This paper is the fifth in a series, Jewish Identity Today, analyzing the meaning of being Jewish today. Gordis addresses the crisis of Jewish continuity, which he claims is actually a crisis of identity. He looks at the relationship between behavior and belief and belonging among American Jews. Should belief precede behavior? Should one ever behave before coming to a belief in the obligatory nature o f that behavior? Why? Similarly, which comes first, belonging or behaving? Do we behave in a certain way because we feel that we belong to a certain group, or do our feelings of belonging possibly arise out of a pattern o f behavior?
This paper addresses these questions. Its argument proceeds in the following fashion: In Section 1, he defines more precisely why the American Jewish community's abandonment of norms creates such a problem for Jewish continuity. In Section 2, he explores both the reasons for the gradual but significant American abandonment of norms as a serious component of Jewish life and the implications of that abandonment. In Section 3, he turns to the future and asks whether some new ways of thinking about norms can be constructed that will allow American Jews to return to serious modes of Jewish living without abandoning the intellectual rigor that has thus far stood in the way of such returns. Finally, he considers briefly the options available to those segments of the American Jewish community who may wish to take norms seriously, but who will not or cannot accept traditional halakhah as the definition of what those norms ought to be. What options are available to them? What might pluralism come to mean if more American Jews began to take the notion of norms seriously?