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Taking Judaism Public


We are fortunate to live in a society of relative tolerance, where most of us can walk down the street with the markers of our faith plain to see without fear of attack, verbal or otherwise. In other countries, even today, Jews are not so lucky. Why should we pretend to be living under duress, as if the Grand Inquisitor is breathing down our necks? Why should we yield the public ground to every other -ism, to all the other slices of the American pie?

I should note that in defending PDJs here, I do not mean to include public displays of personal piety – shuckeling on the subway or an airplane (except El Al, perhaps), swaggering down the street in a tallis. The latter make me uncomfortable, probably because they seem to serve no purpose other than to call attention to oneself.

If conducted in the right spirit and with proper decorum, PDJs have the potential to be a great kiddush Hashem. Jews of all stripes, even the unaffiliated, might find themselves inspired. Non-Jews who are positively inclined toward us might find themselves inspired also; at the very least, they will respect our right to convene publicly within the boundaries of the law. Those who are already hostile to us will continue to be so. Move the hachnasas sefer Torah indoors, cancel the Chol Hamoed carnival, and they will find something else to scorn, another reason to hate us.

Yes, we must conduct ourselves honorably – not to win over anti-Semites (a futile endeavor), but to bring glory to Hashem’s name and light into the world.

What about the risk of chillul Hashem by individuals behaving badly? For one thing, shuls and yeshivas should limit the flow of alcohol in their hallowed halls (which inevitably spills over into the street). This is important whether you like the idea of PDJs or not. Second, although even the most respected rabbi cannot control the conduct of an entire congregation, he can preemptively and repeatedly drive home a message of restraint, sanctity, and respect for one’s neighbors. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own behavior as well as our children’s. Beyond that, I have no perfect answer.

May all Jews soon be reunited in Israel – where we can and should feel free to express our faith in complete openness, throng the plazas, let our voices ring from the hilltops, and not even think twice about PDJs.

Ziona Greenwald is a full-time mother in Manhattan. She has worked as an editor and a court attorney.

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