The values of Jewish life
While I generally find Andrew Silow-Carroll’s columns both entertaining and informative, “Brooklyn rules” (June 20) left me rather perplexed. He talks about Jewish values and its importance, but then, in discussing the approach of Brooklyn Rabbi Andy Bachman, goes on to urge Jews to accept if not embrace societal behavior which is not in consonance with Jewish tradition or values. Does acceptance of gay marriages go against Jewish values? Does acceptance of interfaith couples imply approval of intermarriage? Can one easily love a Jew who embraces the position that Jews do not have a right to Israel and are occupiers of Arab land?
In his column, Silow-Carroll makes reference to the idea that Jewish life should be built on “Torah, service to God, and acts of human kindness.” Yet, in his article he concentrates on acts of kindness as though this was peculiar to Jewish values. Giving alms, tithing, and helping others is not unique to Jews. What is unique to Jews is the nature of our approach to a Sabbath day. What is unique to Jews is our approach to holidays. What is unique to Jews is the manner in which we observe kosher laws. What is unique to Jews is our commitment to Torah and our perception of service to God.
As part of Orthodox Judaism, service to God means daily prayer, learning, and a commitment to Torah. In my experiences, which include working in Reform Jewish situations, Conservative temples, and Jewish organizations, that is not always the case. When I first moved to Elizabeth, I was invited to join the local B’nai B’rith. I was informed that the yearly dinner was going to be at a steak house. When asked if the dinner was at a kosher steak house, I was told that the members were not Orthodox, hence, the dinner was not kosher. Recently, I was watching an extremely popular television show in which a lead character was engaged to marry a non-Jewish woman, only if the woman converted to Judaism. The woman was surprised when her Jewish fiancé took her out to dinner and ordered pork. His explanation to his future Jewish wife was that he was Conservative and not Orthodox. How did that get into the script?
In reading Barbara Walter’s current biography, Audition, I discovered that Walters had only a passing relationship with her Jewishness, therefore, she saw no need to sit shiva for her father. Additionally, she made a point of telling her readers her fondness for bacon. I wrote a letter to her in which I asked her why she did not do any personal learning about her Jewishness, since she is so thorough about her other research. She never replied.
Theodore White, a prominent Jewish historian, made a point about telling the story of his visit to China. In order to make his Chinese host comfortable, White ate pork for the first time. Alan Dershowitz, another prominent Jew, with a strong Jewish background, talks about eating tref in his book, Chutzpah.
Why do people need to know these things unless it is to show that keeping kosher is not that important to Jews?
I recall sitting in a Conservative temple for a Shabbas bar mitzvah in which the father of the boy gave directions on how to get to the tref restaurant after the Kiddush. In my 50 years of teaching and my more than 70 years as a Jew, I have had an easier time with gentiles explaining my brand of Judaism then I have had with countless fellow Jews. I remember working in a nearby community that gave only one day off for Rosh Hashana. It seems as though a respected Reform rabbi said that some Jews observe one day of Rosh Hashana but others observe two. Even in Israel, where most hagim are celebrated for one day, they observe two days for Rosh Hashana.
There may be Jews who give generously to Jewish causes, stay in the finest hotels of Israel, go to numerous Holocaust programs, do volunteer work, and openly identify as Jews. That is important and necessary. But there is more to it. My daughter and son-in-law are Jews with Jewish values. They are a well-known couple in Baltimore. Every Friday night they invite local college students to their home for a traditional Shabbas meal. Together with their six children, they may have up to 60 guests. These guests come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They sing Hebrew songs, they eat kosher food, and they learn together the joy of Shabbas. It has been said that the Sabbath has preserved the Jews more than the Jews preserved the Sabbath. Observing the Sabbath is a central value for the Jewish people.
Jewish values mean a peoplehood, a religion, and an attachment to a land promised to the Jews by God. While anyone can call himself a Jew, be identified as a Jew, and even live in the “promised land,” the issue is whether each Jew is committed to the preservation of Jewish values. Those values are articulated and defined by behavior that includes not only kindness to others, but also an “observance of Torah and service to God.”
Joel M. Glazer