Wednesday, June 22, 2005


I was busy yesterday and didn't have a chance to comment on my commentators so I figured I would just keep it rolling on todays topic.

Standard Disclaimer:
As usual this is my opinion, and while my opinion and fact generally are one and the same, other people feel differently yet at the same time feel strangely intimidated and therefore won't disagree. This note is meant to encourage disagreement, and I have been known to modify strong opinion if given a fairly persuasive reason.

I'm going to start this one off by talking about how modern non-religious Jews are officially considered under the flag of religious Judaism. Non-religious Jews, even some Jews who were once religious and then stopped being religious, have an official status of babies that were kidnapped. As such, they are considered to be compelled to sin and are not held completely respoonsible for it. I say completely responsible because as an intelligent adult everyone has the ability to overcome the biases that they were raised with and the various "life truths" that they have been ingrained with. For example, someone who was raised in a mafia lifestyle might see killing someone who pissed you off as an appropriate way to deal with it. He would be less culpable for murder then someone who grew up in a house of people who always discussed their problems and worked out a compromise. On the other hand, the mafia kid should be able to realize, as he is growing up, that there is something wrong with the way he was raised and work on himself to better follow the rules of society.
Why would an ex-religious Jew fall into the same category? I was talking to a friend of mine who had stopped being religious. This was after a full yeshiva high school and 1 year learning in a yeshiva in Israel afterwards. He had gone to his girlfriends reform temple and told me he was laughing at the women who wanted to put on a talis. He said, "why would women want to put on tzitzis? Men only have to because we are being punished for the sin of the golden calf which they didn't do." ????WTF???? The commandment of tzitzis is not a punishment for anything! However, if I grew up my whole life thinking everythng that I did in the name of religion was a punishment, I would hate religion and everything that I had done in its name. My friend got a bad education which completely turned him off.

The question I ask to the non-religious Jew is what is Judaism? Does God care what we do or who we are? Is Judaism an ethnicity or a religion? The world has rejected the concept of Judaism as an ethnicity and relates to us as a religion. If it is a religion, that means being Jewish means you belive that God wants you to behave in a certain way. If we have a tradition that has been passed down for generations, who has the right to decide that God wants somethng else from us. The question of why and for what purpose is certainly valid, but it should not be used as an excuse to not be religious, it must be asked seriously to people who have spent their lives trying to understand what God wants from us. To say it is too hard to do what God wants is very difficult to swallow, that is saying that God does not understand our capabilities. You can say that the rabbis created it all and that it is not authentic Judaism, but how can you know that if you never studied the sources. On one level, in order to be acceptably non-religious you would have to spend 10-15 years studying before having the ability to decide that the religion aspect is nonsense. At that point there is no reason to call yourself Jewish anymore because you have decided that Judaism is a crock. No one will shoot you if you eat a bagel with herring.

Getting back to reality, a Jew who accepts his Jewishness without knowing what it is is still considered a very holy person. On of the great things about Avraham Avinu is that he stood up and declared I am different then the rest of the world. I would argue that the seemingly minor level of commitment of putting a title on your head is 50% of Judaism. That is saying that no matter what happens, even if someone says he is going to kill us for no reason other then that title, I am part of the group. 50% isn't everything, they are missing the beauty of authentic Judaism, but they have gained for themselves a share in the world to come.


Rolling hills of green said...

Very well written.
There are, however, many different catagories of how much judaic knowledge people have and people don't necessarily understand how to catagorize and how G-d decides if they know enough to be responsible for their deeds or non-deeds.

rockofgalilee said...

On one hand, I agree not to judge other people. Everyone has their own baggage and it colors their lives. On the other hand all the information is readily available to those who seek it.

