Factionalism and disunity lie at the core of the existential challenges facing the Jewish world today. Some Jews succomb apathetically to assimilation and abandon their Jewish identification entirely, while others recoil from modernity and retrench around a purer conception of Jewish identity. Extremists from both camps judge their co-religionists with contempt for failing to live by their own definitions of the faith. The silent majority of votaries is left to wonder what it means to be a Jew? Do we still have a Covenant with God? Is the principle of religious pluralism compatible with the exclusivist character of The Chosen People?
Unity, like all virtues, is easier to preach than to practice. From the beginning, the Hebrew people was an amalgamation of 12 different tribes. The bonds of communal fidelity were forged in the harsh existence of slavery, conquest, and exile. For most of our early existence, Jews generally lived near one another. We prospered and suffered together. We ate the same mana and were judged by the same laws. A traditional and patriarchal society, we did and we heard as one. The enlightened concepts of religious freedom and political democracy had not yet blazed forth into the minds of mankind.
Today, the mere suggestion that there exists some basic notion of Judaism seems to be an inflammatory and objectionable idea. We are a people born of a hundred countries, with thousands of historical experiences and Weltanschauungs. We no longer live aside one another in shtetls, but are spread out across mammoth multicultural metropolises. We are ruled by different legal codes, governed by different sovereigns, and raised under different schools of education.
In the context of the Information Age, the average Jew’s accessibility to global Jewish events and ideas has been vastly expanded. Moreover, modern revolutions in technology have allowed each individual’s reaction to be greatly amplified. As a result, more Jews from more places voice more opinions about more subjects relevant to more Jews than ever before. Is it any wonder that in such an environment our core convictions of brotherhood and religiosity are becoming less united?
Diversity is generally a good thing, but pluralism in and of itself cannot define a people. Too much pluralism can be dangerous to a nation or religion that lacks a common sense of purpose and principles. What is troubling about the present age is that the essential elements that must compose such a foundation serve to divide, rather than unite us. We are now far more likely to doubt the existence of God and the validity of the Torah. Such fundamental notions as Halakhah, marriage, gender relations, and Israel - all today are sources of conflict, rather than harmony. The partisanship of the Jewish denominational, rabbinical, and intellectual leadership has trickled down to the masses of the faithful. Judaism as faith and as peoplehood is gradually ceding its competitive advantage in the unprecedented global marketplace of belief systems. For if we stand for too many things, do we risk standing for nothing?