Is There a Simple Answer to This?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
My non-Jewish friends and colleagues often ask me: What is Judaism?
They are not looking for a complicated thesis, just a simple response. How would you sum up a 4000 year old culture in a few words?
'Judaism' and 'simple' are not often found in the same sentence. But to attempt to answer this, we first need to define what Jews are, then we can define what Judaism is.
The Jewish people can best be described as a spiritual family. We are connected by our souls, and every Jew is a part of this invisible web by virtue of our Jewishness. You can either be born into the family or join by choice. But once you are in, you are family, no matter what.
If Jews are a family, the Torah is the family rules. It recounts the family history, defines the family identity, and lays out the expectations of how members of the family should behave and the good they can contribute to the world.
Some of the Torah is universal, but much of it is about our particular family and its relationships - with our brothers and sisters, our ancestors, our homeland and the Head of the family - G-d.
If you break the rules, you are still a member, because family is family. But those who keep the rules keep the family together. Those who reject the rules usually find their children or grandchildren will drift away from the family entirely, not even knowing what they are leaving behind. But they can always come back. You can never really leave the Jewish family.
So if the Jewish people are a family, and the Torah is the family rules, what is Judaism?
Judaism is a story. The story of a family.
Every family has its story - its joys and its conflicts, its high moments and its not so high moments. Parents are sometimes proud of their kids or disappointed at them; children follow their parents' ways or rebel against them. But throughout the family dramas, they remain a family.
Judaism is our family story. But not a story to just read, a story to live. We are the characters of the story. The story is bigger than you or me or any one person. But it is about you and me and every individual Jew. Each one of us, through our relationship with G-d and the Jewish people, continues the story that is Judaism.