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September 15, 2014 / 20 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘commandments’

Will Your Grandchildren Remain Jews?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2003

Sometimes, messages come to us from the most unexpected sources. While, Baruch HaShem, there is currently a substantial upsurge in commitment to Torah and mitzvos, and statistics demonstrate that the Orthodox community is experiencing an unprecedented resurgence, sadly, there is also a flip side to this story. Assimilation continues to eat away at our innards, sapping at our vitality and victimizing our youth. Intermarriage and alienation remain deadly scourges, infecting countless of our people.

Recently, a jarring message came to us from a news article that I picked up in The New York Times. I do not watch TV. I am not familiar with the programs that are currently in vogue, but The Times related a story about an incident that occurred on one of the more popular  salacious TV shows. The program portrayed a young Gentile woman on a date with a Jewish young man. They went out for dinner, during which she brought up the subject of marriage, to which he responded that he could not marry a non-Jew. Absorbing this piece of information, the girl challenged him with a simple question: “So how come you ordered pork tenderloin?”

Without batting an eye, he answered, “I’m Conservative.”

It was only a television show, but his response appears to have ignited a great hullabaloo – so much so that it made The New York Times. A spokesman for the Conservative movement vehemently voiced his objections to the producers of the show, stating that the young man’s rationalization that he is permitted to eat pork because he is “Conservative” was totally fallacious and misleading. The producers responded that the story was based on statistics that demonstrate that the great majority of Jews who refer to themselves as “Conservative” do not adhere to the laws of kashruth.

Now, the purpose of my writing about this incident is not to castigate any one group, but rather, to point out the tragic consequences that accrue when people believe that affiliation with a certain movement endows them with the right to depart from halacha – the laws of our Torah.

Over the years, in my work in outreach, I have time and again encountered this rationale:

“I’m Conservative,” - “I’m Reform,” - “I’m Reconstructionist” – “Therefore, those mitzvos do not apply to me.”

And herein is to be found a major contributing factor to the breakdown of American Jewish life. The average person who joins one of these groups is under the impression that doing so legitimizes his rejection of certain commandments – kashruth being only one of them.

To be sure, there are many Jews who identify with the Orthodox community who are also guilty of disregarding halacha, but there is one fine difference – they recognize that they are in violation of Jewish law, and they do not try to legitimize their lack of observance. They will never claim that they have the latitude to disregard the mitzvot. Rather, they will admit to their weaknesses, keeping the door of teshuva open.

American culture espouses the philosophy that man’s goal in life mirrors the Constitution: “the right to the pursuit of happiness”. Nowhere in the Torah however, is it written that the goal and purpose of our lives is happiness. We have responsibilities and obligations, and even if these responsibilities are in conflict with our proclivities, they nevertheless remain immutable and transcend all cultural, all generational boundaries. Our commitment to Judaism is not based upon vogue or upon that which suits our immediate needs or fancy, but upon our Covenant which was sealed at Sinai - a Covenant that is eternal and non-negotiable. Once you start tampering with that Covenant, however, once you believe that you are not bound by it, and that “labeling” yourself entitles you to declare certain commandments null and void, it is only a question of time until the very structure of your Jewish life disintegrates.

The question posed by the Gentile girl on the show, “If you can eat pork tenderloin, why can’t you marry me?” should make every parent who has come to neglect the observance of mitzvot re-think his or her Jewish commitment. Our Torah and mitzvot as given to us at Sinai have enabled us to survive the centuries, but if we declare them irrelevant, our children will simply abandon all of Judaism, and tragically, that is exactly what we are witnessing today.

I remember over 30 years ago, at the inception of our Hineni movement, I was lecturing in Miami Beach, Florida, when a broken-hearted elderly bubbie approached me. Tears flowing down her cheeks, she related her tale of woe. Her grandson was planning to marry out.

“Oy, Rebbetzin,” she wept. “What did I do to deserve this? I never burdened him with anything. My daughter never asked anything of him. We asked only one thing…. ‘Don’t marry a gentile.’ And now look! Why, Rebbetzin? Why?”

It never occurred to that poor bubbie that perhaps the answer she was seeking was to be found in the very fact that neither she nor her daughter had ever demanded anything of that boy. Her grandson was never challenged, was never charged with his Jewish responsibilities; the yoke of mitzvot was never placed on his shoulders; his soul was never ignited by our commandments, and he never felt the glory and majesty of Sinai. So why shouldn’t he marry out? As the girl on the show asked, “If you can eat pork tenderloin, why can’t you marry me?”

The question hangs painfully in the air and all those who one day hope to see Jewish grandchildren must grapple with it.

