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"Be more Jewish!"

"Be more Jewish!"; it's a line from a one-man, theatrical autobiography performed by John Leguizamo some years ago. In context, the line is delivered with a slap to the back of a young John's head as his father try's to pass himself off as one of God's chosen while at dinner with a pretty Jewish woman.

Being Jewish, however, seems to have a tendancy to be a bit more complicated than knowing when to kvetch and when not, when to light candles and when not, and when to drink what with one's meat. Unlike other religions which have defined their orthopraxy as proper obedience before a greater power and the history of humankind as one stained by a fall from grace, the Judaic tradition emphasizes the development of a complex system of responsibility as Adam and Eve, their descendants, and the Jewish people specifically grow through the allegorical process which leads them from innocence to morally responsible adulthood.

In this light, the eating of the "forbidden" fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is understood not as an act of disobediance, but rather as the natural and expected outcome forseen by a creator wishing humanity to grow from a state of amoral innocence, to one of knowledge of evil, but also of good. It is through the transcendance of the state of moral tabula rasa that Adam and Eve become moral beings in the image of their creator, for the creation of humankind was not complete by the seventh day, but rather reaches towards its conclusion with the spiritual awakening of the soul allowed by the eating of the fruit of knowledge.

The story of Judaic moral development is thereafter coloured with the understanding of the expectation of God that humankind will act, not in obediance, but in accordance with considered moral judgement. For the descendants of Abram and Sarai, the responsibilities of earthly existance are further elaborated upon through the interpretation of the Tanakh, the acceptance of the responsibilities of Yahweh to man and man to Yahweh as set through the Covenants, and the gifting of the six-hundred and thirteen mitzvot.

All in all, the message delivered from Yahweh to the people of Israel is thus: to act in moral virtue, even in the face of God's wrath, to engage with the community and not to spurn it as would an ascetic, and to strive to add to the understanding of God's work through the interactions with others through daily life and ritual, discussion, argument, and reflection. Sacredness within the community of Judaism can thus be said to be instilled through the living of life in moral engagement with the community. It is the engagement in the moral, experiential life of the community that is the the sacred act of Judaism, and the withdrawl from that life which represents a decent into the profane.

From this point of view, withdrawl from interaction with the community - in, for instance, the form of hermetic asceticism or monastic isolation - could thus be said to be an act of religious irresponsibility.

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