My gripe with secular judaism

Why do we take religious texts, strip them of their religious content, and then attempt to use the left-over fragments as justification for social justice? The thinkers we read operate within a deeply religious system of thought. The basis for their values is not secular humanism; it’s a devoutly religious, god-centric philosophy. We don’t view texts in their entirety. We don’t explore any sort of historical context. Instead, we extract small, disparate kernels from texts viewed in isolation. Text study is important but what we’re doing here isn’t text study. We aren’t harnessing traditional thought to kindle the flame of moral justice; we’re swaddling ourselves in the blankets of positive reinforcement and comfort.

We are told that the secular applications of religious texts lead us to do social justice. But social justice, as articulated by BINA, is the ultimate midcult activism. Like the midcult media, which exists to flatter it’s consumers, the liberal idea of social justice exists to make the participants feel better about themselves. So far, the classes at BINA have reinforced the world-views of many of the young liberals in the program. “There’s no right way to do things,” we’re constantly told. “Just do what you find meaningful.” We aren’t challenged to rethink our preconceived notions. We’re being told that are preconceived notions are valuable because, in the view of these petty-charity liberals, it’s impossible for anyone to be wrong.

At times, it can even feel hedonistic: we should do what makes us feel good. We should take from texts only the messages and excerpts that reinforce and conform to our preconceived notions. And we should ignore the parts that make us feel bad, those that challenge or threaten our currently held beliefs. If all I learn from reading Maimonides’ writings on teshuva is that apologizing makes us better people, I’m not being challenged, nor do I need to look specifically at Maimonides. He isn’t known as the authority on interpersonal problems. His concern is halakha.

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