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Vol. 2. No. 1: What Is A Jew?

Vol. 2. No. 1: Donniel Hartman says the Jewish world must combine ‘mitzvah’ consciousness with ‘ethnic consciousness.’ Three rabbis offer commentaries on his assertion

  • Watch Donniel Hartman, President of Shalom Hartman Institute, discuss the concept of "ethnic consciousness" and "mitzvah consciousness" in his discussion of "What is a Jew?"
  • Read responses to Donniel Hartman’s comments from rabbis Adina Lewittes , David Steinhardt , and Joanna Samuels .
  • Respond: Add your comments to the conversation via email , Facebook , Twitter , or video .

Donniel Hartman said that today’s reality is that our community is going to have to find a way to embrace a mitzvah consciousness, as well as an ethnic consciousness.

‘What is a Jew’ is the theme of the Hartman Institute’s 2016 Summer programs.

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"In Israel, we need to create a public sphere where ethnic consciousness and mitzvah consciousness engage each other and balance each other out.

"In North America, we have to create a community which is less at peace with itself, less comfortable with itself, one where ethnic consciousness and mitzvah consciousness argue."

L: Adina Lewittes, Sha’ar Communities, New Jersey
C: David Steinhardt, B’nai Torah Congregation, Boca Raton, Florida
R: Joanna Samuels, Educational Alliance, New York, New York

Read their responses

Donniel Hartman said that Jewishness is not what you do, it’s who you are. That’s what we inherited from the first 1,500 years of our story.

"If Jewishness is who I am, I can’t stop being Jewish. If God was stuck with me, I’m stuck with me…Shul going or not, marrying Jewish or not, (it) doesn’t matter. If you are Jewish, there’s nothing you can do that stops you from being Jewish."


Rabbis Adina Lewittes of Sha’ar Communities of New Jersey, Joanna Samuels of the Manny Cantor Center at the Educational Alliance in New York City, and David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah Congregation of Boca Raton, Florida, offer commentary that challenges and amplifies Donniel Hartman’s positions.

Adina Lewittes
Sha’ar Communities
New Jersey

‘Add Human Consciousness to Reengage in Substantive Dialogue’

The call for contemporary ethnic consciousness and mitzvah consciousness to reengage in substantive dialogue with one another in order to ensure that the breadth and depth of each category – that of what binds Jews to one another and that of the content of Jewish life – creates robust Jewish paradigms in North America and Israel is timely and challenging – in a positive, meaningful way. To these categories of Jewish consciousness I would add human consciousness, a dimension urgently in need of redefinition in both Israel and North America.

Read On  

David Steinhardt
B’nair Torah Congregation
Boca Raton, Florida

‘We are Called Upon to be a People’

There are obviously different ways to define membership. I belong to an organization and my membership is defined by one thing….I pay my dues. I’m a member of another organization and that membership is defined by the fact that I show up.

I’m a member of my family by virtue of "seed" and obligation. Does my belonging or identification as a member belong in any or all of these categories?

Read On

Joanna Samuels
Educational Alliance
New York, New York

‘What Happens When People are Cedars, not Reeds?’

A Jewish community that honors ethnic consciousness and mitzvah consciousness as separate components contributing to a greater whole may well be a healthy one. A Jewish individual, however, who exists entirely within one of these spheres may well not be.

I think our philosophies and our communal narratives ultimately are reeds. They bend and sway, bravely, to keep moving forward a creative, responsive path of peoplehood and Torah. But what happens when the people are cedars, ever more in need of certainty and stasis?

Read On


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