Rabbi Amy Joy Small, founder of Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning & Experiences in Morristown, led a provocative three-part series for Our Jewish World called “Is It Necessary to Believe in God to Be Jewish?”
Rabbi Small pointed out that it is not uncommon today for people to call themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.” She added, “The language of our prayer book and the stories of the Bible speak about God in supernatural, personal ways that have come to feel alien to many people in our day. After the Holocaust and so many more violent episodes, even within our lifetime, it is hard to imagine that God rewards and punishes for good and bad behavior, or that a loving, compassionate God could let such evil and suffering abound. Many people say that they ‘don’t believe in God’—and they really mean they don’t believe in the supernatural God they find when they open our classical Jewish texts.”
Among the questions the rabbi addressed in her series were:
- How does Judaism address the question of evil and suffering in the context of a belief in God? Are there other ways to imagine a belief in God without the supernatural, personal images of our texts? This is an exploration of God language and the range of theologies within Judaism.
- How has our tradition addressed the challenge of faith throughout the ages? Surely this is not the first time in history when questions of faith have been prominent among us. How have our people adapted their beliefs in the past?
- What is the meaning of “spirituality” as opposed to faith or belief in God? Can we have one without the others?
This series explored the variety of God concepts in Judaism; the ancient and modern quest for faith and for evolving beliefs; and the real link between spirituality and faith.
Rabbi Small created Deborah’s Palm Center in 2014 to help Jews and fellow seekers access the riches of Jewish tradition for meaningful spiritual living. Her passion is helping others find their way through the enduring heritage of Jewish learning and living.
The rabbi, who has served congregations in New Jersey, Michigan and Indiana, is a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, where she served on the board for many years. She is a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders and a senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and a Storahtelling Maven. She is the board president of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and serves on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.