The Dilemma of Individual Choice

I grew up in the Reform movement, which holds that Jewish "law" is not binding. Instead, it encourages every Reform Jew to become very knowledgable about Jewish traditions and then to decide for him/herself which of them to follow. 

This philosophy also fits very well with American conceptions of liberty and individualism which I have studied for decades as both a lawyer and historian.  

Yet, as a rabbi vitally concerned with the continuity of the Jewish people and its traditions, I question whether any community can thrive, or even survive with shared values, common rituals, and standards of proper behavior, if every member simply chooses what he or she will do. 

At a recent Torah study session attended by over 30 Jews, the question was asked "Do you keep [some form of] Kosher, and why or why not?"  Each person who responded described why the dietary rules are or are not meaningful to him/herself.  No one challenged anyone else; the prevailing sentiment was that each person's view and practices is equally valid.  No one questioned the ramifications of this sentiment for our Jewish community (or the Jewish people as a whole) and its future.  No one seemed concerned about what our grandchildren or their grandchildren will know or observe of our ancient traditions.  

Do we have any obligation to over 100 past generations to maintain their practices?  Do we have any obligation to future generations?  To G-d?  Or is individual choice our paramount value?

For Jews who do not consider themselves bound by Jewish law/tradition, or who do but nevertheless choose not to follow it in all respects -- myself included -- this is an important question with which to wrestle.  

 

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If charity cost nothing, the world would be full of philanthropists.
Jewish Proverb