In an appeal to Congress in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” I think that many people are reckoning with the same sentiment today, feeling that we need new dogma to address our problems, or that we need to do away with dogma entirely.
I feel fortunate for the rich living dogma that our Jewish past, anything but quiet, affords us. I feel comforted by a tradition that always provides us with principles, if not precedent, when we turn to it. I also feel empowered by the onus that the Torah places on me to work out interpersonal strife here on earth; no appeal to G-d absolves me of my responsibility to others.
Our Jewish heritage yields fundamental, incontrovertible truths, recorded in our texts and passed down through practices. Manifest in all contexts and at all times, these truths are alive, providing principles flexible enough to apply in every generation and in each new situation that arises. The principles of Jewish law and the ideas of Jewish philosophy are the floor and not the ceiling, meaning that they can be platforms for constant self-improvement, charging us to become even more moral.
On Chanukah, our oppressors tried to force the Jews to make a break with our whole tradition. The triumph of Chanukah showed us that our vibrant Jewish ways are not obsolete but can sustain us and move us forward. When we display our moral lights, like the lights of our menorahs, it begets more light. When we turn to our tradition to do justice to our responsibility to others, it begets a lighter tomorrow.
Maayan Schoen graduated from Torah Day School and Atlanta Jewish Academy. She studied in the Migdal Oz Beit Midrash for Women in Israel and is now a sophomore at Yale University.