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Does Progressive Judaism Lack Spirituality?

"I have been thinking a lot about Judaism, and I’m kind of pissed at it right now."

This IM from my friend Sarah* was strangely startling. She spent the morning before this conversation stoned off her ass. She had a stressful weekend, and she needed to relax. She got high, turned off all her electronics, and it was "the most spiritual thing [she had] done in a long time."

The best part came when Sarah told me she had a religious epiphany over fruit. "I ate an orange.  I peeled the orange and realized that it was probably the closest to G-d a food can be, because it was so protected from the rest of the world. So I said a bracha (prayer) over it."

This girl grew up in Progressive Judaism. When Sarah "does Jewish", it is to "connect with family and community and to eat." She told me that she lacked a spiritual education and bottom line, secular, non-spiritual Jews raise other secular, non-spiritual Jews. Many of these Jews, tired of their lack of "feeling" in Judaism, move onto esoteric faiths like Buddhism, or get absorbed into the atheist fold of America.

There is one group who completely shatters this idea: Baal Teshuva. Formerly secular Jews who had become religious as adults, Baallat Teshuva defy the myth that Orthodoxy is completely self generated. I recently spoke at the Jewlicious Festival, a three day Jewish learning and cultural event in Long Beach, California. I was surrounded by Jews who came from non-religious backgrounds and had embraced the difficult, yet rewarding, lifestyle of Orthodox Judaism. I admired their strong connection to spirituality, family, tradition and Jewish law. Part of me wanted to join them, to drink the Orthodox Kool-Aid and find a wife as fast as possible. It wasn’t the first time: I am happy to have several Modern Orthodox friends who have inspired me to move to the other side of the fence. Like them, I strive to be better in the eyes of G-d and to make myself holy. But I can’t bring myself to Orthodoxy, because their way simply isn’t mine. 

Instead, I propose that the Progressive Jewish Movement create some form of New Baalat Teshuva. This would be a process where people can undergo intense spiritual learning about all areas of Jewish life, from different perspectives. This would allow our Baal-Teshuva-Version-2.0 to connect with G-d and the spirituality of Judaism, undertake a stronger Jewish life, without needing to seek out the nearest Chabad house. It would also radicalize Jewish institutions. While it’s great that secular Jews work in the Jewish world and connect to Judaism in this way, it might be interesting to see what would happen if Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews believed in their mission statements, not just out of cultural bias, but out of a religious devotion to a higher power.

What would happen if the secular, non-religious Jews of today became the Alterna-Frum Jews of Tomorrow? 


*Named changed to protect the innocent

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