Judaism: What exactly are we
by Aaron Abadi
Take a 36 year old guy named Douglas Weisensteinberg who lives in Nebraska. He
works at the GM plant there, on the assembly line. He knows that his family is
Jewish and that there were these laws that they kept, but that was a few
generations ago. He and his family barely keep anything. They have Hanukkah
gifts at the X-mas tree, Arnold's Rye and matzah at the Passover Seder, and a
nice Kiddush at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. Doug wakes up one day and begins to
reflect on life. He realizes that it has no meaning. He always felt there was a
God, but never really looked into it further. He makes a call or two, goes
online, or seeks out the nearest Chabad. He asks if there are any classes to
attend to find out a bit more about Judaism. Months later, Doug realizes that he
will never become completely Orthodox, it's way too extreme. He went to a
weekend, he saw how they dress, heard about the rules, the prayers, the
restrictions, and he realizes that he isn't ready for this, not now, not ever.
He either will turn to Conservative or Reformed Judaism for spirituality at his
capacity, or as most will do, he will just suppress that silly voice bugging him
to look into Judaism, and raise the volume on the TV.
There are a million Douglas Weisensteinberg's in the world today. They are
turned off by any one or group of restrictions that we add to our laws. They see
things that they know they'll never do, or even get near to. A few, the ones we
get into our Kiruv programs, are prepared to just have a semi-religious hour or
two a week, but most do not take it to the max, to full observance, because it
is too extreme. People sometimes make fun of "Baalei Teshuva" (People who have
returned to the faith), as if they're a bit nuts. This of course is a sin beyond
sins. But the reason is that an overwhelming number of them are a bit different.
They're searching for spirituality at a hyper speed. Before Judaism, they've
been to Islam, Buddhism, you name it. Then they become ultra-Orthodox Jews and
then join an extreme group. This of course gives a bad name to the normal
serious intelligent stable Baal Teshuva. The guy that has more understanding of
our religion than most FFB's (Born Religious Jews). But the point is that those
extremist people are becoming religious because they thrive on change, they live
for the extreme. What about the rest of the world; Jews and non-Jews?! Why do we
scare them away?
They see that fully observant Jews have certain rules, laws, restrictions, and
personalities that just don't seem like they are for me:
They see a guy in a black hat, Jacket, white shirt, long beard. Usually dirty
clothing. sweat line on the hat. Tztzis strings blowing in the wind. Talking
funny, running down the street holding his hat, scratching his beard. "I can't
ever look like that! I'll never let my children near that!" The women are
coerced to go to the Mikveh. Try it, it can't hurt. They get up the guts one
day. They try it. What a disaster. This lady, known as "the Mikvah Lady," with
her head in a tight turban is obnoxious. The second the Mikvah Lady saw our
friend in blue jeans, she didn't like her. Treated her like she was an alien.
She wouldn't let her go in without cutting her nails down to the bone. "I just
got my nails to grow for three month to a length I'm proud of, and now I need to
chop them off?! Forget it, I'm outa here." The thought of going into a Mikveh in
front of this lady in a birthday suit is enough to scare anyone away. Then a
quick peek at the Mikveh, and you see the hairs from the men that went in the
morning, the color of the water is like chicken soup, and you begin to realize
that there was a reason your parents dropped this ridiculous insane and barbaric
religion. You run like a madman, dressing as you flee, out to your car, and you
step on that gas pedal as if your life depends on it. Sorry to be so graphic,
but it is a reality that I've heard from so many people. It really hurts.
You go to a religious neighborhood to find a Judaica store to buy a Hanukkah
Menorah, and you see the way the people drive, and the lack of decency, the
double parking. Is this religion?
In business you're told to count your fingers after dealings with a religious
Jew. Who wouldn't be turned off. Every time there is a large sting operation by
the FBI on fraud at the stock market, nursing homes, Real Estate Mortgages,
insurance, and the like, it almost always includes some Yarmulkes (Kippahs), and
often a bit of Payos and long coats.
But you're very understanding. You realize that there are bad apples in every
So you send your son for Bar Mitzvah lessons. The Yeshiva boy that you hire
begins to try to interest you in the religion. You ask many questions and he has
good answers. He tells you that eventually you should move to a "frum"
(religious) area, to be near the Synagogue, so you can walk there on Shabbat.
You need to wear a suit and white shirt on Shabbat, if you really want to be
religious. Add to that a black hat, preferably or Borselino. Then and only then
have you really come to God. Now you are complete. You must come to the
Synagogue three times each day to pray. Here is the Siddur, it's a prayer book.
