Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tradition and Religion

I was having a discussion with a friend about tradition in Judaism. Specifically, someone he knows decided that he and his family would celebrate Chanuka a day after the holiday was officially over. Essentially, they lit the Menorah a day after Chanuka was over so they could celebrate Chanuka as a family. So, did they celebrate the traditional holiday of Chanuka?

I think that this was a complete disregard for tradition. Someone wanted to change the tradition based on what they wanted to do. No one before them had ever thought that lighting the Chanuka menorah the day after chanuka was celebrating the traditional holiday of Chanuka. So in what way is this following the tradition?

If this idea caught on then the traditional holiday would eventually be meaningless because it would lose its set day. Sure, one could celebrate the lighting of the menorah, but the holiday would be lost.
This brings me to the disconnect that has arised between tradition and religion. Tradition is based on the religion, so how can one celebrate the tradition without any regard for the religion? Hence, I believe that even though there is cultural relevance to keeping tradition, there is no reason to keep a tradition unless there is some real belief in the underlying religion.

For example, I had a friend in college that was a reform Jew. He was very invovled with his temple, he would read from the Torah weekly, teach hebrew school and learned chumash all the time. He was someone who really believed in the principles of reform Judaism.

I also had a friend that said he was reform, but the only thing he did that had any Jewish tinge to it was that he had a friday night meal once a month. Now, I am not saying this is a bad thing at all. It is very nice that he was keeping himself involved somehow. However, would one say this person is keeping with tradition? Maybe you would say that he wants to keep to his cultural inheritance, but he is clearly not a traditional Jew.

However, my first friend, the one who was extremely involved, would be called someone who cares about tradition. He believes that the proper path of Judaism is reform Judaism. He follows the guidlines of that sect and does not do whatever he wants.He bases everything he does, with regard to Judaism, on the tradition that he was given and did not do whatever he pleased.

A traditional Jew is someone who strongly believes that they are following the practicies of the word of G-D. These people exist in all forms of Judaism. However, there are also Jews in all types of Judaism that are not keeping with tradition.

My point is simply this, to be a traditional Jew one has to connect the tradition with the religion. To separate the two makes no sense (to me).

(Aaron, you should have some good material now).


Recreational Musings said...

I was raised the very active type of Reform Jew that you described one of your friends as, but I would never use the world traditional to describe me back then. I was observant; I still am observant. But I was progressive and now I am traditional. I always believed myself to be following the word of God but my frame of mind changed from a progressive interpretation of the classic Jewish texts to a more traditional one. Tradition implies doing what generations in the past have done - in some cases this can be done because of solely cultural reasons, but it is not necessarily tied directly to religion.
Your friend (and me) could be called observant due to his belief he was following God's word, but is not traditional because he does it in a progressive way. He doesn't follow the same lifestyle that our Jewish ancestors came from.

E-Man said...

True recreational, however, we also do not follow the lifestyle of our Jewish ancestors. We follow the same guidelines, however, the way we practice Judaism today is very different than how it was practiced 2000 years ago.