The term post-denominational has been around for a while. Here’s how I understand it. Yes-religious denominations exist and have value. But, the conditions that gave rise to their creation have changed and you can’t exclusively categorize people and synagogues by denominational labels.
Example: a synagogue has an inspiring musical Shabbat evening service. It features live instrumentation, contemporary poetry along with traditional liturgy, time for meditation and the chanting of niggunim (wordless, simple, moving melodies). How would you characterize this service-Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform? It’s hard to know because it might be any of the above, or a congregation that self-defines as “independent.”
Post-denominational is handy in this situation, because it captures the fluid and evolving nature of Jewish religious and spiritual life. Denominational labels no longer sufficiently differentiate and shed clarity on religious belief and practice.
It’s in that sense that I use the term, post-Jewish, to capture another dynamic occurring. If a person acts post-denominationally, it means that this individual doesn’t want others defining their personal religious identification. And, by extension, those who are post-Jewish don’t want someone else to define their identification with the Jewish people or Jewish community. They can be proud Jews and have many other identities. The most compelling example: a person can be a practicing Jew, married to a person who practices another religion. For them, multiple identities are not signs of disease, but security and freedom. They don’t have to mix, match or try to harmonize their faith traditions because they can have it both ways. What others may view as a contradiction has an inner logic to them.
The speculation around the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding is in part driving my observations. We will see tomorrow if Chelsea and Marc, each raised in a home in which religion played some role, want their respective clergy or faith traditions represented when they wed. But regardless of what happens, those who work and volunteer in the Jewish community need to get ready for a wave of post-Jewish behaviors and practices. What’s our initial reaction to thinking of couples like Mark and Chelsea as a post-Jewish/post-Christian couple? Is it different from thinking of them as an interfaith couple? How do we view someone actively volunteering for a worthy social or environmental issue, with a strong awareness of Jewish intentionality, even if no others Jews are involved? Have they assimilated into the broader culture or are they practicing in a post-Jewish fashion? Lots to ponder on this subject….but it’s clear that we need to begin having the discussion.
Rabbi Hayim Herring