One Friday night, a group of students at the University of Maryland slipped into a conversation about different threats to Judaism. The original question posed was “what is the greatest threat to Judaism?” The answers ran the gamut, and an intense discussion developed.
As both a listener and participant in that discussion, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of my peers. Clearly they all had grappled with this topic previously, because they all had something intelligent to say. The problem was that the evening’s discussion was too short. Many new questions were asked that night, many of which were left unexplored- a bittersweet end to an intellectually stimulating evening.
That night illustrated both one of Judaism’s greatest attributes and one of its greatest weaknesses. It was uplifting to participate in a discussion that was almost a microcosm of a Talmudic discourse: a question was posed, arguments and counterarguments were presented, proofs were offered, and, the group left with a deeper understanding of the original question, albeit without a final answer. Judaism has reached such great philosophical heights because of arguments such as these. Even though they lack resolution, these unresolved debates stimulate people to explore further. There are times, however, when a backlog of questions can be overwhelming, and can bog people down to the point of surrender. When people try to answer the flood of questions all by themselves, they can become overwhelmed.
Religious dissatisfaction, caused in part by the absence of honest intellectual discussion, is, perhaps, one of the most pertinent problems facing Judaism. Whenever a question is left unexplored, left to fester in the mind of the questioner, it can grow and infect many aspects of their belief. What hope does the future of Judaism have if Jews do not have an outlet to express their ideas and discuss their problems?
The problem of religious frustration is most acute for students on secular college campuses who are exposed to a barrage of new ideas which may conflict with traditionally accepted Torah-concepts. When faced with these religious challenges, often it is up to the individual to explore these issues. In many respects, the secular college student is privileged, because, when the time for exploration does come, they have access to numerous resources, both Jewish and secular. Moreover, college students gain insight from each other. Where else can the biology and philosophy major sit together and determine answers to questions on, let’s say, medical ethics? This type of interdisciplinary collaboration can and does lead to revolutionary new ideas. But often, these discussions are left in the oral form, and so many people who may be asking similar questions do not reap the benefits of the discussion’s outcome.
Hashta was created with these thoughts in mind. The purpose of this journal is to provide students with an outlet to discuss their ideas on Judaism. This inaugural edition, will, I”YH, be the first of many in which students can write down their ideas and share them with others. On one hand, the journal provides the questioner with a chance to express their opinion; on the other hand, the journal’s purpose is also to provide answers to the yet unasked questions of other students. In doing so, Hashta will accomplish a third, additional goal: help rid the sense of loneliness that comes with doubt. Judaism is far less foreboding when people realize that they do not have to tackle these questions on their own. On behalf of myself and the editors of Hashta, I wish that the reader gains and grows from the articles in this journal. Please enjoy what I hope will be an edifying experience.
--Rafi Karkowsky, Publication Adviser