Easy in U.S. to Pass Over the Rules

Judaism is hard. As I begin the eight days of breadlessness that is Passover, I am reminded of this. Ours … Continued

Judaism is hard. As I begin the eight days of breadlessness that is Passover, I am reminded of this. Ours is not a religion of beliefs and faith alone – we are supposed to do and not do things, and it is often quite inconvenient.

In Israel, the government makes sure that observance is easy. Buses don’t run during the Sabbath; Jewish holidays are state holidays. Hence, the recent controversy over a Jerusalem pizza store owner who wanted to stay open during Passover. Even some of the most secular Israelis, like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, were against him. People wanted the Jewish state to keep making it easy to follow the rules. In the end the courts decided to allow the sale of bread in stores, and one zealous Passover observer protested by disrobing in one such store.

Although I do follow the anti-leavened bread rules of Passover, no matter how hard it is to munch on matzah alone for a week, I am less observant of other rules. And in America, there is no one structuring the society to minimize my indiscretions.

I felt this quite clearly last Saturday, as I sheepishly made my way into the Jewish Studies room of the New York Public Library. I had research to do, and I was not alone. On the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish Studies library was hopping, abuzz with Jews breaking rules against writing and working on Saturday. Of particular irony in this case is that the library isn’t open on Sundays or Mondays – you’d think that the Jewish studies library, if it was going to be closed at all, would choose Friday and Saturday. Alas, no. This is America – no one is going to pave the way to observance for you.

For committed Jews in America who teeter on the edge of following the rules, observing Jewish law requires real effort. This is what religious voluntarism in America really means – not just the freedom to profess whatever belief you want but the necessity of making real, concrete and hard decisions (and one’s that I am often not strong enough to make) in order to observe the requirements of that belief.

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  • Soja John Thaikattil, Sydney, Australia

    Dear Ms RabinJesus, an observant Jew Himself, said that Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Jesus thus allowed Himself the liberty of breaking some of the Sabbath rules, out of compassion and love for others. That is the kind of freedom Christians enjoy in the observance of religious rules. Love and compassion is to be the deciding factor, not a mindless and rigid observance of a particular rule for the sake of a rule. Of course culture and rules and rituals are important, but they should be treated as a means to an end and not an end in itself.It is always wonderful when young people like you get interested in religion. Every generation needs new insights and applications of religious rules, coming from prayerful, idealistic, universally loving young men and women, insights that are applicable to their time and culture. I wish you great success in your studies and all your endeavors!Soja John Thaikattil

  • JimmyDaGeek

    @Thaikattil

  • JimmyDaGeek

    @Thaikattil

  • Soja John Thaikattil, Sydney, Australia

    Jimmydageek, Jesus said He came to fulfill the law of the Jewish prophets not to abolish them. He condemned anyone who would teach anyone to break the law. Don’t forget Jesus wanted the righteousness of His followers to be greater than that of the Pharisees!It is important also to understand that Jesus wanted His followers to understand the spirit of the law and obey it out of love. To love as Jesus did is no easy task. It is in practice much tougher than any law taught by the prophets. One only has to read the Sermon on the Mount to understand what standard Jesus set for His followers. Apostle Paul, IMHO given his personal history wanted to emphasize the role of grace in salvation. It it impossible to imagine that he wanted people to live disobeying the laws. His advice to be holy as God is holy should be proof of that. Jesus’ teaching about judgement day is proof that we will be judged based on our works. To a Christian the grace to live that life is given in abundance through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. It is like being given a boat to cross the river instead of swimming across.