possess such knowledge and cultural richness, let alone a history of such literary beauty, it is a tragedy that some want nothing to do with a tradition rich with such beauty.