Recently I came across an interesting sermon by rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl at the Central Synagogue in New York city, titled “Jewish Pride: Live Up to Your Name” (preached on September 26, 2022). You can watch it below, or you can read the entire transcript here.
The thesis of her sermon is this: Stop being afraid of revealing your Jewish identity in public. Be proud of your Jewish identity and live up to it.
I have three comments.
First, I found it intriguing when the rabbi mentioned that more and more younger Jews are hiding their Jewish identity because of fear. Citing a 2021 Brandeis study, she emphasized that almost 50 percent of the next Jewish generation was hiding their identity, which, for her, was a “chilling turn.” Her claim is surprising because what I see in today’s New Testament scholarship (or Pauline studies) is something radically different from her observation; for example, an increasing number of scholars now stress the Jewish identity of the Apostle Paul and Paul’s Jewishness has thus become one of the most popular hermeneutical keys in interpreting his teachings.
Second, although I have no doubt that the rabbi’s Jewish congregants were moved to hear her eloquent exhortation that they should know that they have received a “noble inheritance” (as Hebrews, Jews, and Israel) and therefore double down on their Jewish pride and live it out, I wonder whether such strong Jewish particularism* can have the same effect on non-Jews.
Third, her sermon betrays Judaism’s works-righteousness aspect. In her attempt to summarize Judaism in five minutes, she emphasizes that Judaism pertains, more than anything else, to performing ethical actions, for example, honoring one’s parents or caring for the sick. According to her definition, Judaism is “ethics in action,” and as long as a Jew performs those “acts of love and kindness,” he or she “should feel well-founded pride.”
* See Runesson, Anders. “Particularistic Judaism and Universalistic Christianity?: Some Critical Remarks on Terminology and Theology.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 1 (2000) 120-44. Although he is not happy with the term particularism, I can think of no better term to capture rabbi Buchdahl’s claim.