What Mormons Can Learn From Jews
As my stake’s interfaith representative, I attended an interfaith lunch meeting today in which spiritual practices were discussed from the perspective of a variety of faith traditions.
I was particularly impressed by the comments of the rabbi from a reformed synagogue. He talked about what it meant to be or become a Jew. Unlike most Christians (and Mormons) belief in distinctive ideas is not emphasized — it is the last and least important criterion. Rather, his ranking was as follows:
So to be or become a Jew, one first needs to feel welcomed and incorporated into the group. Behavioral practices are the next focus, as Jews pray, practice justice, etc. And finally, springing forth from their behavior and belonging comes belief, as some Jews feel comfortable then stating, “This I believe.”
The rabbi also talked about how Jews conceive of getting into heaven. Once again, it’s not about belief or ritual. One could be an atheist. One can believe in anything or nothing. What ultimately matters to God, according to this rabbi, are acts of kindness and one’s work in the world. “Deeds are more important than creeds,” the rabbi stated.
Part of this lack of emphasis on belief, apparently, stems from the fact that Jews don’t necessarily agree on what they should believe or what rules to follow. Jews have a horizontal rather than hierarchical structure, believing that a more democratic or populist structure in which the people personally have to figure out how to do their holy work in the world better shapes the inner lives of humans.
I found all this fascinating, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Mormonism could benefit from some of these ideas. Would we have a healthier and more dynamic church body if we emphasized belonging over belief? If we deemphasized hierarchical injunctions and instead encouraged people to figure out for themselves what they need to do to become the people God needs in the world? What do you think?