Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Religious Philosophy; An Addition

Rabbi Sonsino
After I completed the various statements regarding my religious philosophy, I was asked to state where I stood vis-à-vis three more topics: the value of religious practices, my position on Israel and my personal approach to our sacred texts. Here below are my answers:


For us Jews, Judaism must be lived through various religious rituals and not only studied as an academic exercise. After all, non-Jews can do that as well, and often do. Jews, on the other hand, need to observe mitzvot, at least, for the following reasons:

        a) Religious practices/ rituals have an educational value: By carrying out Mitzvot we can teach Jewish values: e.g., saying a blessing over wine as a symbol of joy; reciting the motzi as an acknowledgment of our dependence on God for nature’s bounties; the wedding ring as a symbol of marital fidelity.

    b) Religious practices/rituals have an emotional value: By carrying out a mitzvah we can remember important people in our lives who do them now or have done them in the past.

    c)   Religious practices/rituals bind us to the Jewish community at large by establishing a connection to other Jews around the world.

    d)  Religious practices/ rituals point us to the source of power or energy of the universe, namely God.

However, mitzvot, to be authentic, have to be observed in consonance with our modern thinking, and devoid of superstition and false information. Furthermore, they have to be carried out to the extent that they are meaningful to the individual.


The Land of Israel is the spiritual home of all Jews. Even after the destruction of the 2nd Temple of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, when Jews spread out throughout the Mediterranean basin and lived under the domination of gentiles for about 2000 years, they never forgot the land of their ancestors, and looked forward to the day when they would be gathered once again in the Land of Israel and live there freely and in peace. That event took place in 1948 when the modern State of Israel was established.

Presently, the Jews of Israel live surrounded by a Muslim community in the Middle East that is inimical to its physical existence. Even though some of them are willing to recognize the reality of Israel, others are vociferously proclaiming its upcoming destruction.  This negative attitude has compelled Israeli Jews to turn to the right in the political spectrum, which has been, in my opinion, unhealthy for the long prospect of Israel. Palestinian Arabs and Israelis have no other choice but to accept the reality of each other, and make painful compromises in order to live in peace. This goal, however, appears to be unattainable today. Jews who live outside of Israel are also conflicted, some supporting the government of Israel, which is committed to build more settlements in Judea and Samaria, and others, like me, standing behind the opposition, which is against enlarging the settlements and in favor of a policy of compromise and accommodation. So, there is no Jewish unanimity on this subject. But, except for the Satmar Hasidim who are theologically opposed to Israel as a State, what unites all Jews today is the unequivocal commitment to the independence and sovereignty of Israel in its own land.


Jews have been the historical authors of many Holy Scriptures, such as the Bible and many rabbinic texts; they represent the foundation of our western civilization. Some consider the Bible as God’s word and therefore inerrant, and others, me among them, follow biblical criticism and view it as the product of many inspired individuals and schools of thought throughout the centuries. Is the Bible authoritative? Some Jews say, yes, because God wrote it. I consider it a major source of inspiration and as the basis for my own Judaism, but , being a fallible human document, the Bible is in no way binding. I spent all my life studying the Bible because it is part of our own tradition, warts and all, and still has something to teach us about human behavior and religious beliefs.

Rifat Sonsino

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