Judaism: What exactly are we selling here?
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 group.
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
A piece I wrote many years ago…
Judaism: What exactly are we selling here?