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Guest Blogger: Self-Help–Is Judaism Enough for Jews?

rabbijenniferkrauseselfhelp.jpg Improving the self–whether through books, magazines, prayer, meditation, or study–has always been a Jewish enterprise and the rabbis were among history’s first “life coaches.” Today it is the same. I do not have one doubt that Judaism continues to offer a variety of ways we’ve already discovered and approaches yet to be revealed, which are meaningful, hopeful, and helpful for Jews and for people of all backgrounds
and faiths. That’s why it made sense, when I finally got the go-ahead from a publisher to write a book (a lifelong dream of mine), that I was told it would be placed in the “self-help” genre.
When I imagine the rabbis of the Talmudic era, I imagine the ones who bequeathed us a tradition of fearless, open questioning, who taught us to place life-giving value on struggle and to recognize the power, both individual and collective, that stems from facing challenges and uncertainty with courage, devotion, and trust in every person’s piece of the puzzle of existence.


Not only were the rabbis well-versed (literally) in inherited texts and traditions, but they were current on philosophy, science, medicine, other religions’ theological systems, culinary trends, culture, leisure, and love. They had to be in order to keep Judaism ancient and relevant, transcendent and de-rigueur, substantive and spirited with strong legs to walk on into the next chapters of Jewish life.
My experience has been that when we trust what we’ve inherited and grant equal trust to the people who hold that inheritance to locate what’s meaningful and helpful to them, they not only do so, but they also become contributors to and creators of traditions and wisdom. In 500 years, those contributions may be a big part of what people identify as “Jewish”.
This is also why it doesn’t worry me one bit when Jews find wisdom and help outside of Judaism. Thank goodness they do! The whole human project began with Adam and Eve, not with Abraham and Sarah. So nothing human, to borrow a bit from the Roman playwright Terence, should ever be alien, or forbidden, to us as Jews. If anything, “outside” sources can deepen, enliven, revivify, and expand just how powerfully connected we feel to our Jewishness. Where would Maimonides have been, and what would he have contributed to us, without Aristotle, without medicine? How might the teachings of Abraham Joshua Heschel have been different had he not linked arms and souls with Martin Luther King, Jr.?
No, I’m not one who frets when Jews find meaning in places beyond Judaism. I worry more about what frightens us so much when they do.
–Posted by Rabbi Jennifer Krause
Rabbi Jennifer Krause is the author of The Answer: Making Sense of Life, One
Question at a Time.
For more information, please visit her website.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 3:12 pm

While all Jews will be affected by Gentiles (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill), all that is necessary is Torah. Look at successful Jewish towns like Kiryas Yoel and New Town for examples. The rabbis there are barely acquainted with philosophy and non-Jewish religions and those places are growing a lot faster than any organisation any of the ‘Virtual Talmud’ rabbis are affiliated with.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 6:52 pm

As a jew who did the “recovery” stuff(SLAA, et al) I can tell you that sometimes you need the jewish familiarity to make sense of it. and conversely, you need the other stuff to understand thwe judaism. I can honestly say that in the past 6 months, with going through the “recovery process” I actually understood my jewishness More AND Better than i had at any time prior. Mind you I have a BA with one of my 2 majors was in History, with a Concentration in Jewish History.

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laura t mushkat

posted October 24, 2007 at 2:23 pm

To many Jews the Jewish way of life is learning through study. While many study only Jewish writtings there are others who continue to study and learn the in the secular world. Sometimes we learn things that are the result of something that happened to others of other faiths. We look at the resulting lesson and can see how it can relate to anyone including a Jew. This does not mean we in anyway embrace the other faith just what was learned.
The learning process, first confined to men, is now the way of life for all of us regardless of sex or how we practice our faith. Therfore this is really not a original idea that the author writes about.

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