Magazine article Tikkun

Jewish Renewal Makes It to Film

Magazine article Tikkun

Jewish Renewal Makes It to Film

Article excerpt

Raising the Sparks: A Personal Search for a Spiritual Home in Judaism. 60 minute video by Chuck Davis. Throughline Productions and Delphi Productions.

With its very first scene, Raising the Sparks, a delightful and disturbing documentary of producer/director Chuck Davis' yearlong sojourn into Jewish Renewal, draws us into the central dilemma of postmodern Judaism: the tribe. The film opens with his youngest son's brit milah. Amid the boy's screams of terror and the practiced nonchalance of Jewish friends and relatives, Chuck verbalizes his angst at circumcising his son to appease a God he does not believe in and to make his son a member of a tribe he is not sure is worth joining. In a sense, Raising the Sparks is Chuck's attempt to justify tribalism in what for him and most secular Jews is fast becoming a post-tribal world.

Each of the world's religions responds to a specific question. As long as the question is compelling and the answer relevant, the religion thrives. When the question is moot, the religion dies. This is why centuries of effort to convert Jews to Christianity have been so unsuccessful: Jesus is the answer to a question Jews don't ask. And it's also why, without even attempting to convert Jews, Buddhism is making such inroads among us.

Christianity answers the question: "How can we overcome Original Sin and avoid eternal damnation?" Most Jews don't ask this question, so Christianity is irrelevant to them. Buddhism answers the question: "What is suffering, and how can we end it?" This is a question Jews do ask, and the concise, practical advice of the Buddha is quite compelling. The question Judaism answers is this: "How do I adhere to the tribal standards set by God Who chose us from among all peoples to be His holy nation?" This is a question fewer and fewer Jews even think to ask. If Judaism is to survive it must answer a different question.

Different, not necessarily new. Judaism must shift its focus from tribal survival to planetary survival; it must move from halachic conformity to aggadic creativity. God did not command us to be Jewish; God commanded us to be holy. The old question: "How to be a Jew?" has to be replaced with the older and timeless question: "How to be holy?" And it is here that Chuck's journey into Jewish Renewal is most welcoming and helpful, for he shares with us a Judaism that dares to ask the right question.

What Jewish Renewal does, and does so well, is shift emphasis from peshat, the literal meaning of Torah and tradition, to Brash, psycho-spiritual interpretations that transform tribal teachings and custom into a dialect of universal truth. Judaism in the hands and hearts of the wonderful Renewal rabbis interviewed in Raising the Sparks is no longer the parochial culture of tribal Israel, but the highly sophisticated spiritual lifeway of yisra-el, of the god wrestlers and spiritual warriors from many backgrounds seeking to infuse and repair the world with holiness.

Jewish Renewal asks not "How can we maintain our uniqueness as a people?," but "How can we use 3,500 years of Jewish experience to repair the world and ourselves with holiness?" Here is a question worthy of our utmost attention. And answering it will insure Judaism's survival as a vital spiritual force in the world for generations. But before Judaism can be the answer to this question, Jews must begin to ask it. And this is where Raising the Sparks is disturbing.

Chuck encounters in Renewal Judaism a practice that is devoted to holiness, to universal questions. God is the Nameless Source of Reality that manifests all life. …

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