Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Rabbi Jason Miller grew up in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He attended James Madison College at Michigan State University where he graduated with a degree in International Relations. He then went to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York where he became an ordained Rabbi and earned a master’s degree in Education.
I asked Rabbi Jason how he came to the Jewish faith. “I was raised in the Jewish faith,” he told me. When he was in college he became involved in the Jewish community on campus. “That led me to make the decision that after I graduated I would attend rabbinical school instead of law school.”
How does one practice the Jewish faith on a daily basis? Rabbi Jason replied: “I’m an observant Jew. I have daily prayer, I keep kosher, Sabbath and all the Jewish holidays.”
A misconception that people have about him when he talks about being a Rabbi is that people automatically think he must be in charge of a large congregation. He is not, but is instead a businessman and social media guru. “I’m a teacher, entrepreneur, businessman, visiting Rabbi at several congregations, and I perform ceremonies for life cycle events,” Rabbi Jason said.
The Huffington post named Rabbi Jason as one of the top ten most influential Jews in social media and he recently won a Jewish Influencer award from the National Jewish Outreach Program. He writes articles for The Huffington Post and has a personal blog which he has run since 2003. He took over the family business, Access Computer Technology, from his father in 2010. The company began in 1994 and provides IT support, social media marketing, and website design/build. He also owns Kosher Michigan, a kosher certification agency.
I asked him how social media interacts with his faith and he said, “Through social media, the global Jewish community appears smaller than it used to be. Traditional borders and barriers that have kept us from each other have virtually disappeared. We’re becoming much more interconnected educationally, religiously, socially, and culturally.”
Judaism is an Abrahamic faith and is one of the oldest surviving monotheistic faiths in the world. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 there were an estimated 13.4 million Jews around the world, 42% of which live in Jerusalem and another 42% of which live in the United States or Canada.
Life cycle events in the Jewish faith include things like birth and the first month of life (ritual circumcision on the eighth day for baby boys), bar and bat mitzvahs, divorce, marriage, and death and grieving.
Rabbi Jason Miller loves being a part of the Jewish faith. He said “I love the time-honored traditions, celebrations, and also the emphasis on education.”
Judaism does not have a set of things you absolutely have to believe to be a Jew, but there is a list of 13 principles that encompass the most widely accepted principles written by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. These principles work hand-in-hand with the 10 Commandments.
13 Principles of Faith
- God exists
- God is one and unique
- God is incorporeal
- God is eternal
- Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other
- The words of the prophets are true
- Moses’ prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets
- The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses
- There will be no other Torah
- God knows the thoughts and deeds of men
- God will reward the good and punish the wicked
- The Messiah will come
- The dead will be resurrected
Rabbi Jason does not believe this personally, but the reason you will sometimes see the word “God” written by Jews with the dash in place of the “o” is because according to some Jewish traditions one should not speak or write the name of God frivolously, which is the third commandment. Also, it is rooted in a respect for God; His name is to remain sacred and not spoken unless in prayer or recitation. Substitutions like “Hashem” are sometimes used in place of God’s name.
One of the core tenets of the Jewish faith is that Jews do not believe that Jesus was/is the Messiah (which is a Christian belief). In one of his most recent articles written for The Huffington Post called “Jesus, We Can Finally Talk about Jesus”, Rabbi Jason Miller talked about how at the end of his time at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he was asked to do a presentation for a group of undergrads at The College of St. Elizabeth.
In preparation for my visit [the teacher] asked the students to submit a list of five questions each that they would like me to consider. Without any exaggeration, a full 90 percent of the students included at least one question about Jesus Christ in their list. […] Many of the women in that class at the College of St. Elizabeth were surprised to learn that Jews do not consider Jesus to be the messiah and the entire class was shocked to discover that Jesus’ teachings were not part of the required coursework I was doing in my rabbinical school studies.
Kosher (“kashrut” in Hebrew) is a set of dietary laws for those of the Jewish faith to ensure that their food is fit to eat, though the work can also mean things that are proper, legitimate, or approved for use. From a historical context, this code was a way of ensuring humane slaughtering, kept the Jews from eating animals prone to infection, and kept their food disease free.
Jews celebrate a lot of holidays throughout the year and the celebrations can vary from group to group, but here are a few of the top holidays that are celebrated by almost all of them.
Passover – This holiday commemorates the Israelite’s exodus from a tyrannical reign in Egypt. This holiday lasts seven days for Israel and for the Reform Movement, and eight days for all other Jews. Passover begins on the first full moon in April.
Rosh Hashanah – This is the Jewish New Year according to the Judaic calendar. It lasts between one to two days and falls between Labor Day and Columbus Day. (On the site JewFAQ.org, they mention that ‘You’ve heard of “twice-a-year Christians’ who go to church only on Christmas and Easter? ‘Twice-a-year Jews’ go to synagogue only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
Yom Kippur – This holiday occurs on the ninth day after the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It is a somber holiday that is used as an annual day of repentance for sins that have been committed throughout the previous year.
Chanukkah (Hanukkah) – This is the festival of lights which starts sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chanukkah is in memory of the Israelites’ rededication the temple in Jerusalem after a successful revolt against Seleucid Greeks.
His faith has helped him through difficult times in his life through learning what it means to truly engage with faith, through connecting with G-d in prayer, and through reliance on the community. He said, “Here in Detroit we have a very close-knit community that transcends denominations and different walks of life. It’s wonderful.”
One of the central ideas that originates from Jewish culture is that of chesed, which roughly means “loving-kindness” and going the extra mile to take care of others. I have heard translated to mean “Love God, Love Man”. Another key idea is tikkun olam which means “repairing the world”. Basically, Jews aren’t supposed to simply focus on self-preservation but work for the healing and restoration of the world we live in. Followers of the Jewish faith are to build their lives on these two ideas and show love and kindness to everyone they interact with.
Rabbi Jason Miller has devoted his life to the Jewish way of life and connecting the community. Through social media he is doing his part to bring the Jewish world together. Through his companies he is working to better the lives of Jews and non-Jews alike in Detroit. And through his writing he is challenging and inspiring fellow Jews and Detroiters.
I appreciate Rabbi Jason taking the time to talk to me and I hope that someday it is be said of me that I have done even a fraction of what he has for his community.
Ever met a Druid? Now you’ll get the chance to! We’ll hear from Robert, a Neopagan Druid from South Lyon, Michigan.
Photo credit: Flickr / david_shankbone (A Jew kissing the Wailing Wall) Jason Miller (used with permission), Flickr / Emmanuel Dyan (Syangogue in Hungary), Chatham University JKM Library (Nazareth), ParisSharing (synagogue in Budapest), molotalk (Rabbi), Klearchos Kapoutsis (Star of David)