Jewish Sensibilities

Jewish Sensibilities are approaches to living and learning that permeate Jewish culture.  The ideas, values, emotions and behaviors they express, emanating from Jewish history, stories and sources, provide inspiration and guidance that help us respond creatively and thoughtfully to life’s challenges and opportunities. The terms was first introduced by Vanessa Ochs in her 2003 Sh’ma Journal article Ten Jewish Sensibilities.  Please click a Sensibility below to see more about it.

Find Pleasure in Life
The Jewish approach encourages us to balance our earnest efforts to repair the world with finding contentment and joy in our lives.

Elu v’Elu
[both] these and those
Wield a “Both/And” Perspective
The Jewish approach includes recognizing that there are multiple sides of an issue, being open to hearing views that are not your own, and grappling with the complexities of life.

b’Tzelem Elohim
[all people are made] in the divine image
Value the Humanity in Each Person
The Jewish approach requires us to protect the life of every person, and ensure dignity and justice for all people.

Question Everything, Including Authority
The Jewish approach includes asking questions — of ourselves and of others, about why and how things are the way they are. Even in the face of great power the approach is not to bow down but to engage, and struggle for deeper understanding.

Na’aseh v’Nishmah
we will do and we will “hear” (“understand”)
Try it – Learn by Doing
The Jewish approach includes learning by doing — taking an action without necessarily knowing why it’s important or how it will work out, recognizing we will gain insight along the way.

Embrace Imperfection
The Jewish approach makes room for both the joys and sorrows of life, and acknowledges that we are shaped by our struggles and losses as much as by our victories. In order to be whole, one must also experience brokenness.

day of rest
Make Time for Rest and Renewal
The Jewish approach demands we carve out time for rest and reflection, truly separating ourselves from the never-ending drumbeat of life.

Lech Lecha
take yourself and go
Take the Next Step
The Jewish approach promotes living life as a journey, not a destination. Take action and move forward – toward a place you don’t yet know, but will discover.

Take Responsibility for Your Actions
The Jewish approach recognizes that humans often fail to live up to our best selves, and demands and honors learning from our mistakes. Change is always possible.

Nurture Community
The Jewish approach includes forging relationships and communities – meaningfully connecting ourselves to others by agreeing to shared commitments.

4 thoughts on “Sensibilities

  1. Great concept! I like these a lot, and I have referred to most of them when teaching introductions to Judaism.
    I wonder how “sensibilities” differ from “values.” They seem to encompass values, and move beyond them to a broader ethos of living.

    Others sensibilities I see as particularly central to Judaism and Jewish culture are:
    “Le-chaim,” the affirmation of life and the sanctity of this life (even for those who believe in an afterlife; Judaism has a uniquely this-worldly approach to sacred living)
    “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof”: the pursuit of, and centrality of justice (even as the repetition of the word hints that there are usually two sides or more of an issue, each with some validity)
    She’elah: Questioning. From the child’s role at the Seder and onward from there, Jewish culture encourages questioning and even arguing “for the sake of Heaven” in ways that distinguish it among religious sensibilities
    Am Yisrael Chai: Despite the decline in traditional affiliation, I still see a strong identification with the Jewish people and our history as a source of meaning and transcendence for many Jews.

    Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan

  2. These are great to grapple with. Not a criticism by any means but I’m sure that such a ‘sensibility’ of “Israel” was considered. Interested in hearing why it was left of the list.

    • Israel the country not the existential condition…. (-; Also i would recommend Honoring Parents and the elderly as opposed to USA’s culture of Youth glorification). I find having the Jewish Sensibility contrasted to a different sensibility adds necessary nuance.

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