Professional Philosophy

CREATIVITY AND CURIOSITY

Religious creativity and intellectual curiosity -- by blending these twin commitments in response to the great challenges of our heritage, we not only grow as individuals; we also inspire the next generation of Jews to make their religion a vibrant, living Judaism.


MEETING THE NEEDS OF MODERN JEWS

Often, Jewish adults whose religious education was inadequate or uninspiring have never been given the opportunity to explore ideas about God, afterlife, ethics, the Bible, and the other great themes of religion in a way that is consistent with a progressive world-view.  I seek to serve those Jews who believe that the truth has yet, if ever, to be fully known.  This means, not that all beliefs are equally true, but that all people are equally affirmed in their search for truth.
 
Single Jews -- whether never married, separated, divorced, or re-singled through the death of a spouse -- have difficulty finding their place in a communal structure that is oriented around families.
 
Parents often feel uncertain about how to raise their children with a respect for tradition as well as a commitment to an open-minded approach to life and religion.  This task should not be one parents have to face alone.
 
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews and their partners, long excluded from Jewish communal life, have frequently been denied opportunities to observe rituals and have communal support in their journey through the life-cycle: choosing a partner, raising children, coping with loss, and other family simchas and responsibilities.

Spiritually oriented persons are often turned off by stale, formulaic rituals that express antiquated theologies through boring worship services.  One of the most telling criticisms of a worship service is that it is boring.

 
FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
 
Religious creativity has been the hallmark of Jewish life at every period of its development. Yet with time, that which was once new and creative can become stagnant and uninspiring. The need for creativity is sorely felt in the Jewish community. That need can be met by the development of:

~ Creative rituals that breathe new life into the celebration of the Sabbath, the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the festival calendar;

~ Life-cycle ceremonies that support families and individuals experiencing the religious, spiritual, and emotional impact of rites of passage such as birth, coming of age (B’nai Mitzvah), the uniting of two lives as one, and the sorrow of loss and grief;

~ Educational and religious resources that teach a variety of options from the Jewish past and present, instead of labeling a single viewpoint of Jewish thought as "mainstream;"

~ A rabbinic approach that connects religion and its institutions to the human aspiration for meaning, love, and joy.

 These are the goals to which I commit myself professionally.  As I do so, I acknowledge this truth: to be a human being in this world is a difficult task; to be a Jew, even harder. But no task offers us more opportunities for progress, growth, and joy.

James D. Cohn