by R. Gil Student
My column in the upcoming issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey
I often hear complaints that the Jewish community does not discuss the big questions of life. “Big Questions” address all-important issues of purpose: who we are and why we are here. Yet our rabbis tend to speak about issues like which blessing to recite on a specific food or how to perform a certain activity permissibly on Shabbos. Without downplaying the importance of these issues, they are minor aspects of a larger framework. We are focused, the argument goes, on small issues, while frustrated would-be intellectuals have to look elsewhere for satisfaction. The problem here is real but when restated, the solution becomes apparent.
Even issues that loom large sociologically are often small questions. When someone discusses whether women can serve as rabbis, or whether active homosexuals should be accepted as synagogue members, he is talking about small questions. Whether women should be released from marriage without a get or recalcitrant husbands should be beaten to near-death, are also small questions. Yes, they are important. Indeed, they are probably life-and-death questions in some cases. But Big Questions are about big-picture issues, how we see the world and our place in it.
Big Questions include: how God communicates with us; what our goals in life should be; why God creates people who will face serious challenges; what marriage means and how it should be begun and ended; how men and women should respond to the divine call in today’s world(s). These may seem like issues we rarely discuss in the Jewish community, but appearances are often different from reality.
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