Rabbi Arthur Waskow
A New Paradigm for Judaism
Bones of a Future Dinosaur
What we are doing is trying to imagine a future shape for Jewish peoplehood and spirituality as a whole. But all that we have in front of us are a few bones of this future animal. We are in a place like that of paleo-biologists who have found a few bones from an ancient dinosaur and are trying to reimagine the creature as a whole. With no skin -- or was it maybe feathers? -- no digestive tract, no lungs -- we are trying to imagine these from the heft of this bone, the shape of that one, a strange marking at the end of another.
But the paleobiologist is clear about one thing -- there is a whole animal out there. The point is not this bone or that one, but figuring out how it all hangs together.
That is the point of talking about a new paradigm for Judaism. Some of us, for good reasons, have gotten very focused on some particular bone we have found. This one is so delicious, that one is so strong, the other so colorful -- Reb Zalman's davvening, Reb Marcia's davvening, Reb Shefa's chanting, Reb Michael's "politics of meaning," the Coopers' meditation, Peter Pitzele's Bibliodrama, eco-kosher here, gay weddings there.
But these bones from the future -- from the beginnings of a future that we have created and have found important in our lives -- are just bones of some new animal. Bones from a future whole new animal.
While we admire and enjoy these particular bones, we must keep on imagining the whole future animal.
Some of us might say -- what does chanting have to do with celebrating the marriages of gay people? What does learning the Song of Songs as a teaching about our own sexual lives have to do with sharing the Land of Abraham with Hagar's family? What does making Tu B'Shvat in the Redwood forest or Hoshana Rabbah at the Hudson River have to do with being open to the possibility of taking communion from a Christian priest?
EACH OF THESE MAY BE A BONE, A FEATHER, A LIVER, A HEART OF SOME FUTURE JEWISH PEOPLEHOOD THAT WE ARE ONLY BEGINNING TO GROK.
I am not saying that each and every one of them will turn out to be part of the new future. I am not saying that we cannot or should not disagree about whether this feather fits here, or doesn't belong to this new animal at all. But it is crucial to remember four things:
(1) Our task is not to STOP with admiring a single bone or feather from the future, but to see each one as a pointer toward an entire organic whole;
(2) We must, even when we disagree over this bone or that feather, treat with love, not anger, those of us who think it may become a very important organ in the new gestalt, or those of us who think it doesn't belong. There is no way yet of knowing for sure which of us will be right.
(3) One way of finding out is to sense the DNA of the different pieces. Do they fit together because they come from the same basic world-path? If we accept that basic world-path as our own, do they follow organically as part of it? Are they rooted in the DNA of the last two-thousand-year "generation" of Torah, and the two-thousand-year "generation" before that one -- yet as alive with newness (and some "genetic" mutations and borrowings) as theirs were?
(4) And the only other way to find out is to live them.
A Tree of Life -- a living, changing Tree! -- she is, for those who hold her close.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center
Rosh Hodesh Av 5758/ July 24, 1998
Addendum by Reb Shaya Isenberg:
There is also the danger that we will take the two or three bones we like and try to fit them into the dinosaur from the past -- the one we are used to -- rather than seeing them as pointers toward the dinosaur of the future. But the bones do not fit the old model. They will feel "wrong." And so will we.