Category Archives: Assimilation

Am I Jewish if I don't believe in God? What does it mean to believe?

I co-wrote an article with Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Kollel in Vancouver. It’s part of an “Ask the Rabbi” column in the Jewish Independent in B.C. Canada.

I heard it’s considered “brilliant” so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Use the soul to discover faith

Netanyahu accentuated that Herzl was traditional

I just read such an interesting, informative, and even touching speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl’s Jewish identity.

It is quite worth while reading the whole speech. He speaks about how there is a widely accepted idea that Herzl, the father of Zionism, was an unaffiliated Jew. Netanyahu brings proof to show that this was not actually the case. Here is a touching quote from his speech:

While in Basel he wrote of the experience of being called to the Torah before the Congress in Basel. I will read to you what he wrote before the meeting of the First Zionist Congress: ‘Out of respect for my religion, on the Sabbath before the Congress I went to synagogue.  The head of the community called me to read from the Torah, and when I went to the podium I was more moved than on any of the days of the Congress.’  He adds, ‘The few words of blessing in Hebrew got caught in my throat from emotion, more than the opening speech and the closing speech or any of the discussions.’”

I must say that I find it quite intriguing and exciting that this is the topic on which Netanyahu chose to focus on Herzl Day this year. He mentions that he recently read an historical book about Herzl and so I’m sure there were plenty of potential topics there for this speech, and yet he felt it most important, for whatever reason, to bring up this topic.

It is true that even if a lie is repeated many many times, it is still a lie. So, I can see how this topic is important just for the fact that, apparently, there is a wide-spread misunderstanding about it. But besides that, why did Netanyahu choose this topic on which to focus?

You can read the speech here. Recommended.

A bar mitzva 77 years late

Over the last few years, I keep hearing about people who have their bar or bat mitzvas once they’re older. Then I hear about people doing it when they’re much older. Today I read an article about a man who just had his bar mitzva at the age of 90.

Why is it so touching to us to see this happen? Is it proof that things we think we missed or lost, are not necessarily out or reach? Do we see that even after tens of years, the majority of your life, living one way, you can choose something else?

At my work with Jewish elderly we’ve lately been thinking about having a group bar/bat mitzva. Like the man in the article, some are hesitant and worried about being put on the spot or having to do things they don’t really know how to do (like read Hebrew), but imagine the gratification of such an accomplishment or even such a decision, at such an age.

*sniff sniff* (Really, btw, you should see me right now. I’m bawling from all the touching things I’ve seen and read this evening.)

Read the article here.

This is the most important generation

I’m just listening to an amazing talk by Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky called “Why be Jewish?” It is on a website I’ve never seen before but is definitely worth taking  a look at called SimpletoRemember.com Judaism online. Check it out.

Anyway, one of the most interesting things he’s said so far is that the newer generation is the most important generation. If they don’t have a good answer to the question, “Why be Jewish?” they won’t be Jewish. For other generations, the dreidel and Yom Kippur were enough of a reason. Not anymore.

By the way, he’s really funny too. It’s a little lengthy but totally worth listening to.

Why be a Jew? – by Michael T. Pullen

Why be a Jew? Or better yet, why do Jewish things?

Saturday is my Bar Mitzvah. Today I am feeling a bit disturbed. This happens every once in a while but today it stinks because I should be happy about my weekend coming up.

Should one follow the lineage of Hillel or Shammai? Should one follow the majority which the Talmud points out is more important than what’s “halachically correct” and G-d is OK with that (see Oven of Aknai, Bava Metzia 59b)?

I am disturbed by the frum Shammayans. Who are they you might ask?

Shammayans believe that:

  1. Jews who do not practice the way they do aren’t Jewish
  2. The law is more important than the intent
  3. Hillel was wrong and Shammai should have won
  4. Tradition is always right
  5. Judaism never changed between the Mishnah and the 18th century
  6. It is impure to daven with Jews who do not identify with their rabbi
  7. It is ok to belittle their kin and mourn them while they live
  8. Idol worship is wrong unless it is their way you worship
  9. Their kashrut is more kosher than yours
  10. As long as it is kosher who cares how it is done

It upsets me that I have the Christians trying to convert me, the Muslims trying to one up the Christians and the Shammayans trying to do more damage than both of them by destroying my identity and way of life. I can deal with the Christians and Muslims they are on the outside. I am not sure what to do with the Shammayans.

