Dear Rabbi Lazer Brody,
I’m 17, and a junior in public high school. My parents belong to a conservative synagogue, and give me all kinds of flak because I don’t attend services or observe the high holidays. Being honest, I went to McDonald’s last Yom Kippur, and ate Kentucky Fried all Passover which drove them mad. Really, I have a great set of parents, but we fight a lot because of the religious issue. I read in a book that a person is not responsible for breaking Jewish laws under coercion. I didn’t ask to be brought into this world, nor to be born Jewish. Doesn’t that exempt me from keeping the commandments?
Free Spirit from Philadelphia
Dear Free Spirit,
You are my kind of young man – sincere, straight shooting, and sharp. With your mind, you should either set your sights on law school or begin learning Gemorra. I’d recommend both…
Allow me to answer your superb question with a 17th Century Jewish parable: In a little Polish hamlet, lived an elderly cobbler with his two unmarried daughters. Not a single matchmaker in the area succeeded in finding a marital prospect for either daughter. Why? The cobbler’s older daughter was the sweetest girl in the hamlet with a kind and loving heart, but she was so ugly that even horses in the street would buck and rear in abhorrence when they saw her. The younger daughter was a blond and blue-eyed beauty, but she had the mouth of a fishwife, shrieking and cursing all day long.
A new family, a tailor and his two sons, moved to the hamlet. One of the tailor’s sons was blind, and the other was deaf. Moishele, the local matchmaker, pounced on the double opportunity. What a perfect match! He invited the cobbler and the tailor to tea, and proposed that the blind young man marry the ugly daughter, and the deaf lad marry the sister with the nasty mouth. Both sides agreed, and the match was sealed by a handshake and a l’chayim, a toast.
Both young couples lived in absolute bliss until the day when a famed German physician visited the hamlet. People with previously incurable medical problems flocked to the doctor. Among them were the tailor’s two sons. Using relatively routine procedures, the doctor cured both brothers; the deaf brother could now hear perfectly, and the blind brother walked out of the doctor’s clinic with 20-20 vision.
The formerly deaf brother walked into his little wooden house, and called out, “Darling, my beautiful wife, I’m home!”
A screech chilled his blood. “You good for nothing shlepper, where’ve you been all day long! Why don’t you bring home some money you lazy son of a… .” The miserable husband with his new sense of hearing fled for his life.
Meanwhile, the young man with his new eyesight came home to his sweet turtledove. “Honey, I’m home.” He froze in his tracks. When he saw the hatchet face that greeted him at the door, he fled for his life, too.
Both brothers appeared before the local Dayan, or religious court judge. “Your honor, not only do we want our money back from the doctor, we want to sue him for ruining our lives”. The Dayan summoned the doctor, and began legal proceedings immediately. The brothers stated their case again, and the doctor stated his rebuttal.
The wise Dayan stroked his long beard for a moment, and addressed the doctor. “Doctor, would it be difficult for you to take away the one brother’s hearing, and to return the second brother to his previously blind state?”
“Not at all, Your Honor,” stated the doctor, “if the court so orders, I’ll be happy to do it for free.”
“Then so be it,” declared the Dayan. “The case is closed.”
“Wait a minute!” protested the brothers. “We don’t want to go back to being deaf and blind!”
“Aha!” nodded the Dayan, “so you do enjoy the benefits of the doctor’s services. Your case is invalid and you are certainly not entitled to a refund. Case closed!”
* * *
Free Spirit, my dear young friend, if G-d were to ask you right now to return your life to Him, would you be willing? I don’t think so. Therefore, since you desire to continue living, you show that you do enjoy the benefits of life. Consequently, you can no longer exempt yourself from His laws on the basis of coercion.
I hope to hear from you again soon, but meanwhile, let me leave you with a thought: Imagine sending somebody that’s never seen a football game in his life to see the Super Bowl. What a waste of a good ticket! By the same token, until you learn about Judaism, you’re unable to appreciate the joy, the beauty, and the brilliant rationale of our laws and customs. Believe me, Simchas Torah, Lag B’Omer, Seder or Shavuos night is a lot more exciting than the Super Bowl, and I love football. Yiddishkeit rocks, my man – if you can’t hear the boogeyin’, you need a hearing test. Anyway, falafel beats McDonalds any day of the week.
Hang in there, F.S.! Yours truly, Lazer Brody
As one who spent teenage years within the Conservative movement I have few observations to share.