Now read all these 30 pages each morning. Then add a few Psalms afterwards. Join
study classes daily for intense Talmudic study, and bring your Artscroll Talmud,
the Schottenstien Edition. Saturdays come to the Synagogue about 8:30 or 9:00
AM. Don't eat till after services. We should be finished real soon. Figure about
12 Noon you'll be home without a problem. Don't forget, you haven't learned to
read much Hebrew yet. Your struggling through this prayer book wondering how did
they ever convince you to do this. Then you go to eat a meal. You wash your
hands; three times on each. Weird! Then you make a blessing. That seems like a
pretty nice thing to do. Now you can't talk and everyone is shouting "nu, nu" to
one another like a game of sharades. After eating, they hand you a "Bentcher," a
prayer book for the blessing after the meal. Ok. Here goes another three-four
pages of breaking your teeth. You try to read the English translation, and you
think you are reading Japanese, or some kind of poetic gibberish.
The New Year celebration comes along. It has everyone excited. You can't wait to
get to the Synagogue and listen to the wonderful cantorial presentation. At
about 2:30 PM you are ready to explode. You're on an empty stomach, they're
blowing a horn in your ears, and you rush home to dig up your Smith and Wesson.
You somehow work through this and come to the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. It's your
big day. You can commit to God to change your ways, become enlightened, and be
forgiven. But they stand there all day. You have no clue what they're saying.
Every few minutes the whole synagogue stands, so you stand.. Then they all sit.
Then they all stand. Then they sit. Then they stand. The cantor is singing jolly
songs. Then he's crying. Looks a bit staged. Then you look to your left side,
three rows back. There's this guy shaking his head like he's trying to make a
malted in there, squeezing his eyes real tight, and making motions toward the
skies. I wonder what sins that guy is trying to repent for. You decide to stick
with the program for a while and see if it's at all possible to maintain. The
Holidays are kind of fun, but many strange laws. You can cook lunch, but you
can't turn on the lights. You can carry a table over your head to keep off the
rain, but not an umbrella. The explanations given get you dizzy enough to say,
"Oh! I understand." The things they teach you seem so foreign. Talmudic Law
about a bull goring another bull, enough to make your head spin. You switch to a
Bible class and begin learning about Adam & Eve, Moses & Pharaoh. You're
thinking, the movie makes more sense than the text. So you switch to a class on
mysticism/ Kaballah. This is real weird sci-fi kind of religious jargon. You
think, "it must be me. I'm just real dumb."
Passover comes and they have you covering your kitchen counters, Koshering your
faucets with boiling water, torching your ovens, and selling your house to the
Rabbi. You read through the contract and make sure you haven't been taken. You
notice that they included in the sale the flavor that was absorbed into your
pots. OK. Now that's a new one. The holiday finally comes and it's kind of
enjoyable. You can barely eat anything, and you had to take a second mortgage
out to pay for your Passover food, but the Seder is still a fun time. The Rabbi
stops by during the Holiday to make sure that you're doing well. You really
appreciate the gesture. You offer him something to eat, but he refuses. He won't
even take a glass of water in your home. He says he doesn't eat in anyone else's
home, but his own. What? He doesn't trust me. I break my back to follow
everything they tell me, and this is what I get. You give a quick run to the
nearest McDonald's for a cheeseburger. That'll show him. But you regain your
composure, and you try again. They tell you that you can only buy things under
Rabbinical Supervision. Why? Does the Rabbi need to bless the stuff? No. It's
just that he watches to see that the stuff has no non-kosher ingredient. You
mention it to a friend who works at Nabisco. He laughs at you. I haven't seen
any Rabbi in here since May. All your friends laugh at your new religious kick.
They know it won't last. Some sort of mid-life crisis. You begin to wonder why
you are there. What drove you to this? You were searching for God and to find
God's will. How to become closer to God and add meaning to your life. You start
to ask the people questions about it, and you find out there is a lot of
double-talk, but too many questions unanswered. You reflect on your last year of
heavy religious activities, wondering what it all adds up to. You have
flashbacks of your experiences. You went to a Hassidic Tish. It was a bit scary.
Then they handed you potato kugel that was being passed from hand to hand. You
were drowned in prayers, day in day out. You were given a new dress code. You
will need to move 25 minutes away from the house you call home. The one you put
so many Sundays into, the home you love. The Mikveh, Oh Lord. No more public
school for the kids. They need to go to Yeshiva at $10,000 a head. No more blue
jeans, it's not Jewish. Kids will be wearing hats and jackets, dark blue or
black. Strict punishments for violators. Your life is topsy-turvy. You can't
handle this. Either you drop the whole thing, or have the men in the white coats
pick you up and take you to a pleasant place where you'll get a good rest.
