Reasons To Practice as a Jew

R’ Gil Student recently pointed to Dennis Prager, writing in Moment magazine about reasons to practice as a Jew. (link) Although many may have seen it, we thought it merited a post here:

1. The Jews are the Chosen People. There is no other rational explanation for the centrality of the Jewish people in history and in the world today. Even anti-Semites—indeed, especially anti-Semites— recognize the pivotal role of this tiny group of people on the world stage. That is why “world Jewish conspiracy” is such a common phrase, while one never hears of “a world Chinese conspiracy” or any other group’s “world conspiracy.” If we are not the Chosen People, there is little compelling reason to raise one’s children as Jews. After Auschwitz, and with significant parts of the Muslim world today advocating another Holocaust, it takes a powerful reason to do so.

2. Just as people need an instruction manual for a camera, they need an instruction manual on how to lead a good, holy and meaningful life. Judaism provides the best one ever written: the Torah.

3. The Torah is a divine document. No book comes close in influencing the world and changing the way human beings behave and think. “Divine” means that God is, ultimately, the Torah’s author. Whether it was given all at once, whether it was dictated word for word, whether it was divinely edited from documents—none of that matters.

4. Understood properly and lived authentically, Judaism is a religion of moderation. Judaism’s approach to animals, for example, teaches reverence for them to the point of including a day of rest for them in the Ten Commandments. Yet it also teaches that human life is infinitely more valuable: humans, not animals, are created in the image of God.

5. Judaism provides immense joy. No religion provides such continuous joy-filled moments as Judaism. I am referring to the weekly celebration of Shabbat and the frequent holidays. Every week I look forward to Shabbat in a way unknowable to non-Jews or Jews who do not celebrate the Sabbath.

6. Judaism provides meaning. What could be more meaningful than being chosen by God to bring humanity to Him and His moral values? Meaning is the greatest human need, even greater than sex. There are people who live without sex and yet lead happy lives. But no person who lives without meaning has a happy life.

7. Judaism provides community. Whether on Shabbat or on holidays, whether in joy—the birth of a child, a wedding—or in crisis or mourning, our religion does not allow us to be alone.

8. Judaism is uniquely preoccupied with good and evil. I have the utmost respect for Christians as the people who made America the greatest country in world history. But their religions are concerned mainly with faith and salvation, and Islam is focused on submission to Allah. Both groups theologically divide the world into the faithful—“dar al-Islam” in Islam and the “saved” in Christianity—and the unfaithful. Judaism, by contrast, divides the world according to moral categories: those who do good and those who do evil. Thus, as the Torah tells us, “the good of all the nations have a portion in the world to come.”

9. Judaism is concerned with the present world. Though Judaism absolutely affirms the afterlife (it is axiomatic that if there is a just God, there is an afterlife), the Hebrew Bible says nothing about what happens to us after death. The moment religion dabbles in the afterlife, it begins to ignore the evils of this life and can even foment evil. The theology of Muslim terrorists and their supporters, for example, rests on a preoccupation with heavenly rewards and a consequent disdain for this life. As Hamas frequently says, “We love death as much as the Jews love life.”

10. Judaism allows, even encourages, a Jew to argue with God. The very name of the Jewish people, “Israel,” means “wrestle with God;” the word “Islam,” to provide a counter example, means “submission” (to God).

5 comments on “Reasons To Practice as a Jew

  1. I wonder how accurate that Wikipedia article on Prager is. Not that it’s necessarily in-accurate, it’s just that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and so if the information isn’t sourced, there’s a chance it might not be fully correct.

  2. I agree with Katrin. Despite Prager’s problematic stances on many issues, the above article is an excellent argument on behalf of many fundanmental elements of Hashkafa 101. Sometimes, Yesh Kono Olamo Bshah Achas-even if one’s POV is decidedly not that of a Shomer Torah UMitzvos.

  3. bob – we learn that we can learn something from everyone.

    i think denis’s list has got some very good, meaningful and well thought-out sentiments in it.

  4. Excerpted from the Wikipedia article on Prager:

    “Prager identifies himself as “a religious non-Orthodox Jew,” and attends a Reform synagogue, the most liberal of Judaism’s four main denominations. Prager does not observe the Jewish Sabbath according to Orthodox standards (he will drive in a car on that day to Sabbath-related events but does not allow television or radio in his home as they are non-Sabbath-oriented; and neither broadcasts nor appears on TV talk shows on the Sabbath or Jewish holy days) or keep Orthodox Jewish dietary laws (he eats chicken with milk, as did some rabbis in the Talmud, and as have many Persian Jews, but which is forbidden under Orthodox Jewish law). He grew up Orthodox but abandoned Orthodoxy early in life.’

    So look at his list above with a critical eye, keeping his current religious orientation in mind.

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