Women’s Issues (Continued From Last Week)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003
Special Note: In last week’s column I published two letters on questions concerning women’s issues, specifically concerning the role of women in public prayer: why it is that they cannot be counted in a minyan, and why there are objections to women’s prayer groups. The following is my reply:

Dear Friends:

Before responding to your specific concerns, I would like to make some disclaimers: 1) Please bear in mind that whatever reasons I advance in response to your questions will not be definitive. 2) My column is not a forum for halachic discussion – that is in the purview of our rabbis.

Since I am writing to you during this Pesach season, I thought it might be appropriate to respond through the answer that our sages give to the wise son of the Hagaddah. Very often, a person can be defined through the questions that he asks, so let us try to remember that which renders this son wise: a) His ability to distinguish between our various mitzvot and his discernment in recognizing that the Almighty G-d commanded them all and b) While he seeks information and enlightenment regarding them, he nevertheless clings tenaciously to their observance – all the while remaining unwavering in his commitment even if he does not fully understand them.

The answer that the Hagaddah provides for this son is rather puzzling. Instead of being offered the reasons for the various commandments, we are advised to inform him about the laws of Pesach and that we may not eat after the final taste of the afikomen. The afikomen is symbolic of the Paschal offering and teaches us that after all is said and done, the final “taste” that must remain with us is the awareness that our mitzvos are Divine commandments and we need no better reason for their observance than that.

It is that awareness that lends meaning and purpose to our lives; it is that awareness that renders the fulfillment of the commandments our only reality. So while we can advance many reasons as to the whys and the wherefores of our mitzvot and traditions, at the end of the day, there is only one reason, and that is that we do and we observe, because we live by the dictates of our holy Torah.

It is as simple as that. Had we been left to our own discretion, we probably would have opted for something sweet and cool to conclude our heavy Seder dinner, but the Hagaddah reminds us that the last taste that must linger in our mouths is that of matzoh – mitzvos – the afikomen. There is a world of wisdom inherent herein – wisdom that has enabled our people to survive the centuries, for no matter how the winds of time, culture or society blew, no matter what was in vogue or suited our palates, we remained steadfast in our adherence to the commandments, and we have not deviated one iota.

I write this preface before responding to your question so that we may all understand that our mesorah, our traditions, are holy. They have been bequeathed to us from time immemorial, and there is only one definitive answer that describes them, and that is that they are our Divinely ordained way of life. You might of course object, saying “Don’t we have the right to seek reasons for the commandments?” And “Would we not be more committed if we were given reasons for their observance?”

We do not object to searching for their meaning as long as we follow the example of the wise son who remains loyal even as he questions. If and when however, our observance becomes subject to our personal preference and logic, if we become the sole arbiter of the relevance of the mitzvos, traditions and rituals, then we will feel justified in passing judgement on their validity and will discard them when no longer “inspired.” Thus, our sages challenge, “Who is on a higher level? He who observes because he is commanded to do so, or he who is impelled by the inclinations of his heart? Clearly, he whose service is based upon G-d’s command is on a higher spiritual plane, for he subjugates his will. But when it is man’s will that prevails, then in no time at all, our heritage will evaporate. So the argument that you advance on behalf of some people who claim that, since women are in the professional arena the dynamics of their Jewish observance should also change, holds no water.

Our way of prayer, our gender roles, are rooted in our Torah and are therefore immutable. (Parenthetically, we would do well to remember that, from time immemorial, Jewish women have been in the vanguard in the workplace, many of them supporting their husbands while they studied Torah. So there is nothing new about women being out there.) By all means, let us search for added meaning in our observance, but that search must remain independent of our commitment.

Our sages have written extensively on Ta’amei HaMitzvot – reasons for mitzvot. The literal translation of ‘Ta’am” however, is not “reason”, but “taste”. In order to make the observance of commandments more attractive, more precious in our eyes, our sages have made us aware of the many benefits to be accrued by upholding them, so that we might acquire a greater love for them. But again, I must emphasize that these reasons are in no way definitive. It’s like a mother saying to her small child, “Taste this orange sweetheart. It’s so juicy and delicious – you’ll just love it.” Surely that’s not the reason why the mother wants the child to eat the orange. The real reason is that the orange is chock full of vitamins. It’s nourishing and good for the child.

Similarly, when our sages advance Ta’amei Mitzvot” - reasons for mitzvot, it makes us appreciate and desire the many pleasures that are accrued by those who follow a Torah way of life, but the real reasons for their observance remain beyond the scope of human understanding.

(To be continued)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/womens-issues-continued-from-last-week/2003/05/21/

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