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Why I am a Jew in the 21st Century

Danny Schiff
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Why I am a Jew in the 21st Century

Published: 4 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

In the face of Jewish supremacism in Israel and Diaspora Jews turning away from Zionism, DANNY SCHIFF suggests an updated take on Jewish principles.

Almost 100 years ago, French Jewish writer Edmond Fleg drafted a personal statement that became a manifesto for 20th Century Judaism.

Why I am a Jew, published in 1928, provided a humanistic vision for contemporary Jewish thinking that enabled Jews to embrace universalism and rationality in the context of a continuing commitment to Jewish history, values and faith. It will be familiar to many readers.

I am a Jew because born of Israel and having lost it, I feel it revive within me more alive than I am myself.

I am a Jew because born of Israel and having found it again, I would have it live after me even more alive that it is within me.

I am a Jew because the faith of Israel requires no abdication of my mind.

I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks any possible sacrifice of my soul.

I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears and suffering the Jew weeps.

I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most ancient and the most modern.

I am a Jew because Israel’s promise is a universal promise.

I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished; men will complete it.

I am a Jew because for Israel man is not yet completed; men are completing him.

I am a Jew because Israel places Man and his unity above nations and above Israel itself.

I am a Jew because above Man, the image of the Divine Unity, Israel places the unity which is divine.

I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes.

The challenges of our times require a new statement of principles. Inspired by Fleg, I offer the following.

I am a Jew because I affirm that democracy, separation of powers, and an independent judiciary are a direct outgrowth of the teachings of Judaism, not their antithesis.

I am a Jew because I am unswervingly devoted to the security and the wellbeing of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, to expressing disagreements with Israel constructively, and to working to defend Israel against all enemies.

I am a Jew because I acknowledge the importance of both encouraging Jews to make their homes in Israel, as well as strengthening Jewish communities around the world.

I am a Jew because my tradition calls upon me to repudiate corruption, bribery, ill-gotten gains, and sexual transgressions, and does not tolerate leaders who are tainted by such acts remaining in power.

I am a Jew because while I believe in the Jewish right to settle the historic land of Israel, Judaism instructs me that pursuing every opportunity for an assured peace with my neighbours is a more vital value.

 I am a Jew because when Jews pillage, plunder, and attack the innocent I unequivocally denounce such acts as unacceptable travesties of Judaism.

 I am a Jew because I maintain that all forms of racism are abhorrent and contrary to the teachings of Jewish tradition.

 I am a Jew because I understand that my Jewish heritage calls upon me to build a family and to support my family, while striving to minimise the need for my society to support me.

 I am a Jew because I see Torah study, productive work, and national service as virtues for all able Jews, without distinction between one group and another.

 I am a Jew because though I regard Jews as having a special task to elevate human civilisation, I utterly reject all forms of Jewish supremacism.

 I am a Jew because I believe that Torah-true Judaism can be practiced in different ways, and that the state should do as much as possible to allow for freedom of Jewish observance and expression.

 I am a Jew because while the mitzvot of the Torah are all addressed to me, I am commanded to interpret and live by them according to the Divine spirit of the Torah that prioritises human life, dignity, and justice.

Photo: Musician Yael Gat blows the shofar (Folkadu)

About the author

Danny Schiff

Rabbi Dr Danny Schiff grew up in Melbourne, and now serves as the Foundation Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. He is the author of “Abortion in Judaism” and splits his teaching year between Jerusalem and Pittsburgh.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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