Why bother being Jewish if a significant portion of the same population doesn’t want you to be? And if the assimilated world does not want you to be? Nevermind antisemitism, Shammayans are doing their best to minimize the Jews in the world.

mTp – With Intention

Jewish Journey: Mitzvot

This is part IV. Read: Part I, part II, part III.

Ah now I am Jewish, all the hard stuff is behind me right? All I have to do is continue on living the way I have always been living? What changed? One day I was a goy the next a Jew. You cannot tell me that the day makes a huge difference.

So why not jump into doing all the halacha? Why not do all the mitzvot at once? Whoa nelly. I do not jump both feet into anything and with this I did not even have an idea where to begin. It is not even something I had ever encountered until a few years before.

So my wife and I (yeah we got married in there somewhere) decided that together we would start incorporating different mitzvot into our lives. (Since she is not orthodox we did not venture down the halachic path.) The first thing we did was to incorporate Shabbat into our lives. We made Saturday the day where our professional jobs were not allowed and we would not watch TV or use the computer. Slowly we added more and more things into our lives.

So now I want you to think of this situation. My family is all Christian or something like that and my wife’s family is a participating assimilated Jewish family who used to attend a conservative synagogue. And we live in an assimilated American neighborhood.

The more we do to incorporate Jewish traditions the more different we look to our families. Why don’t we just follow all of the halachic laws? Because that would and does skewer the relationship we have with our parents, family and community we participate in. We have been warned of becoming “too” Jewish by the Jewish relatives. 

I do not live in a Jewish world. I live in a world that contains a good number of assimilated Jews but it is an assimilated American world. Some would say “ah that is too easy if you really believed you would do it all and become orthodox.” I think that sentiment is not fair and very particularistic.

I am proud to be Jewish and I am proud of the participation and ways of my family and myself. It is perfect for where we are today. As I learn more I try to incorporate what I am learning. I am willing to stand out and be different but I am not willing to separate myself from my family and community as a strict halachic experience requires.

Outside of the orthodox world everything is done by my will power. I am learning everything new. The language, the customs, the rituals, the traditions – everything is new. It is not necessarily better than what I had before. My parents did a fabulous job of raising me. They are great parents and in their honour, do not deserve throwing everything out just because I picked a new way of doing things.

As I get all wrapped and emotional about the expectations of the relentless external eyes questioning “how Jewish are you?,” all I can think of is back off. We are all people. How we do our Judaism is way more important then grey line rules. Living as a good Jew in this world is more important then living as a rule abiding Jew secluded from the rest of the world.

If I can be so bold, don’t make excuses for what you do and don’t do. Just do what you do with intention. Make sure that everything you do is done with the full beauty of Judaism in your eyes. That may mean that you do not live up to expectations of your neighbors. However, the most important thing is your family and the community you surround yourself with. They all should see the beauty of the Judaism you practice.

Peace, Shalom

mTp – With Intention

No need to sacrifice ideals

I always hear people giving explanations for why they don’t fully keep certain Torah/Jewish laws. But from growing up in an Orthodox home, I know for a fact that you can keep everything if you so choose. When someone is not yet ready to fully keep Shabbat, then the reason (like, I need to work late Friday) will feel totally legitimate. But once the person decides they really want to keep Shabbos, they will be able to.

Long story short, this video of this young Jewish boxer in NY is very inspirational. Oh, I don’t really like that word suddenly. OK, it’s very hopeful. Dmitriy Salita has made decisions that show such strong character on his part and, what the rabbi says at the end is so true. It proves that you can keep the Torah as much as you want, no matter what profession you’re in.

Watch Dmitriy Salita here.

Is Judaism passé?

I know, even this question is passé. But I really do wonder… is it wonderful enough to survive modernism? I can’t help but ask it.

I just started teaching a class to high school girls for 45 minutes in the evening. It is taking place in an after-school program for Jewish kids who are in public school.

This is my first experience with these kids so obviously I barely know them or what they’re about but still, I look at them and wonder what they would see in Judaism. Continue reading