The Way of Identity: On Being a Jew
In this first unit, through the texts that Rabbi Sacks has selected as well as from some excerpts from his own writings, we will explore the path to God through our personal Jewish identity and national Jewish destiny. Through a sense that we are part of a special people with a special vocation and calling, we can connect to and develop further our relationship with God.
Uniquely, Jews are born into a faith. It chooses us before we choose it. Physically we come naked into the world, but spiritually we come with a gift: the story of our past, of our parents and theirs through almost forty centuries from the day Abraham and Sarah first heard the call of God and began their journey to a land, a promise, a destiny and a vocation. That story is ours.
It is a strange and moving story. It tells of how a family, then a collection of tribes, then a nation, were summoned to be God’s ambassadors on earth. They were charged with building a society unlike any other, based not on wealth and power but on justice and compassion, the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of human life – a society that would honour the world as God’s work and the human person as God’s image.
That was and is a demanding task, yet Judaism remains a realistic religion. It assumed from the outset that transforming the world would take many generations – hence the importance of handing on our ideals to the next generation. It takes many gifts, many different kinds of talent – hence the importance of Jews as a people – because none of us has all the gifts but each of us has some. We all count; we each have a unique contribution to make. We come before God as a people, each giving something and each lifted by the contributions of others.
And yes, at times we fail or fall short – hence the importance of teshuvah, repentance, apology, forgiveness, re-dedication. Judaism is bigger than any of us, yet it is made by all of us. And though Jews were and are a tiny people, today a mere fifth of a percent of the population of the world, we have made a contribution to civilisation out of all proportion to our numbers.
To be a Jew is to continue the journey our ancestors began, to help build a world that honours the image of God in every human being and to be part of a people summoned by God to be His ambassadors down here on earth.
The educational aims for this unit are for students to:
- Consider the place of their Jewish identity in their overall identity
- Consider how they have been shaped by their past and by exposure to the narrative of our national past
- Explore the concepts of: Am Segula / chosen people; Jewish destiny and national mission; the core values of Jewish society
- Understand the importance of transmission of Judaism’s core concepts