In some ways it was like the worst of both worlds. On one hand, there were rules to follow (Sabbath, Passover etc) which on hand gave some degree of meaning but because there was a lack of information on an educational level of WHY (or because the reasoning was so watered down it was rendered unsatisfying), there was no meaning, no beauty, and no fulfillment. Just freedom-constricting rules that made me feel down if I did it, and down if I didn’t.
To attempt a parable (far from perfect so go easy on me, please). Imagine if there was a coach (in place of a rabbi) who told you “every morning at 7am you get up and run 5 miles”. If you ask why run and why do I need a coach? The terse dogmatic like answer would be “because your father and his father and his father did it and had a coach and now you must do it!”
Contrast this with someone who knows that running every morning won’t be easy but in addition to any health value it’s training to obtain Olympic gold.
Needless to say, the perspective will be quite different.
To add further perspective, ask anyone who trained for an event and how satisfaction of winning was directly proportional to the amount of time and effort invested into training.
Once again an imperfect analogy for the masses perhaps, but on a personal level it works since the analogy fits right in with perspectives I’v had in life when involved in the Conservative movement and then going to a yeshiva in Jerusalem for 2 years and then continuing to learn and live by the Torah since.
i have to agree with Yaakov Nathan on this. I foolishly joined a conservative synagogue (after having left odoxy for a number of years) only to realize that conservative judaism is not the real deal at all. i’m now on a path back to orthodoxy, bH, which i regret leaving in the first place.
please experience orthodox judaism. contact your local orthodox shul (if there is one) or chabad, or any modern orthodox establishment. i can almost guarantee that with the right guidance, you can and will find spiritual Jewish enlightenment, and will find that Judaism is the most amazing thing in the world.
I forgot to explain, this parable was intended toexplain the Mishna that states you were born against your will and you will die against your will and you will be held injudgement at the end of your life. This parable answers the question of why am I held accountable for a life I didn’t ask for? To that the answer is, now that you’re here, don’t yowant to stay?…
That’s a great piece. I first heard that from my great uncle over 20 years ago, shortly before he passed away when I visited him in the nursing home in Mattesdorf. He told me this parable in the name of the Dubno Maggid and with tears in his eyes he said he’s not ready to go just yet.
Just the fact that you took the trouble to write to Rabbi Brody indicates a lot to me. It means that something is already making you think about the way your parents and you are affected by Judaism. You’re way ahead of the game, so to speak, from someone who doesn’t even ask. We recently talked about that son at the Passover Seder – you may have heard about the Four Sons we read about in the Haggadah. The best thing of all is that tou asked! That’s great!
Wow. Yet another powerful response from Lazer Brody, may he live to be 120; yasher koach!
Dear Free Spirit,,
Inside you already know that you truly are a good Jew….othwerwise why do you need to ask such questions.
My Rabbi teaches that when you find a question it means that inside you already have the answer.
As far away from Judaism as you have become means that the pull towards it , when you make your choice to learn and do more , will be a powerful and intense one….like electricity and polarity…the greater the differential…the greater the Voltage….Wow.
You have frre will, to choose what is correct or not correct….be a good person…basing your good on G-d’s definition of what good is and not on what you decide suits yourself better….based on appetited and drives.
Be the boss of yourself my freind.
Also know that today a variety of approaches come labeled as “Orthodox” (we must be doing something right!), but they can differ in authenticity and depth. If one approach (or Rabbi/teacher) you try out seems to be inauthentic or superficial or just doesn’t work for you, don’t give up but keep searching.
Dear Free Spirit from Philadelphia,
I’ll just add my unsolicited two cents:
Don’t confuse the “Judaism” they sell at a Conservative synagogue with the real thing. No offense to the parents or the “rabbi” there (probably very nice people, and in truth every single Jew is holy), but CONservative is a CON game ;-D: generations ago they emptied out the holiness and spiritual essence and are handing out emptiness in a packgage marked “Judaism”.
I know, because years ago I had a “bar mitzvah” at a Reform Temple. I hated every minute of Hebrew school, and as soon as it was over I ran as far away as I could. It wasn’t until many, many years later when I tasted the real thing–and especially the depth of the teachings of Chassidus–that I began to change my view of Judaism. Today I realize that it’s not just the real thing, it’s the ONLY thing!
The fact that you are not interested in services and observing what you’ve been taught is a sign that you have a neshoma that’s sensitive to being faked out and your neshoma wants no part of it. To that I say: excellent! But be sure to let your neshoma find it’s way to what it really wants: real Judaism the way it’s supposed to be.
As a start, visit your local Chabad House, or go online to Chabad.org and begin to see what’s really supposed to be in a package labeled “Judaism”.
Wishing you success,