The Pew survey, like the various more specific surveys of the Jewish community that come out from time to time, has told everyone in the Jewish organizational world what they already know. There is nothing in the survey that hasn’t been predicted, belabored and denied for decades. If its meaning had to be summed up in a single sentence, it would be that there can be no religion without revelation, no community without culture and no continuity without all of these.
It really is that simple which is why so many insist on making it so complicated.
What the Pew survey really says is that there are really two Jewish communities in America. One that is an actual structured community and the other uses that name but is a community in name only. Most of the responses go right past that obvious point to arguing about semantics, theology and the number of Jews who can dance on the head of a pin.
Gordis states, “What really doomed the movement is that Conservative Judaism ignored the deep existential human questions that religion is meant to address.” That confuses religion with philosophy. Religion does address existential questions, but it does so through faith.
The F-word, “Faith” only appears once in Gordis’ entire essay. “Non-Orthodox Judaism is simply disappearing in America. Judaism has long been a predominantly content-driven, rather than a faith-driven enterprise, but we now have a generation of Jews secularly successful and well-educated, but so Jewishly illiterate that nothing remains to bind them to their community or even to a sense that they hail from something worth preserving.”
Gordis hits the point and then drives away as quickly as he can. American Judaism is content-driven, but its content has to be driven by faith or the content has no integrity.
“Looming unasked in Conservative circles is the following question: Can one create a community committed to the rigors of Jewish traditional living without a literal (read Orthodox) notion of revelation at its core? Conservative Judaism could have been the movement that made an argument for tradition and distinctiveness without a theological foundation that is for most modern Jews simply implausible,” Gordis writes.
The Pew survey already answers that question. Religion without revelation has no integrity of content. Without revelation, religion is mere philosophy. If the religion is not of divine origin, then it’s merely philosophy. And you don’t build a community around concepts only a fraction of its people would be interested in or understand.
Religion without revelation is random intellectual inquiry packaged as something more. Without a Divine core, it is reduced to searching for the “divine in all of us”. If there is no God who spoke to man and conveyed specific words, instructions and ideas, then all that remains is an aimless spirituality that provides no reason for maintaining the specific integrity of a community around it.
Gordis’ remedy is “deep existential and spiritual seriousness”. And no doubt this will appeal to divinity students. But you can’t build a religion around that. Not even in a community as literate as those to be found within American Judaism.