The Torah: shared myths and other stories in Reconstructionist Judaism

In the previous post, I examined the Reconstructionist Judaism of Rabbi Bronstein. In a nutshell, he said it doesn’t matter whether the Torah is objectively true, as long as it is accepted as true – at a deeper level than objective truth, which is for Bronstein the “obvious” level. In this post I continue with how Reconstructionist Jews explain the significance of the Torah, and, how they claim to understand it.

I asked in my Babel article, whether the Hebrew scribes created the Babel story in order to historicise the confusion of languages. Those who claim that the Babel history is a myth would cite it is a perfect example of history caught with its mythological pants down. Those, in contrast, who claim the Babel story to be authentic history, would counter that it’s the other way round: it’s mythology that was caught with its historical pants down.

Reconstructionist Judaism (and Reform Judaism, by and large) would say that it doesn’t matter whether the Babel story is a myth, or (to use a reconstructionist term) folklore; what is important is that it is a shared myth, and it is the sharing of a common heritage that binds a community together. What matters, in reconstructionism, is the binding, not the Book.

Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, a reconstructionist Jew, believes that the Torah stories, even if not true in the historical sense, are central to Jewish life. The Torah, she says, is one of the “noblest employments of the mind and soul aiming at knowledge and wisdom.” Fuchs-Kreimer – who is a reliable spokesperson for Reconstructionist Judaism continues:

Perhaps religious experiences provide no new information about the universe. Rather, they give us the emotional impetus to tell certain kinds of stories. We may indeed be nothing but a pack of neurons and our religious experiences may be neurological phenomena; nevertheless, the stories we tell ourselves about those experiences come from our higher cognitive functions. When we choose to link ourselves to a religious civilization, we opt for a narrative tradition that will shape raw experience in particular ways.”

The weight of evidence, according to Fuchs-Kreimer, shows that religious experience cannot provide any new evidence – “knowledge and wisdom” – about the universe. But, according to Fuchs-Kreimer we can’t deny that we feel it in our bones that there is something else besides neurons and meat loaves. So, we tell one another stories about how those emotions emerged, but we don’t go overboard to the point of hysteria only to drown in historia. Meaning doesn’t have to be objective for “if there is nothing but matter, all the more do we need stories to make meaning” says Fuchs-Kreimer, and it’s stories – the more evocative the story the better – that make or break a religious civilisation. There’s no “core self” so we need to make up stories – based on authentic emotion, naturally – to “tell us who we are.” And that, according to Fuchs-Kreimer, is the basis of “tradition”, of Jewish tradition, of solid Jewish tradition. Why do I get the feeling that this tradition is as shaky as a – as a fiddler on a roof? And as unsurprisingly far from the spirit of the “traditional” Judaism that Rabbi Lester Bronstein says is in the same “spirit” as Reconstructionist Judaism.

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