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Freedom to Choose What?
Freedom to Choose What?

Volume 2 , Issue 2

One hears a great deal these days about the question of ?choice? and ?decision? in matters pertaining to Judaism. Intermarried couples speak about raising their children with ?both religions? and allowing them to choose which they will adopt as adults. Non-observant Jewish couples take pride in giving their children a Jewish education (which usually consists of four to five hours of classroom time a week up to the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah) so they can decide how religious to be when they mature. Freedom it seems has become the ultimate value, with Judaism relegated to the role of one choice among many.

Certainly one cannot argue against the merits of freedom. Indeed the whole history of Judaism can be understood to be the struggle of a suppressed people to exercise their freedom to be Jews. Nevertheless, one is given pause at the freedom of religion exercised by many American Jews. Is the choice we are providing our children a meaningful one, or is it, perhaps, predicated on the false assumption that Judaism, like Christianity, is a philosophy, a set of beliefs and credos which one can exercise in the light of logic and reason and either accept or reject?

On the contrary, Judaism is totally misunderstood when it is conceived purely in religious terms. For Judaism is a comprehensive way o life which includes among other things: language, culture, modes of etiquette and dress, a national homeland, a comprehensive ethic, and ways of relating to space and time, in addition to a series of religious practices and beliefs. Is one truly in a position to either accept or reject Judaism unless one is fully conversant with its languages, religion and culture? Unless one is capable of participating in its ways of life?

To make an analogy: Does one have the freedom to speak (or choose not to speak) French if he or she has never been taught the language? And if one has been taught the language and is capable of speaking it fluently, is the question of choosing whether or not to speak it a philosophical one?

So many of us aspire to a graduate level of education with respect to western civilization and culture, yet we are content to provide ourselves and our children with what amounts to a third or fourth grade education with respect to Judaism. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are providing our children with a choice, when we have made the choice for them that they will not be fluent in Hebrew or Jewish culture or religion. We are critical of those ?fanatic? Orthodox Jews who provide their children with only the minimum secular education to satisfy the dictates of the State, and who mock the English novel, for example, as trash, or speak of college as a waste of time. Yet they are us, only in reverse, when we provide our children with only enough Jewish education to satisfy the dictates of our conscience. It should come as no surprise, therefore, when our children mock the Torah, or speak of synagogue as a waste of time, or choose a ?disco wedding? instead of one filled with tradition.

Only by providing our children (and ourselves) with the equivalent of a comprehensive day school or yeshiva education in Judaism, to complement their secular education, can choices with respect to Judaism be meaningful ones. In such a case, experience has shown, as with the individual who is fluent in French, the question of which choice to make neither looms so large nor seems as important.

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