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‘We are Called Upon to be a People with a Purpose’

Vol. 2. No. 1: David Steinhardt says that unlike other defined tribes, we are rooted in a value system. And unlike other religions, it’s not just about faith, values, and behavioral requirements, it’s also about mutual responsibility


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?

We know that we are a complicated people. One of the great indicators is the fact that we cannot be defined by any one dimension, or even by a few categories.

Yes, we are a people. But unlike other defined tribes (people), we are rooted in a value system. And unlike other religions, it’s not just about faith, values and the behavioral requirements contained in obligation, it’s also about the sense of mutual responsibility. We are called upon to be a people; people with a purpose.

Donniel distinguishes between two typologies. I wonder if we can limit this to two. And more than that, I question whether they can they exist independently of each other.

Clearly we see Jews whose identification is more toward “mitzvah consciousness,” a values approach towards life and identity. And we know Jews who identify as such for the purpose of national identity.

I think of the emphasis in some of David Hartman’s (later writing and lectures) that addressed the place of the autonomous self. Considering that, then, we can view Jewish identity like a bell curve. The top would be the Jew who understands the call of an ethical tradition and its responsibilities and also, links that to identity with a people. On the edges are Jews who make their choices as to what their definition is about.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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