Spiritual Judaism
David Ariel

The Unfinished Symphony

Despite the religious sense of living in exile, Jews actually developed a deep sense of belonging to those alien places in which they resided. Jews developed a portable civilization that could be taken with them from one place to another as circumstances required. The circumstances of anti-Semitism frequently required Jew”s sudden and rapid departure from lands they had long called home. The Jews were expelled from Rome in 50, England in 1290, France in 1306 and 1394, Spain in 1492, Portugal in 1497, parts of Germany in 1348, Lithuania in 1495 and Prague in 1744.

As we moved from one country to the next, we brought our civilization with us. We brought our own spiritual outlook with us and developed a rich Jewish life within our homes, schools and synagogues. We also learned from the environment about the dominant non-Jewish culture and balanced the best of it with the best of ours. Out of this synthesis came new expressions of Jewish culture. As we moved from one culture to another, we brought the cumulative traditions of all the cultures we had absorbed along with us.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav once said that every nation, every religion, has its own niggun (melody) that comes from the one, original niggun of Judaism. If we understand music as a metaphor for culture, we can say that Judaism is both a unique melody and a world music. We have sung our own song and taught this special song to the world. When we entered the Diaspora, we began to learn the songs of other choruses and the music of other orchestras. We learned to play harmony as we added other melodies to our own song line.

We also sang the songs what we had learned along the way as we joined the chorus of each new civilization that we entered. In each land, we learned to harmonize the songs of the past with the new melodies that we learned. We taught the songs of other choruses with which we were familiar to the new audiences that we encountered in our travels. Out of this synthesis came new Jewish melodies that were often different from those that have been sung before. But we always returned to the melody. As a popular Hebrew folk song says: “Time advances, the year passes, but the melody lives on forever…”

The Jewish people are like an orchestra trained in the best music schools in the world. We have played in the great symphonies of Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Golden Age of Islam, medieval and modern Europe, and now in the United States and Israel. Our orchestra has not always been welcome and sometimes we have been forced to leave the concert hall prematurely, be we have always absorbed the best theory and practice and applied them to our own score. As we moved from one civilization to another, not usually by choice, we brought the cumulative traditions of all the cultures we had absorbed along with us. We brought the best of what we had learned along the way to each new civilization that we entered. We cross-pollinated different cultures and created a strong and durable Judaism.

Long ago, we taught the world a new melody of faith and morality. Since then, we have acquired all the goodness of the world in our travels through each civilization. Although most of the cultures through which we have passed are now gone, we have preserved the best of what they had to offer and have transmitted it to their successors. We liberated the sparks of holiness in each civilization, often paying the terrible price of suffering in the process. As the Hasidic leader Rabbi Elimelech of Lizansk said, “Is it Israel”s particular task to work hard at freeing the trapped holy sparks.”

For this reason, we believe that the Jewish people is like an orchestra that is writing its own unfinished symphony. We also believe that our mission is to make a symphony out of all the songs of the different peoples of the world based on our history as a dispersed people. And what is that symphony? It is called “Seeing the World Not As It Is But As It Can Be.” That is the real theme of the Jewish people. But the symphony has been interrupted and the melody is hard to recapture. p 257-9.

2 Responses to “SPIRITUAL JUDAISM…”

  1. Carole Cohen says:

    Jeff  I don' t know how you find all these tech tools. The Chapbook seems like a great idea. I'm commenting on this one because I think David Ariel is the author who wrote What Jews Believe? And he's a Clevelander? I had the book I am referencing until I gave it to a former colleague. I'm going to have to read this one too.

  2. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Carole,

    Yes, David wrote  What Do Jews Believe?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism.

    As to how I find all these tools and other handy stuff? I point to two items. First, I threw my television away 15 years ago; and second, I subscribe to neither magazines nor newspapaers.



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