Why God Loves JuBus
Since Judaism isn't only a creedal religion, it leaves the opportunity open for its adherents to explore other faiths.
BY: Rodger Kamenetz
Most Jews with a Buddhist practice tend to hate the term "JuBu." I didn't invent the term, but I helped popularize it by using that shorthand to talk about Jewish Buddhists in my book, "The Jew in the Lotus," which chronicled Jewish leaders' dialogue with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. Though still relatively small in number, JuBus represent the growing phenomenon of religious "hyphenation" in this country. Now, in addition to JuBus, I've heard of UUJews or Jewnitarians for Unitarian Universalist Jews, HinJews, for Jewish followers of Hindu teachings, and Jewfis, for Sufi Jews. There are, no doubt, other combinations.
Jews who worry that this hyphenation will result in the dilution of Judaism should know that most Jewish Buddhists aren't yet at the point of seriously trying to bring together two different religions to form something new. To do so is no easy task. But Jews do seem more eager to encounter Buddhism than adherents of other faiths. I was recently riding in a hotel van in Columbus, Ohio. My driver, a young man in his twenties, told me he was a Cairene, an Egyptian from Cairo, and a Muslim. I asked excitedly about the mosque in Columbus. For some reason the very idea makes me happy-it gives me hope that America, in spite of its current paranoia on the international scene, is actually developing under our noses an extraordinarily rich and various religious culture, one more open and diverse than any that's ever existed in any land on the planet. My driver told me he was married to a Christian, but that it wasn't a problem religiously. He explained to me that a Muslim is permitted to marry a Jew or Christian but not a Buddhist. Jews and Christians are considered by Muslims to be believers in God, while orthodox Buddhists are not.
That was a fascinating bit of religious sociology to learn while rolling along in a Holiday Inn van in the great American heartland of Ohio. It also explains the larger picture of which the JuBu phenomenon is just a detail-because the hyphenation of religious identity is also reflected in the increasing pace of intermarriage between members of different religious groups.
Nevertheless, based on what my Egyptian driver was saying, there certainly can't be such a thing as a Muslim-Buddhist. So why can there be something called a Jewish-Buddhist? Because Judaism has never presented itself as a creedal religion. The medieval philosopher Maimonides did try to create a creed for Judaism, the 13 principles of faith, later formulated for synagogue prayer as the "ani ma'amim" or "I believe." But whether any given group of Jews actually subscribes to these statements in a whole-hearted way is difficult to say-there's simply no occasion formally in which Jews are required to swear allegiance to them. (Even a bar or bat mitzvah, which seems like a ritual swearing-in ceremony, is at its root more of a literacy test.)