Gonzo Judaism – Part II

In my previous post on the book Gonzo Judaism, by Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein, I reflected on some initial thoughts on the book and surveyed the first chapter. This post will continue the review of the next three chapters of the book.

Chapter II – Extreme (Not Extremist) Religion

Goldstein’s second chapter is an appeal for what he calls “religion in the raw.” Part of his vision for a renewal of Judaism is to GET OUT – literally. He does a great job demonstrating how we can connect to a more extreme and raw form of Jewish life by getting outdoors. This helps us reconnect to Judaism’s ancient agrarian roots that were so connected with nature.

In his call for an extreme form of Judaism, Rabbi Goldstein is careful to clarify the difference between extreme verses extremist:

An extremist form of religion closes a person’s mind and makes that person subservient to and radicalized about a particular set of (usually distorted and warped) doctrines and beliefs. An extreme approach to religious life is about keeping one’s mind open, about experimenting with bold and unconventional techniques for transmitting spiritual knowledge and for reshaping souls (p. 25).

He goes on to note:

But extreme religion scares the crap out of normative religion. Why? Because it calls into question, by its sheer existence, the supposed value of the comfort and security that is offered by a more conventional, bourgeois approach to religious life (p. 25).

The rest of the chapter gives some great ideas for how to experience an extreme form of Judaism by bringing into the great outdoors.

Chapter III – Out with the New, In with the Old

Chapter three discusses ways to resurrect previously unknown or disregarded rituals. Goldstein encourages the reader to draw from the wealth of the Jewish experience over the last three millennia – both from ancient rituals as well as modern. One of Goldstein’s examples is his congregation’s attempt to revive the ancient practice of Simchat Beit HaShoevah – the water-drawing ceremony that was a central part of the Sukkot celebrations during the Second Temple period.

Another aspect of ancient Judaism Goldstein encourages resurrecting is the use of Sacred Drama: “Jews once allowed their religious rituals and sacred texts to incorporate theatricality with much more comfort (p. 57).” He encourages experimenting with more story telling, narration, and bringing in more movement as as to pull people into the Jewish saga.

In experimenting with these different practices, Goldstein encourages, “We have to take risks and experiment. We have to stay humble. And we must be willing to fail (p. 50).” Not everything we try will always work. But you will also be surprised at what does. Part of Goldstein’s plea to get back to Judaism “in the raw” is to reconnect with these ancient practices and find a way to bring them into a 21st century context.

Chapter IV – Size Doesn’t Matter

In his next chapter Goldstein encourages the reader to not be intimidated with a small group. The two most central points, he argues, are commitment and creativity – “It ain’t rocket science, my Jewish brothers and sisters – it’s common sense. The secret to success isn’t really a secret at all: Think big but start small (p. 74).”

He also shares 4 key points from the strategy of Chabad that has helped them grow from a small group decimated by the Holocaust to a global phenomenon. We Messianic Jews could do well to learn something from their strategy:

1. Get Out There!

Goldstein writes that one of Chabad’s successes has been its “willingness to hit the road, to endure a little hardship, and to travel to the literal margins of the Jewish world  in an attempt to connect with Jews who had been underserved, or even ignored (p. 76).”

2. Don’t be Apologetic!

“Despite opposition from other, more cloistered ultra-Orthodox sects, Chabad has been aggressive in its efforts to utilize new methods for marketing their programs (P. 77).”

They also do not apologize for their particular Chassidic approach to Jewish life or their position on any number of issues. And yet they’re still successful.

3. Be Visible!

According to Goldstein, “Chabad isn’t just accessible – it is visible … Chabad uses the various media to make its presence known. It is in your face, and it wants to be (p. 77).”

4. Be Accessible!

“With four-thousand emissaries operating around the world, they are accessible – and that makes Judaism accessible.” This is what makes Chabad so successful, writed Goldstein, “They are proud, affirmative, audacious, and, in their own way, unorthodox (p. 78).”

Next week we’ll explore the last three chapters of the book, and particularly Goldstein’s comments and perspective of Messianic Jews …

Update: Read part III HERE.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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1 Response to Gonzo Judaism – Part II

  1. Pingback: Gonzo Judaism – Part I | Yinon Blog

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