By Rabbi Josh Knobel
Even amidst progressive Jewish circles, the aura of devoutness associated with long-established religious communities is often applauded in reverent tones, suggesting an unspoken admiration for those who represent our past. When faced with the rapid changes presented by modernity, such esteem seems understandable; it represents a yearning for the simplicity and certainty afforded previous generations.
However, an honest foray into our past reveals that our past was neither simple nor certain, and the aura of simplistic, confident piety, even when practiced in modernity, often comes at the high cost of impenetrability.
A study published on May 30 by the British Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reveals that the lack of transparency practiced all too often by the Catholic Church in the past still haunts modern religious circles, including leadership within the Jewish community. Survivors participating in the study overwhelmingly suggested that the guilt and shame associated with transgressing moral boundaries and incriminating a respected authority figure often prevented them from disclosing their abuse.
The study’s findings urge all of us to reconsider how we conceive of the religious community. Rather than celebrate religion as a beacon toward a blissfully ignorant past, we must discover how to instill our tradition into everyday modern life while simultaneously demanding transparency from our tradition’s institutions and rejecting those traditions and practices that leave any members of our community, especially our youngest, at risk. In so doing, we will build the model religious community of the future, one that reverently incorporates those traditions that glorify our God and our People while also embracing those developments that will shepherd both into the years to come.