By Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet
If you want to contribute a question to ‘ask the rabbi’, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Why jews don’t need joyriders
I’ve considered converting to Orthodox Judaism but find it too restrictive in the way it curtails personal freedoms. I’m therefore exploring other options and wanted to share that with you.
You wanted to share that with me? Why? If I took your argument to its logical conclusion, we should dispense with law altogether. Why should the law dictate what I can or cannot smoke, snort or ingest? I think that is too restrictive and is curtailing my freedom to live as I wish. Here’s a newsflash: freedom has never been about doing what you like. It is the right of someone to do something you don’t like, within the rule of law. The same applies in the context of religion. Malcolm Muggeridge, Former editor of the satirical magazine Punch, became religious in his latter years and was asked how he made the leap from satire and cynicism to religion. He answered by quoting a yachtsman friend who once told him if he wanted to enjoy the freedom of the high seas, he must first become a slave to the compass.
An inexperienced person might question the need to follow a meagre gadget: “Why can’t I go where I please? It’s my yacht! It’s my sea!” But every thinking individual knows that without a navigational tool, without a compass, we can end up sailing in circles, or lost altogether. There are many assaults on basic mores in our world today. The subjective social value system is like a pendulum that swings back and forth. What is illegal today is legal tomorrow. Religion, on the other hand, has established values – absolute principles that determine right and wrong. Religion in general and Torah for Jews is life’s compass. It shows us where to go and how to get there. Without it, people wander aimlessly. Does it cramp our style? Does it stifle our ability to express ourselves? No more than you would think the compass binds the captain. Go explore whatever options you like. But, for the record, we’re not looking for joyriders in the Jewish faith. I just wanted to share that!
No ‘tradition’ among masorti
Dear Rabbi Now the Masorti movement has moved toward accepting same-sex marriages, just as the Reform Movement did before it, isn’t it only a matter of time before Orthodoxy, or at least modern Orthodoxy, catches up and does the same?
Not today and not tomorrow. In fact, not ever. I just wonder: If same-sex marriage is acceptable today, why was it not acceptable yesterday?
And for whatever reason it was not acceptable yesterday, why does it become acceptable today? You might tell me it’s progress, and that would be fair enough. But it’s not religion. And don’t go calling yourself ‘Masorti’ – which means ‘tradition’ – when you choose to veer so far away from traditional Judaism.
At least the Reform and Liberal communities are open about what they are by their very names. To be a Jew means to be part of a faith, a religion, a people. And once you use the very definition of religion, you invariably bring God into the equation. And once you bring God into it, you have also to understand that there is no such thing as an exclusive belief in God without also determining what God wants from you. To choose or accept a religion means to accept for oneself a special way of life. Religion means intellectual and emotional conviction: a profound conviction of what the believer perceives as absolute truth regarding the ultimate values of life, or reality. Religion, by definition, has to be theocratic – not democratic. Religion means that God, and He alone, initiates and defines religion and revelation.
God, and He alone, says what is acceptable to Him and what is not. Only God Himself can state and define what conforms to his will. There has to be some mandate, something that helps us to define our role. Without the immutability of Torah you have nothing but situational ethics, relative morality and transient fads popular at the time. At best you can talk about pragmatic utilitarianism – here today and gone tomorrow. It may be democratic, it may be practical and popular, but Judaism it is not.
Can rabbi marry pregnant bride?
I’m three months pregnant and my partner and I haven’t told anyone yet. We intend to marry soon and are planning a small ceremony. Do I need to tell my rabbi and will it affect his ability to marry us?
There is no reason why this should affect your ability to marry. I’m only too pleased you have chosen to do so and raise your child within a proper family structure (even if you couldn’t wait until after the ceremony). But it is advisable to inform your rabbi, if only because it would have implications on the precise wording of the ketubah, albeit not one that will make a practical difference. I suppose a double mazeltov is in order.
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