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Pragmatism and Judaism

In an article entitled “Word of the Year” (, January 12, 2012, page 34), Rabbi Yaakov Thompson talked about the word “pragmatism” (which Merriam-Webster announced was the “word of the year”–most looked up word– for 2011) and Judaism.

While noting that pragmatism is very apropos to American thinking in general, and to 2011 in particular because of the economic difficulties facing us then, he went on to say:

“It is, however, a word that bothers me as a Jew. Being pragmatic is a great way to approach some things but it is a terrible way to address some aspects of life. While Jews have shown they can be very pragmatic–making the best decisions possible in the most impossible of situations–we are the least pragmatic people in the world. Has there ever been anything about Jewish existence that was pragmatic? Face it, we  are a nation of dreamers and we always will be. That has been the key to our role in the human drama. The first Jew in the world, Abraham, did not understand being pragmatic–he believed in a God you couldn’t see, he left his homeland and went on a journey without knowing where he was going, and finally came to a new land that God promised to the children that he did not yet have.

“As a people we have witnessed the worst that humanity could create and yet we affirm our belief in the goodness of man. We have wandered from place to place but still believed in a homeland to which we would return. We have seen how much hatred can come into the world but we have never stopped believing in the power of love. With a resume like that we can hardly be called pragmatic. Pragmatism would have demanded that we abandon our beliefs and values but instead we have tried to reshape the world around them.

“2011 was a year in which we learned to be pragmatic about many things but not everything. In 2012 keep dreaming big and believe in the least pragmatic premises of all time–the God of Israel, the land of Israel and the people of Israel.

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