The Pew Study
Snatching victory from the jaws of media negativity is always a good idea. In this case, the good idea was entirely my colleague’s, Rabbi Abraham Cooper. When people pointed to the recent Pew study that showed one billion people who claim no religious affiliation and snickered about the future of religion, he figured we could turn it around a bit, and score a few points for the Prophets of the Hebrew Scripture – and for the Jewish people. The Washington Post apparently agreed. Our piece is an op-ed today.
One of my sons became proficient at generating sentences that usually appear on the back of wine bottles, e.g. replete with faint overtones of mahogany,cherry blossoms, and car deodorizer. (Personally, I like wine that tastes like wine.) Some of you connoisseurs may detect overtones of the Besht, the Sfas Emes and others in this piece, although well disguised. (Conveying the emes of Torah to the general world community is still a work in progress.) Without prejudice as to the intentions of wine label creators, in this case you would be correct.
Nice piece, but wow, look at the talkbacks! I didn’t know so many wackos read the Washington Post ☺.
Emphasis on the need for religious observance to foster proper treatment of other people and respect for the Tzelem Elokim in everyone if it is not to be empty hypocrisy is perhaps needed as much for addressing ourselves as for “Conveying the emes of Torah to the general world community.” I wish more rabbinic leaders would talk in this way more often.
I read the Washington Post OP-ED piece. I was troubled by the fact the pronouns that referred to the Almighty were not capitalized. Reason? Halachic? WP Style?
[YA – Indeed, to my chagrin as well, this has become the new style – not just at the WP. The pronoun is no longer routinely capitalized. What is really surprising here is that they did retain our use of “G-d” with a hyphen. While there is halachic support for this dating back to R Chaim Ozer making the recommendation for similar treatment of the French word for goodbye, which also references the Deity, this support is not unanimous. I prefer it because so many religious Christians have adopted it, after seeing it used by Orthodox Jews. I figure that if they see this as an appropriate way to show respect to HKBH, it can’t be a completely meaningless gesture.]
Great article by Rabbi Cooper, and one that every Jew and every other civilized human being should read and ingrain into their minds for as long as they live. I do want to qualify it just a bit, though.
One of the ways that G-d’s Commandments have been categorized, are those involving our direct relationship to G-d Himself, and those involving how we treat our fellow human beings. That is how the Ten Commandments themselves are said to be divided up. Complete focus on either extreme, can result in disastrous consequences. Focusing exclusively on one’s relationship to G-d, can lead to such religious atrocities as the Crusades, Inquisitions, and terrorism, all done in the name of one’s G-d, with accompanying feelings of self-righteousness. The other extreme, that of focusing completely on our human relations, is also a problem, as it relies too much on one’s own mind and emotions. One’s mind can play all sorts of tricks on oneself and on one’s sense of decency, leading people to believe, for example, that in the name of freedom of choice, that one can use abortion doctors to snuff out the lives of millions of the helpless unborn, or that the sanctioning of the union of two people living an immoral alternative lifestyle is somehow the humanitarian thing to do. The ideal is to combine both a focus on G-d as well as on our fellow human being, to put greater emphasis on how we treat one another, but always under the guidance of the rules set forth by G-d in His Torah. Consistent, daily Torah study, combined with common sense lessons often learned from our most bitter experiences, should set each of us on the right path toward correct living.
Wonderful article! A couple thoughts:
If human dignity and basic deeds are the priority in G-d’s eyes, then why aren’t Torah Jews on the forefront on efforts to address the biggest affronts to human dignity in the world — such as the millions of people around the world who are literally slaves, the many governments in the developing world that fail to provide functional and fair court systems (which is after all a Noahide commandment), and the millions of people who die each year from preventable diseases? Maybe some already are on the forefront. But shouldn’t this be a priority?
The Prophets emphasized mitzvos between man and man, but they also looked forward to a future in which the whole world had knowledge of G-d. We recite Aleinu three times a day, and phrases such as “May all souls praise G-d!” (Tehillim 150) are common in our prayers. G-d is surely pleased if people treat one another with dignity, but shouldn’t being a light to the nations entail teaching humanity to believe in G-d, to improve their lives immeasurably by trusting in Him at all times, praying to Him, loving Him, thanking Him, studying His teachings and observing them with joy and love (at least those that apply to all)? I believe that’s more or less what Rav Hirsch teaches in Horeb.