Few issues are higher on the political agenda of American Jews than the injection of religion into public life. Having fought for generations for the right to be considered full-fledged citizens of our country, we take exception to actions — public prayers, restrictive laws, declarations of faith — that suggest our Americanness is less complete or authentic than our neighbors’. Public Bible-thumping makes us nervous, because we know in our gut that the next step will be loyalty oaths to a faith we do not share. We demand the right to dissent, to follow our own beliefs in our own way, without being made to feel less for it. Bibles, we say, should be thumped in private.
This Sunday evening, we’re invited to do just that. Shavuot, the holiday that begins at sundown, marks the day on which, tradition teaches, Moses went up to Mount Sinai, seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, and brought down the Torah. It’s a deeply affirming experience to review what happened there: the promulgation of a legal system requiring fair weights and balances, equal justice for rich and poor, fair pay for a day’s work and — most remarkable — support for the poor at taxpayer expense. It turns out there’s a lot there worth thumping.
It’s a complicated document, filled with more wisdom and compassion than either side gives it credit for. The Talmud recommends turning its pages again and again, because there’s always something new. And once or twice a year, it’s worth celebrating. We wish our readers a happy holiday.