I Am A Masorti Jew

I Am A Masorti Jew

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

 

I am one of those Conservative Jews who found his way to Conservative Judaism having been raised on the margins of Jewish life entirely: A member of a different movement, but not a very involved member of that movement. I found my way to Conservative Judaism in college, because it offered a Judaism that was at once progressive and traditional, that reached to the past with reverence and honor, and yet honored that past by keeping it open to change as each new generation saw God’s will distilled through a living tradition. That way of being Jewish spoke to my soul then, and speaks to my soul now.

I know no other way to present my love of Conservative Judaism than from the place that I stand. I have said on another occasion to an interdenominational group, that if our numbers continue to decline, I will be the one who picks up the last V'Ani Tefilati, and I will be the last one to attend the last Conservative synagogue. But I am not going anywhere. Why?

Ana avda de-Kud’sha B’rikh Hu is the Aramaic way of saying “I am nestled in my truest self.” The choice before us is stark: we do not get to choose whether or not to have a master, but we do get a choice as to who or what will be that master. If we serve one who is fickle or small (like fame, popularity, wealth, power, attractiveness) we will ultimately be enslaved by our own insatiable appetite, and by the inevitable chasm between our reality and our ideal.

The paradox of Jewish life is that freedom is only found in electing to serve the Holy One, in whose service true freedom is found. Only God is sufficiently great, wise, and loving to be able to guard our freedom and our dignity. A corollary truth is that being a servant of the Holy One means I am not at the center of my own concern, and that insight is profoundly liberating. Placing God at the center means making the wellbeing of God’s creation – my fellow creatures – conducting my life in holiness, and cultivating a relationship with God the focal points of my efforts.

Second Jewish paradox: the pursuit of happiness as an end can only frustrate and depress. But the pursuit of a life of meaning and service and belonging bears a rich fruit of joy and connection. I find all this in the Masorti understandings of God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Klal Yisrael.

 

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (www.bradartson.com) is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, where he is Vice President. The author of 9 books, most recently The Everyday Torah: Weekly Reflections and Inspirations.