by Stefan Schindler
“Do we want to preserve the traditions – the history, prayers, rituals, and faith – which make Judaism distinctive, or do we want to become just a bunch of ethicists?” An ethicist advocates virtue, and the rabbi’s question was rhetorical. Now stay with me here; this is not complex.
Sabbath is the Hebrew holy day, beginning on Friday evening and extending through Saturday. Satori is a Japanese Buddhist word for enlightenment. One Saturday morning long ago, when I was still a child and attending a religious instruction class at our local temple, I had a mini-enlightenment.
I was only 12, and I found the Sabbath morning class inspirational. It was intellectually stimulating in a way that school was not. That morning, the rabbi’s question struck a chord. The name of that chord is irony. A Jewish education is ironic because, at its best, it’s Socratic: it teaches one to doubt and inquire. The same is true of Buddhism.
I was too shy to voice my response to the rabbi’s challenge; besides, he was on a roll. But I have always remembered that moment. Adding a retrospective flavor, here’s what I thought:
Although my mother was a Christian, she converted to Judaism to please my father. During the process of her conversion, my mother asked the rabbi if there was a conflict in being both Christian and Jewish. She wanted to convert, but she also wanted to keep her Christian values.
The rabbi responded that ethics is the heart of the Torah; therefore, at the deepest, most important level, there is no conflict. He told the story of the Hebrew sage who was asked to summarize the Torah, standing on one leg. So the sage stood on one leg and replied very simply: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And so, dear rabbi, on this glorious Sabbath morning for which I do give thanks, kindly allow me to say: I would much rather have a world of ethicists, committed to peace and the Golden Rule, than a world of religious rivalry and strife. Religious distinctiveness has its beauty, but it also contributes, tragically, to what Hegel calls “the slaughter-bench of history.”
I would, therefore, gladly abandon all religious difference in favor of – and here comes irony again – a postreligious world committed to what the Dalai Lama calls “a common religion of kindness.”
After all, isn’t what all religions have in common more important than how they differ?
And at the heart of all religions, is there not a common urge, prayer, and path to the Peaceable Kingdom on earth?