After World War II, Judaism appealed to many Jews since it could claim the moral high ground compared to many of the rest of the world’s crumbling systems of belief.
A possible reason the Pew report shows that all denominations are not currently providing the spiritual answers to many of our unaffiliated brethren could be because Judaism may no longer occupy the same level of moral high ground it once did.
Some of the same issues that plague society often plague our community such as spiritual superficiality, domestic problems, the singles crisis, business scandals, abuse and
These types of issues make some traditional communities seem just as dysfunctional, if not more so than other communities, thus making Jewish communities appear less attractive than they once were.
I believe there is enough positive left in traditional Judaism to attract people to the fold, and we have much to offer the rest of the unaffiliated Jewish world and perhaps even the world at large.
How do we take back the moral high ground as a community? Honestly, I don’t know for sure and pat smug answers to complex problems like these don’t make them go away.
I suggest we start by reorienting our Jewish communal moral compass guided by serious ongoing study of classical texts of Mussar ethics and character development. Perhaps a sort of Melton PJ Library of Jewish ethics for adults may be worth considering.
To strive to fix our individual or collective character, we must seek role models of sterling character traits. They may be living elders or someone who has died but embodied high ethical standards for living. Biographies of refined heroes can also provide examples of inspirational behavior.
Study alone isn’t enough. The book Redirect suggests that character education programs only work if they contain a significant ongoing component of meaningful service to others. We can no longer expect schools or shuls to be enough to refine us all. Each family and each individual can refine ourselves by consistently being dedicated to providing service to others without ulterior motives.
Perhaps we can regain our place among those communities and individuals who occupy the moral high ground and attract others to our community, but it will take our collective wisdom and sustained good actions.
Rabbi Elisha Paul is SULAM head of school.