For example, there are non-orthodox Jews who culturally light the menora on chanuka. The obvious question is why do we light the menora? The answer, if properly researched, is because God performed a miracle for the Jews with the menora and therefore we light it for 8 nights. Well, why did God perform a miracle for the Jews? Because they stood up against the idol worship and the anti-Jewish decrees that were being forced upon them. We are celebrating the fact that God helped us live as traditional Jews. The Greeks didn't have any problem with us living as cultural Jews. They didn't want us performing the mitzvos.

Now, someone who is not religious is lighting the candles anyway. They light the candles because Jews light candles. That is a very important reason to light candles, but it is the most base reason. If they try to understand the reason behind it, they will find that they are celebrating something that they don't believe in. They are celebrating the continuation of the tradition that they are rejecting.

If you can explain chanukah in any other way, please feel free to try.

Olah Chadasha said...

Yeah, people who keep what they call "cultural" aspects of Judaism have always confused me. They go to shul on the High Holidays, but they don't believe or follow any of the things they're praying about. They have a "Seder" but don't really believe that what happened happened or that it was by G-d. So, I don't get it. It's cool that they're trying stuff, but these Mitzvot were never meant to be simply a "cultural" existence. So, what's the point? Why do it at all? If they want to feel a connection to Judaism, why not take the time to learn what it's all about? Doesn't it seem like sort of a cop-out? "Ok, I went to Temple on Yom Kippur. I feel Jewish and spiritual. Now, let's go have a cheese-burger." You know what I mean?

rockofgalilee said...

I think it is more confusing when someone says they are religious, but then they publicly act like they aren't in the way they talk, dress, behave...

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

You write so well, and encouraging diagreeement is a landmark of our heritage.

Let me ask you a question, please so I can participate fully. (being a lawyer, I like definitions..combine that with a Jew and you can imagine)
What do you mean by a religious Jew? Do you mean someone who follows the 613 mitzvot and all the rules of Kashrut, and observes all the holidays, or do you have something else in mind other than Halacha?

rockofgalilee said...

thank you for that compliment.

I define a religious Jew as someone who believes that God gave us the Torah as a guidebook on how to live our lives and that as such it is our obligation to abide by the rules set forth within as passed down through the generations as well as the fences set up by the leaders of our people to keep us as far away from sin as they felt needed under their mandate as set forth in the Torah.

How's that for a lawyerly definition.

Rolling hills of green said...

There is also the fact that in todays world alot of people exxcept the base. They do not feel the need to delve deeper into the reason of why they are doing what they are doing.
On the other hand there are all the lost souls who delve into cults and other cultures, but refuse to look into judaism because its too close to home.
Although, nowadays there is alot more Baale teshuva, yet still small in preportion.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

A beautiful definition, and one I can live with for today.

Now back to the original definiton of what is a Jew. So, according to this definition, a Jew is someone who lives by the words or the Torah, or is that a religious Jew? If so, is only a religious Jew a Jew who is considered worthy, or do Jews who fall short of this definition also court. For example, a Jew who observes the Shabbath, but does not keep kosher, or turns on lights on shabbath, is not a religious Jew, but a Jew nonetheless? Does this make sense?

What about the Jew who follows all of the commandments and prohibitions of the Torah, but lies and deceives, and is mean and unkind to his fellow human, what about that person?

rockofgalilee said...

My definition of a Jew is anyone who's mother is Jewish or who converts according to Jewish law.

My definition is based on a Torah definiton, as passed down through the generations as our tradition. Someone who does not acept the tradition would obviously not have the same definition unless they said they accept only part of the tradition. I don't understand exactly how accepting a part works, because if you tell me it is not from God, then the whole thing becomes irrelevant.

Do non-religious Jews count as Jews? If an animal looks like a duck and walks like a duck, but it doesn't quack is it still a duck?

I see non-religious Jews as missing a very integral part of their lives. You can see the need that they have to be good people by their overly liberal behavior. The problem is that is not as satisying because often as not it is good as defined by people and not as defined by God.

