Why Judaism Is So Damn Complicated
"Judaism is not a mere adjunct to life. It comprises all of life."
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What the heck is Judaism?
Some call it a religion, others (i.e. Israelis) a nationality, and still others a culture.
In a world that’s obsessed with comparisons, Judaism awkwardly fails to fit the mold, even though so many of us want it to.
For example, loads of people consider Judaism a religion — and to be sure, the Jewish People have a religion — but Judaism is not a religion in and of itself. A religion involves the service and worship of God or the supernatural (at least according to Merriam-Webster). Yet tons of Jews do not believe in God or live a so-called religious life, and are still very much Jewish.
It’s easy to refer to Judaism as a religion because this helps people understand Judaism (or so they think), and applying quick-and-easy labels to concepts is actually a very normal part of how the human brain has evolved. More specifically, we’re wired to use heuristics, or mental shortcuts that simplify problems and avoid cognitive overload, so we can quickly reach conclusions to complex concepts.
The limbic part of our brain is responsible for this behavior, but the problem is it has no capacity for language. This is why it’s hard to put feelings into words — and why we speak in analogies a lot of the time, even though reasoning by analogy can lead to incomplete, misleading, and discombobulated interpretations.
I prefer to reason by “first principles” — a fancy way of saying that we ought to look at an item holistically to truly understand its roots.
Judaism became a religion thousands of years after it was founded, mainly as a response to Christianity.
In 1885, the Reform Movement in the United States created a quasi declaration of independence, proclaiming that Judaism should only be considered a religion. This marked the first time that Judaism was labeled in a major Jewish document as only a religion.