What should Judaism sell?
"To me, wisdom and culture depict the true essence of Judaism."
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Rolex sells status, not watches. Supreme sells scarcity, not clothing. Sephora sells beauty, not makeup. Harley-Davidson sells a lifestyle, not motorcycles. Apple sells simplicity and style, not electronics. WeWork sells professional communities, not shared office spaces.
In the business world, this is known as branding and, as an extension, a brand’s “value proposition.” Today’s most formidable brands know that what they sell is not what they make; that is, their value proposition is not their product, or at least not just their product.
But what about Judaism? What do we Jews make, and what do we sell?
Obviously, Judaism is not a company. And, it has varying factions, denominations, practices, and customs, all of which posit Judaism through a vast prism, sometimes with fervent differences and variations. Plus, Judaism has never really had a central command center, and definitely not a figurehead like the Pope or Buddha.
But I worry (after all, I am Jewish) that if we Jews do not answer this question — What do Jews make, and what do Jews sell? — we will leave it to others to answer it for us, the results of which could be unfortunate, inconvenient, and counter-effective to Jewish thriving.
For now, we know that Judaism’s brand in the modern era has frequently been relegated to religion, a reaction to the theological world around us, particularly in Europe (Christianity and Catholicism) and the Middle East (Islam), where the vast majority of Jews historically have congregated. This is also the case in the West, and especially in the United States, whose cultural isms pervade much of today’s world.
To be certain, there’s nothing inherently wrong with religion. There are plenty of studies which suggest religious people better cope with stress and experience less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse. Research has also found a positive association between religiosity and other factors associated with wellbeing, such as optimism and hope, self-esteem, sense of meaning and purpose in life, internal locus of control, social support, and higher marital satisfaction.
In this regard, it’s fortunate that Judaism has a religion, but Judaism is not a religion in and of itself. Much like most restaurants in Israel today have ample vegan options, but this doesn’t make them vegan restaurants. (Fun fact: Israel has the world’s most vegans per capita.)
Yet, even when we look at Judaism as a religion, its “value proposition” — its promises to the world, Jews notwithstanding — is cumbersome. In the hi-tech world, we would say Judaism has poor “user onboarding” (the process of strategically increasing the likelihood that new users become successful, or achieve desired outcomes, when adopting a product) and poor “user experience” (how a user interacts with and experiences a product, system, or service).
Being a religious Jew surely offers a great supply of individual, interpersonal, and communal benefits, but becoming a religious Jew can be incredibly rigid, time-intensive, psychologically demanding, long, and drawn out. This means that most people will never derive the type of value from religious Judaism, and it can also cause many people to write off Judaism altogether, which doesn’t bode well for the fight against antisemitism, as well as many other challenges facing the Jewish world.
Hence why I believe that Judaism’s gatekeepers and members should stop “selling” religion, and we ought to start “selling” wisdom and culture — two value propositions that provide plug-and-play opportunities for both Jews and non-Jews alike. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we should stop using the word “religion” altogether when we talk about Judaism.
To me, wisdom and culture depict the true essence of Judaism. They can both elevate and disseminate its “value proposition” to the masses, something the Jewish world has never quite been good at doing, potentially because it has never really espoused to do so. Regardless, the aim is not to increase conversion to Judaism, but to help significantly more people — again, both Jews and non-Jews alike — derive deep-seated value from the vast treasure trove of Jewish elements.
“Redemption comes from bringing in the stranger,” Organic Torah founder Natan Margalit said, citing a passage from the Book of Ruth.1
Ultimately, my hope is that Judaism becomes one of the world’s bright spots, because I believe Judaism makes the world a better place. The more people who understand, fundamentally and deeply, that Judaism is indeed one of the world’s bright spots, the better a place our world will be.
In many ways, what I’m suggesting isn’t any different from globalization enabling humans to derive value from other peoples and cultures that they were not born into or holistically subscribe to, such as Buddhism and Black culture. What makes these two examples particularly interesting is that a tremendous amount of people who partake in practices originated from Buddhism and Black culture are not Buddhists and Black, respectively.
To be clear, I use these two examples — Buddhism and Black culture — with profound purpose. Like Buddhism (a microcosm of Eastern philosophy), Judaism is ripe with elaborate, seemingly never-ending wisdom for living a balanced, healthy, and fulfilling life. And like Black culture, Judaism offers unique pleasures, enjoyments, amusements, communities, and experiences from which Jews and non-Jews can glean extraordinary value.
Let’s take a deeper dive into Jewish wisdom and culture.