Written by: Gemma
I got speaking to a mother who had reluctantly just sent her daughter to seminary. She wasn’t religious herself but was angry that her daughter had become religious and couldn’t understand what she saw in Judaism.
I got to the root of the problem – she then told me that Judaism was forced down her throat, “Do this! Why? Because that’s how it must be done!” She said she rebelled the opposite way, she wasn’t going to listen to that. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be religious, “it’s like being in prison, you can’t do anything you want, your whole life is controlled – “you can’t do this, this and this!”
Judaism was very prescriptive in her generation, she was turned off. She rebelled. Now her daughter is doing the opposite, thereby creating guilt on the mother’s behalf. Had the daughter come up with any other dietary requirement I’m sure she’d only be too pleased. The reason why there exist so many unobservant Jewish families is because the only way the older generations were taught was through force, prescriptive and seemingly meaningless laws. There was no Jewish thought, philosophy, mussar (ethics) and other works which we are fascinated by today, no nice “vorts.” And because of this, their kids have the same perception of Judaism, i.e. a burden.
I think, therefore, that perhaps the challenge of our generation is to remodel Judaism into its true essence. Judaism isn’t a load of laws and don’t-do’s; that’s missing the whole point. You can’t keep Shabbat simply by not driving, not turning on lights, not cooking, etc without doing the positive mitzvot on the day like making Kiddush, special davening, family time, self-reflection, special food and delicacies, learning with our children and wearing our best clothes. Judaism and happiness go together; if you don’t have the latter you’re not doing the former properly. “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha” – serve Hashem with joy, King David tells us.
One of the best ways to experience true Judaism is by seeing it in action. Most unobservant Jews will regard Shabbat as restricting and boring, yet how many of them have actually seen a religious family on Shabbat? They’ve not seen the atmosphere around a real Shabbos table, they’ve not watched the wife being praised, the children being blessed, the beautiful songs, fine food and spirituality. And maybe that’s where we as observant Jews have to take responsibility. We have to not only retain our tremendous hospitability but we have to perform our mitzvot with joy and enthusiasm. If we look like we’re watching paint dry in shul on Shabbos morning or if we talk to Hashem the way we talk to the tax man then that’s exactly how mitzvot will be perceived; not only by other Jews but by our children. It’s all very well to say that Judaism is great, but we have to show it’s great. Not through being fake and acting like it is, but by truly believing it is.
Originally posted here.