This is what we have to offer?! This is the Judaism we put on the table?!
Forgive my language, but it is B..S.
This is not my Judaism. This is not God's Judaism.
We follow the word of God, the Torah. It is brought down in Shulchan Aruch with
specific laws, rules, and customs. A Rabbi's job is not to restrict and set
rules. His job is to help people know what they can do. How they should do it.
Uniforms, outfits, strings outside your pants, hair curls on the sides of your
head, loud noises at the synagogues, these are not indications of religion. All
that stuff we mentioned is a distortion of the religion. The religion in it's
real form can be explained with ease, and can be worked around to fit most
lifestyles. Yes, there are some things that might look different to
non-religious people, but there are ways to present them, explain them, and
adjust them within the law to be capable of following them.
Doug should have been told the truth. You want to stay in Nebraska. Sure. You
want to continue working at your job. No big deal. Get them to let you off on
Saturdays and Jewish holidays. It's the law, tough on them. If you don't have a
Synagogue within a certain distance, stay home. Pray to God right there in your
living room. You like wearing a clean pair of Blue jeans with a flannel shirt on
Saturday. Go ahead, enjoy! No Problem. You will wear the Tzitzis, but you want
to keep the strings inside. You don't want to change the way you dress. If you
commit to keep the rules you want people to trust your food in your house. You
want to be able to eat anything that the law allows. You are restricted enough,
you don't need extras. You want a more reasonable prayer routine, something you
can actually keep. You want to study the important things first, the laws that
pertain to you. You want to get to the bottom of the laws and you would like to
live a normal life, yet be observant. Can that be done?
The answer is, ABSOLUTELY!
You'll consider Mikveh, but with a bit more reasonable conditions. Sure. The
Halachah allows a woman to go in her clothes, like in her bathing suit. If you
live in warm weather, go to the lake or the beach. If you have a swimming pool
or Jacuzzi, ask a Rabbi. You can probably use that.
If you tear away that fictitious world of religious Judaism, you'll see
something that'll make sense. You'll see that with or without the outfits,
people are still people. The outfits were forced by the family or the
environment, but the person still has that God-given right to chose right from
wrong. You want to chose right, but you need to find it.
The laws are clear. The religion isn't too complicated. Once you remove the
additives, you are left with the basic laws mandated by God through Moses and
the early sages of yesteryear. You go out and find an honest Rabbi who can give
you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Suddenly, the laws
are reasonable. The religion makes some sense. Every single person can attain a
full observance without major changes in lifestyle. A farmer in Montana, a
stockbroker in Japan, or a limousine driver in Las Vegas. Anyone and everyone
can be 100% observant. A Tzaddik! All they need is a Qualified Rabbi to tell
them the laws and follow them. God is calling us. He wants us back. He's begging
us to just make one step forward and he'll walk us through it. It doesn't happen
overnight, but it doesn't need to change your entire existence. On this website
(kashrut.org) we plan to post all the practical Jewish Laws in our section
Halachah/Jewish Laws. There are some pages up there already. You'll see how
simple they are. The whole thing shouldn't be more than twenty or thirty pages.
It's not like it's very easy to change overnight. It takes work, it takes
resolve, but it is possible to do. It is realistic. Once you're travelling on
this road for a while, you'll feel that spiritual wholeness. You'll know that
God is proud. Follow this site and we'll direct you as best as we can to follow
the laws properly, without all the extras. I hate to take your black hat
question and turn it into a whole ordeal, but the "black hat" signifies a
culture, a complete way of life that needs to be addressed. It is now 2:30AM on
Saturday Night, and I need to end here. I can go on for two weeks. The gist of
it all is clear. Kol Hamosif Gorea. He who adds (laws), actually is subtracting.
The Ramba"m says on this concept that one who cannot understand it is certainly
a fool. The fools kidnapped our religion. Our children sense the hypocrisy and
are running away, self-destructing. We need to take it back. We need to bring
God and his Torah and the true laws into our lives and into our hearts. We need
to commit to go step-by-step from where we are, toward complete observance. We
need to somehow ignore the robots in uniform who have no idea what, why, where,
and how. We need to realize that we don't know everything, and we must find
someone we can trust. We must fix our own lives, and concentrate on honesty,
integrity, and humility. We need to stop with all that Jewish guilt that holds
us back from progressing. Get up, brush off your pants, and start the ball
rolling. Find out the rules and figure out how they can fit into your life
without creating an uproar. When we decide to chose good over bad, observance
over non-observance, God takes it from there and walks us through it. He'll hold
our hand and help us.
I wish you all a sincere blessing of complete success in your endeavors to get
yourselves onto the right track!
Rabbi Aaron Abadi