Feb 14, 2010

Yiddishkeit - doing it all the way

I was reading a book by a kiruv rabbi and he said he was talking to someone who knew nothing about Judaism.  She said she had heard things about religious Jews and wanted to know "what we do."  The rabbi replied, "We laugh a lot and worry about things like the mortgage and the phone bill and whether we will be to afford a well-earned vacation.  We particularly worry about our children, and sometimes we argue with our spouses.  We try to make what the Torah says the compass by which we steer our lives.  Apart from being religious, we're very much like everyone else."

Now, I can understand why he would say that to someone he was trying to mekarev.  He wanted to convey our normalcy.  He wanted her to be able to relate to religious people.  And maybe this was a fine answer under the circumstances.

But ...

But is it accurate? Are religious Jews the same as everyone else - with our jobs, families, worries and joys - with the addition of a bunch of mitzvos that prevent us from working on Shabbos, eating many things, and that require us to pray and dress a certain way? Are religious Jews accountants, lawyers, doctors, homemakers, writers, entrepreneurs, like everyone else with the addition of Yiddishkeit: i.e normalcy plus

The answer for many of us (most of us?) is yes.  We live like everyone else plus we have to get ready for Shabbos, we have holidays to celebrate, we watch what we say and eat and wear and do.  And that's fine.  There are very few religious Jews (Surveys show that Orthodox Jews account for about 10 percent of the 5.2 million Jews in the United States and about 20 percent of synagogue-affiliated Jews) and the few who follow the Torah are the standard bearers. 

And yet, have you ever met or read about a Jew who is not merely "normal plus" but Yiddish through and through? The kind of person you can't imagine being anything other than religious? When we think about ourselves or people we know and we can say - hmm, yes, if they weren't Jewish or weren't religious, they would be pretty much the same, they'd be in the same profession or doing the same things minus the religious stuff, then to me that says that the commitment, the utter devotion to Hashem is lacking.  If we can view the two - the person and their Yiddishkeit - as separate items, then the love for Hashem is not "with all your heart(s), with all your soul, and with all your might."

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