Photo Credit:
Rabbi Shalom Hammer

You can learn about Judaism and learn about the message and depth of a certain holiday without being told that you have to observe it. I don’t believe that I have to tell Jews they have to observe it. They know for themselves or they don’t know. That’s their decision.

It’s not a kiruv project. But the problem here in Israel is that you have a lot of Jews who are losing their Judaism – they’re forgetting what it means to be a Jew, what it means to have the holidays, what it means to have Shabbat. Even if they don’t keep Shabbat, at least respect its foundations. Where is it coming from? What does it mean?

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So I’ll give lectures on topics such as Jewish heroism, the Jewish approach to agriculture, the Jewish definition of simcha. You don’t necessarily have to be religious or be told that you have to be religious to learn these concepts. Of course, I’m not denouncing religion. They know I’m religious, and I show them by example the advantage I feel I have as a religious Jew. But that doesn’t mean I have to ram religion down their throat.

The problem in Israel is that there’s no separation between Judaism and religion.

To say there’s a separation between Judaism and religion, though, is a bit “iffy.”

Obviously you have to have religion, but I don’t want them to feel that Judaism is contingent upon Jewish religion only. Ultimately we’d like everyone to be observant, but you have to start with the fundamentals. And the fundamentals are appreciating first what it means to be a Jew. If they want to pursue an observant lifestyle, that’s perfectly fine and up to them – and we’d like to see that happen – but I’m not even there. I’m at the very basics.

Editor’s note: Rabbi Hammer often travels to the United States on lecture tours. He can be reached via rabbihammer.com.

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Elliot Resnick is the former chief editor of The Jewish Press and the author and editor of several books including, most recently, “Movers & Shakers, Vol. 3.”