Graf Orator says Judaism is not a Religion

September 28, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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Avraham Infield, one of the world’s foremost contemporary Jewish thinkers who says Judaism is not a religion, will deliver this year’s Graf Oration.

Avraham Infeld

In 2010, the prestigious Ervin Graf Oration was delivered by Amos Oz, distinguished Israeli novelist and veteran political analyst. This year, major international Jewish leader, avant garde thinker and inspirational speaker, Avraham Infeld will be making a whirlwind visit to Sydney to give the oration.
Although Modern Orthodox, Infeld is a committed pluralist which is evident from his important work as International President of Hillel and roving ambassador for Limmud.  He was a founder of the Taglit-Birthright Israel Program and has led many other Jewish initiatives. Infeld made aliya from South Africa as a teenager over 40 years ago.

One of his many interesting notions, which he illustrates so well through humorous anecdotes, is that Judaism is NOT a religion.  He says, “After living in Israel for 8 years, I was sent to the US as shaliach (emissary).  On the way to my new job in Baltimore, I drove on a highway on which there was a massive billboard ad which read ‘Families who pray together stay together.’ On the bottom was written ‘Sponsored by the Council of Protestants, Catholics and Jews.’  I almost had an accident.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what Jews were doing on that signpost.  What is this nonsense – Protestants, Catholics and Jews.  It’s like saying Yellow, Green, and Round.  Protestantism is a religion, Catholicism is a religion.  Judaism is not a religion.”

At his welcoming party, he was introduced to Bob, the director of the Jewish Federation.  “I went up to him, and said ‘Shalom, my name is Avraham. You’ve got to fix that sign.’  He said ‘what are you talking about?’  I said, ‘Judaism is not a religion.’ You should have seen the look on his face.  Total and absolute shock.  Imagine the following conversation between myself and Bob.  ‘Bob, are you religious?’ He says ‘God forbid.’  ‘Do you ever eat kosher?’  ‘If there is nothing else available, I’ll eat the stuff.’  ‘Do you ever keep Shabbat?’  ‘No.’  ‘Do you ever pray?’  ‘No.’  ‘Do you ever go to synagogue or temple?’  ‘I go once a year to see the guys.’  ‘Are you religious?’ ‘NO.’  ‘What is Judaism?’  ‘A religion.’  ‘What are you?’  ‘I am Jewish.’ Great logic, right?”

Infeld continues, “He could have done the same thing to me.  ‘Do you ever keep Shabbat?’  ‘At least  once  a week.’  ‘Do you ever pray?’  ‘Three times  a day.’  ‘Do you ever eat kosher?’  ‘All the time.’  ‘Is Judaism a religion?’ ‘NO way.’  ‘What are you?’  ‘I am Jewish!’

According to Infeld, one of the Jewish world’s most exciting and unique teachers, being Jewish is about engaging with the five components, or ‘legs’ of Jewish life – Memory, Family, Covenant, Israel and the Hebrew Language.  When he delivers that Graf Oration on Monday 15th October, his topic will be: ‘The 5 Legged Table: an alternate vision of the Jewish future.’

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