Tevye asks “Why do we do it? Because it is our tradition!” How often does that question come up, and is that answer enough for the inquisitive mind? Tradition is defined as beliefs or behaviors passed down from one generation to the next within a family or religious context. How effective is the adherence to tradition in keeping the next generation Jewish? Being in the Diaspora for thousands of years has both enriched and diluted our traditions. There is more mixing of cultural customs (Ashkasfard), but as recent Pew surveys can testify, there is less adherence to the actual mitzvot and a growing number of Jews with no religious identity.
My brother Heshy, who is now the bearer of many of our father’s traditions, shared with me that the solution to this was handed down to us by King Solomon in Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs) Chapter1: Verse 7 poses the question: How will I survive, how can I work and yet find time to rest without losing my Jewish identity? And the eighth verse provides the answer: “If you do not know… go forth in the footsteps of the sheep and pasture your kids beside the dwelling of the shepherds.”
The Targum explains that to safeguard our religious identity it is necessary to follow the traditions of those before you (like sheep). However, this will only last for future generations if you also pasture your kids beside the dwellings of the shepherds, that is – only if you give your “kids” a Jewish education. Adherence to traditions will fade away if there is no understanding of why we do what we do. Our greatest challenge now is to enable all parents to afford a Jewish education for their children. Investment in Jewish education will help ensure the continuous commitment to our Jewish traditions based on knowledge.
Why do we do this? Because being educated is a Jewish tradition.