My Take on “Repairing the Idea of ‘Repairing the World’

 This blog post is a reflection by one of Ma’yan’s teen Research Training Interns. She is responding to a lecture given on December 6, 2010 by Dr. Rachel Mattson entitled “Repairing the Idea of ‘Repairing the World’: Thinking Historically about Jewish Community Service.” Click here to listen to the podcast before reading Zoe’s reflection.

My Take on Repairing the Idea of ‘Repairing the World
by Zoe Wasserman, Research Training Intern

Dr. Mattson not only briefed the audience on how to be a better person, she encouraged us to rethink our take on Judaism itself. The statements she made were hard for me to absorb because everything that ever made me feel part of the Jewish world was re-examined and questioned. Whenever anyone asks me what Judaism is, I am never sure how to describe it.  Even now I feel a huge gap between the Torah and myself.  What seemed to bridge that, for a time, was my belief that the main point of the religion was to (of course) eat good food and do good for others. Through Cain and Abel, with the help of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” the fact that one should not murder was reiterated to me; the story of Noah’s ark reminded of the destruction that comes when people disobey moral codes. But the few biblical stories I remembered the main point my parents taught me: be a good person. Religion is my moral code and when I do something poorly I feel the presence and the need to reach out to God and ask for help or forgiveness. That is my Judaism and always has been; prayers and I never really got along.

But Dr. Mattson made me re-examine this general take on our religion and tradition, to consider a different route to repairing the world. She believes that leading discussions about Judaism and debating over its meaning is a way of repairing the world. A necessity is to unite Jews, progressives and conservatives, rather than allow them to tear the religion apart, accusing each other of having the wrong interpretation of the torah. Instead, Mattson told us to redefine the world “in a new way, not in our own image.”

I tried to determine what her solution would be and this is what I came to. We need to expand the definition of Judaism and stop trying to limit it to our own interpretations, which only causes isolation and conflict within. This can be done by debating, not referring to a list of what it means to be Jewish, made up by those who sponsor Jewish programs. We also need to get to the root of problems in the world instead of just dealing with the effects of problems we can prevent. We need to reinvent the world in a way that makes it a better place, rather than allowing problems to occur and thinking of them as the norm. This isn’t easy, but it will be worth it if it is done correctly. Other than the obvious question of how, another problem to note is: how would we get people to fund a program that they do not believe is relevant to their Jewish beliefs and how can we measure Judaism as a whole if everyone has a different definition. Does it matter?


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