Let Them Put on Tefillin
by Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie
Menelaus would have been proud. He was the Hellenistic high priest installed by Antiochus who championed the battle against traditional Jews that brought about the holiday of Hanukka. Not much has changed – it would seem – in 2,000 years.
Instead of the Greeks and the secular Jews combining forces to stifle Jewish observance, today it’s Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. He has introduced a bill in the Knesset that would effectively punish an adult who brings a minor closer to mitzva observance or Torah study.
Invite a teenager to put on tefillin, and you could be prosecuted.
Paz-Pines says he is concerned about the potential strife in families that may come about if a teenager suddenly goes off the deep end and starts going to shul; or decides that maybe the Talmud is more interesting than Playstation 3.
I have been involved in Jewish outreach for three decades. To Paz-Pines I am a serial mitzva motivator. Were I living in Israel, his proposed law might put me behind bars, or at the least impose a large fine on me.
I have been involved with many families with kids who have become more observant. In most cases, I have found that the family connection between the generations has become strengthened. There may be some short-term tensions as children take a path different from their parents’. However, in the long run there is no question that the values of Torah, respect, dignity and menschlichkeit will shine through, making the families stronger.
There are families where this may not true, but they are a distinct minority. There may be other issues at play in the family dynamic that transcend religious ones. There may be rabbis who act irresponsibility, suggesting a person disconnect from his or her family. A returnee to religious observance may not understand how to balance his new life-style with his secular family. But, on the whole, an increase in observance means greater respect for one’s parents.
I DEVELOPED a keen understanding of this issue from my own personal experience.
My wife came from a traditional Jewish family. Her parents (first cousins) both rejected the observance of their parents. My father-in-law, of blessed memory, left the yeshiva for the secular high school during the British Mandate. He preferred secular nationalism to Orthodoxy. His courageous efforts for Jewish freedom earned him a year-and-a-half in a British prison.
My mother-in-law’s New York parents were Orthodox. Her father had his own shul but she, like her cousin across the ocean, moved away from the strict observance of the family.
Much to the distress of my prospective in-laws, their daughter was strongly drawn to the values of her grandparents. She attended Hebrew University and then made the move to a classical Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem.
When we decided to get married, we did as Chabad hassidim have done for generations. We wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe for his blessing. We indicated that my fiancee’s parents were underwhelmed that their daughter intended to marry a guy who wanted to become a Chabad emissary. The rebbe responded, telling us that we should not get engaged until her parents agreed. “If they don’t,” he wrote, we should “wait until the end of the school year, and speak to them again.” Only when they agreed should we get engaged.
The rebbe was giving me a powerful lesson in one of the central tenets of the Ten Commandments: Honor thy father and mother.
Two years later, when we told the rebbe during a private audience that my betrothed’s parents had switched from a liberal congregation in their LA neighborhood to a more Orthodox one and that we wanted to try to continue to influence them toward greater observance, the Rebbe again set us straight. He said that, as their children, we should not instruct our parents on how to live.
The mitzva of honoring one’s parents had been driven home – twice – in a real way.
BEFORE MY father-in-law passed away he asked me to “take care of my Dora” – his wife. And this is a responsibility we have undertaken with joy. She may complain that I should “get a real job,” and about “all this religion” stuff. But I tell her, “Bube, has it been such a bad deal? You have six grandchildren, baruch Hashem, and eight great-grandchildren.”
The last two were born just a week ago.
This week we thankfully celebrated the double brit of my daughters’ twin boys in San Francisco. When my mother-in-law heard the Lubavitch-inspired names given the twins, Menachem Mendel and Schneur Zalmen, she said, “Oy vey, why name them that? I’m calling them Mack and Zack.”
We shared a good laugh on hearing her choice of nicknames.
As I look around at many of her contemporaries, I see elderly women not surrounded by large, loving, extended families. They do not have a granddaughter-in-law to visit them daily, great-grandson in tow. They may have one or two grandchildren – if they are lucky – and enjoy an occasional visit from them.
Paz-Pines claims to be concerned about family stability, but in truth he is acting out of his own insecurities. If he believes that his world view is so much better than traditional Jewish values, let him compete in the world of ideas. Let the next generation debate the value of a secular lifestyle versus one enriched with tradition. Let them explore the beliefs that have stood at the core of Jewish identity for thousands of years and reject them if they lack modern relevance.
The early Zionists, while not observant, valued Jewish learning. They included Jewish content in the educational curriculum of state schools. In recent years, however, the secular Left has tried to excise Jewish tradition from the educational system. This is largely a reflection of their own hostility to and insecurity with Judaism. They fear a generation growing up that loves Torah, Talmud and Jewish philosophy.
The proposed Paz-Pines law is Hanukka all over again. The Hellenistic Jews of the time allied themselves with the Greeks in an effort to impose a secular culture. They used the coercive force of government to impose secularism on Jews. Paz-Pines wants to do same today.
If Israel adopts his suggested legislation it will be a return to the Hellenistic culture – the defeat of which the holiday of Hanukka is intended to commemorate.
And that’s a regression we don’t need
This article appeared originally in The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19