Non-religious Jews are a very important part of our glorious people. King Solomon said in Koheles, "A Man has never existed who has never sinned." Our life goal is to fulfill the purpose of the world, which we do by following the Torah and the commandments. To do this we must constantly strive towards perfection, whether or not it is possible to reach it. Without a goal to strive towards we will go nowhere.

I have heard the question that you raise countless times in many different fashions. "Isn't it better to just be a good person and not lie, cheat and steal like religious Jews do?"
The answer to that is define good person. And who authored that definition?

First i have to say that most religious Jews are not in the category of "lies and deceives, and is mean and unkind" nor do they "cheat, steal and cheat on their wives."

There is a fundamental difference between a "religious" Jew who does not behave correctly and a non-religious Jew who behaves more according to nice social norms.
A religious Jew is someone who accepts that proper behavior is defined by God. He may not be behaving properly, but he knows that he will have to answer to a higher power afterwards. If someone wears a black hat and long coat and in reality does not believe in God, then they are no more religious then someone who does not walk the walk.

However, a non-religious person who behaves nicely because they want to follow societal norms, or because thius is how they like to behave has no calling to behave this way. NOTE I AM NOT CALLING NAMES HERE. THIS IS AN EXTREME EXAMPLE. The german people in 1943 were good people. They were nice to their fellow man, they were honest... But they accepted a human decision that Jews did not rank as people. When your rules and regulations are defined by humans they are prone to errors.

Compare that to a Divine command to wipe out the people of Amalek.

Both people commited genocide. One did it out of hatred and the other did it out of love.

Killing is not wrong because you are harming another person. It is not wrong because a society cannot survive if people kill each other. Killing is only wrong because God said so. If he says in a different circumstance that it is proper to kill, then it is immoral not to.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Thank you for your long and informative answer. There is quite a bit of information there, and it will have to sink in.

But you say this:"
There is a fundamental difference between a "religious" Jew who does not behave correctly and a non-religious Jew who behaves more according to nice social norms.
A religious Jew is someone who accepts that proper behavior is defined by God. He may not be behaving properly, but he knows that he will have to answer to a higher power afterwards. If someone wears a black hat and long coat and in reality does not believe in God, then they are no more religious then someone who does not walk the walk."

Here is my quesiton: Is believing in God and honoring his commandments what counts the most in defining a religious Jew? How is this different, if at all, from the Christans who say that no matter what you do, if you accept Jesus as your personal saviour, you will be redeemed? Does it not define a person as a religous Jew solely based upon h/h relationship with God?

Another note: my son has traveled to Turkey (which makes me even more worried) He will be back to Tel Aviv, but for only a day, before he goes on to NYC and then Los Angeles. One day, God willing, we will come to Israel ourselves.

I am sending you my email address in a seperate post, which I will delete thereafter if you want to send contact information.

Thank you.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rockofgalilee said...

I got your e-mail address and erased the post for you. :-)

Maybe I mis-wrote. A person who believes in God and and his Torah and does not follow the commandments is a worse person then someone who does not believe in God. This is because if you know the truth and purposefully not follow it you are spitting at the truth. If you don't know any better then you are just ignorant.

That being said, if someone accepts the rules and regulations of our religion and works on himself to be a better person and fails in certain areas, as we are all human and all fail in certain areas, then he is a better person, from a religious perspective, then someone who is just a good person (who also humanly fails in certain areas because no one is perfect).

In christianity, according to my understanding, if you go to the priest and say I have sinned and will continue sinning but I accept the saviour, then you will be forgiven. In Judaism, in order to get forgiveness you have to not only admit your sins, and express regret you also have to commit to working on yourself so you will sin no more.

I'm going to sleep now. we'll continue later.

Just Shu said...

As far as teh question" is Judaism a religeon or ethnicity" I applied for a minority internship and was told that Judaism doesnt qualify as a minority. Since it isnt a ethnicy, but a religeon. So that is how teh Business world (or leats teh ad agency i wanted to work at) felt