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In As a Driven Leaf, Elisha ben Abuyah is torn between the modern, Hellenistic practices of the Greeks, and the traditional beliefs of his people. In his day, Elisha must make a clear-cut decision and choose or the other. But what if Elisha lived in a contemporary society in which one did not have to make a clear-cut choice? What would the life of Elisha be in 20th century America? One of things that Elisha struggles with throughout the novel is the belief in God. In Antiquity, the belief that God existed was fundamental to being Jewish. Elisha cannot face his peers because the question if a God exists plagues him. Elisha says that if the scripture is not the word of god, what basis can their be or the Tradition, its law, its ritual and belies? (155) However, in today s society, there is a choice for Jews to accept certain traditions and not others. Jews don t even have to believe in God to be Jewish. The traditions and customs, and way of living life are what is essential for some Jews. Even Nicholaus said, I an not a Jew but even I have sensed something lovely in Judaism, in its faith and in its morality with its emphasis on pity. Even its rituals are not without poetic grace. (200) One modern group that focuses on this idea is the Humanistic Jews. They offer secular Jews a nontheistic philosophy of life that integrates the value of Jewish identity with a belief in the importance of human reason and human power. Humanistic Judaism declares that reason, rather than faith is the source of truth, and that human intelligence and experience are capable of guiding our lives. They also believe that because we live in a pluralistic culture, no one people has a monopoly on truth and that we can draw worthy lessons from teachings other than our own. Humanistic Jews preserve those aspects of Jewish culture that offer a meaningful connection to our people's past, yet they adapt and to create new ideas that meet the needs of present and future generations. Wouldn t Elisha have fit in perfectly with the Humanistic Jews? Elisha also believes in integrating cultures and he struggles with whether reason or faith rules our lives. From the beginning of Elisha s life, his quest for reason is shown by his teacher Nicholaus s comment must you know the reason for everything? (34) Throughout the novel, Elisha seeks a theology, a morality, a ritual, confirmed by logic in the fashion of geometry so that one need not forever wonder whether what he believes is true. (201) Until he realizes that all truth rests ultimately on some act of faith is he able to accept the world as it is. Elisha is torn between two worlds, Hellenistic and Jewish. In modern society, this relates to the struggle between retaining traditional Jewish practices in a modern, secular world. There is a discussion by the Rabbi s in As a Driven Leaf about whether or not to acknowledge Hellenistic practices, but it is ultimately rejected. Rabbi Eliezer states that if the Rabbi s were to allow the integration of Hellenistic practices, then [Jews] will associate with them and learn the corrupt ways, exercising in gymnasiums, sitting in circuses, lounging all night in drunken symposiums and running in pursuit of harlots. And our sacred traditions, the expression of God s will, will be abandoned. (136) Modern Orthodox Jews are still somewhat skeptical about allowing modern thought to enter the minds of the members of the community. Some Orthodox Jews have the belief that only if we keep ourselves apart can we hope to live at all. (Eliezer, 137) I can understand their view because with all the intermarriage and loss of faith in contemporary society, keeping the traditions of Judaism is very important in sustaining the Jewish people. As Rabbi Eliezer said, We are a small people in the vastness of the pagan word. Our faith is a pinprick of light in the night of their darkness (137) If members of the Jewish religion suddenly compromised their traditional thoughts with those of the modern world, this might destroy Judaism. Less strict sects of Judaism, such as Reform and Conservative tend to be more open in allowing the modern world to affect Judaism. I think this is very valuable because, as we saw in Elisha, not everyone can blindly accept traditional Judaism without being curious of outside practices and beliefs. Elisha s struggle between the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds also relates to the child of an intermarried couple. The child can potentially grow up to be torn between the two and might even resent both religions. However, in modern society, there are more options. The parents could decide to expose the child both religions. Even in a home with two Jewish parents, the child is at least able to experience the outside world and not be held captive from it. It was not like this in Antiquity; Elisha had to be excommunicated from his people in order to learn about a different culture. I believe that it is the modern world that contributes to the understanding of Judaism. Although some feel that we should exclude all modern ideas from our study of torah, I do not feel that this is the right way to preserve Judaism. Even in ancient times, it was up to Rabbis to slowly modify the traditional laws and customs to fit the issues of the current day. The Talmud was adapted to do just that. Why can t Judaism continue to be changed in a society where diversity and freedom of thought reign? Judaism is about culture, a way of life. It s about a people who believe in freedom and justice. What good is the freedom finally obtained after 2000 years if it s not able to extend to the modern ideas of Judaism? In such a huge society in which Jews are a very small part it is important to adapt to the society, but not so much as to loose culture altogether. I think Elisha would have held this belief as well if he were alive in the 20th century because he stresses the need for integration. Even the Kabbalah, which has gone through change throughout Jewish history, is still changing. Some Rabbi s today study the Kabbalah in relation to science, business and education. Wouldn t Elisha jump on the opportunity to combine faith and mysticism with modern day ideas? Elisha as a contemporary Jew in the late 20th century would not have to deny one world in order to explore another. He could be free to learn science, philosophy and reason without giving up his faith and love for Judaism and Jewish culture. I see him as a great modern Rabbi, who seeks to create peace between the two worlds and adapts modern ideas with those of traditional Judaism.

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