I stumbled upon an interesting passage in Mordecai Kaplan’s Judaism As a Civilization that articulates one of the pressing questions of contemporary Jewish life, one that is amazingly relevant despite the decades that have passed since Kaplan’s book was published.
The question: In today’s world, in which Jews partake in all aspects of secular civil society, what added value does Judaism bring to the table? Or stated differently: Judaism must bring meaning and value to people’s lives for it to be relevant and appealing today.
Since the Jewish people no longer has for the Jews the transcendent significance it had for its forebears, what besides a rapidly weakening sentimental attachment is there to hold him to it? Will he not avail himself of the opportunities for leadership in the many walks of life which take him far from Jewish associations and interests? On the other hand, what opportunity does affiliation with the Jewish people give the average Jew to feel that he is an efficient cause, that he counts for something in the world, the he is one of a social unit which is making history? What sense of augmented power does he experience as a member of the Jewish people? (p. 24)
It’s interesting to note, of course, that for Kaplan here, value/meaning is fundamentally connected to communal association, the experience of being part of a social movement that extends beyond the individual.