To celebrate the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz' fifty-year project to translate the Talmud, a variety of Jewish organizations established the Global Day of Jewish Learning and asked scholars from around the world to reckon with "Big Questions" in contemporary Jewish life. Their questions and responses are then sent to Rabbi Steinsaltz in Israel who provides his perspective as well. In this week's "Big Question" Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the RAC, addresses the importance of "doing acts of Torah."
Rabbi David Saperstein from the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism poses the next Big Question
In Avot, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel observed "It is not the study of Torah that is the essential thing; it is the doing of it." What should that mean to modern Jews?
Rabbi Saperstein's Response:
To many Jews, the "doing" of Torah remains the doing of the 613 commandments as prescribed by rabbinic law. To far more Jews, the doing of Torah is living their Jewish lives: working for Israel's security; fighting anti-Semitism; engaging in the forms of worship of the various streams; strengthening Jewish learning; and engaging in social justice
My own view is that as we stand at a crossroads of Jewish identity, we must embrace, celebrate and legitimize all these diverse expressions of doing Torah -- using them as gateways to reach Jews where they are and bring them into the fuller Jewish community and Jewish life. To reduce doing Torah to observance of traditional mitzvoth and thereby delegitimize those who do Torah in these other ways, is to limit the future strength, vitality and robustness of Jewish life.
Rabbi Steinsaltz's View:
The mitzvoth ("commandments") provide the content of what it means to be a Jew. Like the abundant, complex leaves and flowers of a tree, their manifold, seemingly disparate forms actually comprise a wondrous whole: the derech, or way, of Torah.
We can, and should, respect and encourage those engaged in a sincere search for the Divine no matter where it takes them. But I believe it's an empty promise to suggest that any and all means can get them there. If everything is "doing Torah" then nothing is.