Debating Social Justice

Generally, it’s not fun to see your friends fight, but when the fight is over the soul of Judaism, it’s easier to oblige.

From Monday of last week to Monday of this week, Jewcy hosted an email debate between Canonist’s Steven I. Weiss and Jewschool’s Dan Sieradski. The topic: Is Social Justice the Soul of Judaism?

I recommend that all of you read through the back-and-forth, but here’s a little preview. In Email #1, Steven answered, “No, it’s not the soul of Judaism.” In Email #2, Dan said, “Yes it is.” In Email #3, Steven said, “No way.” In Email #4, Dan said, ” Yuh Huh.” In Email #5, Steven said, “No!” In Email #6, Dan said, “Social Justice is the soul of Judaism. Final answer.”

Luckily, our friends add quite a bit of nuance along the way.

What do I think? I think Steven is right that making a definitive statement like “Social Justice is the soul of Judaism,” is probably misleading. BUT I think that creating a more moral and more just society is a signficant thread in Judaism and that it is a thread that we should pursue. I appreciate Steven’s journalistic rigor and his interest in not being dishonest about what our sources say, but ultimately, theology — meta-narratives — are played out using our imagination, not just our rational minds.

Had Maimonides used only Steven’s methods, would he have developed his complex, Aristotelian view of Judaism’s meaning and purpose? Was he being dishonest by reading Judaism through Aristotle, by saying that the “soul of Judaism” is intellectual perfection? I don’t think so. I think he was doing his best to imagine a Judaism — and a theological/philosophical framework — that took Judaism’s past and current context into consideration.

Which doesn’t mean that all theologies are created equal. Jewish tradition and sources lend themselves to some theological narratives more than others. “The goal of Judaism is the perfection of the world with all the social healing that this implies” is a story that can find plenty of support in the sources.

Obviously, the Jewcy debate was framed in a way that accepts Dan’s position as a good possibility. So maybe what we need to do next, is debate Steven’s Judaism. Which is?

From Email #3: “What this all boils down to is that the Jewish tradition is a set of rules.”

So let’s debate. Is the soul of Judaism “a set of rules”?

Discover More

Debating God

Over at, Douglas Rushkoff, the subject of some recent posts here, and our friend Rabbi Andy Bachman are duking ...

Jews for Jesus: Interview w/Shmuel Herzfeld

Last week, NPR’s “Heard on the Street” featured a “debate” between Jew for Jesus Larry Dubin and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld ...

The Rushkoff-Beery Debate

The Ethics of Our Fathers famously defines an “argument for the sake of heaven” and an “argument not for the ...