Judaism, not just for kids

Friday, 20 February, 2015 - 1:47 pm

For too many, Judaism is something in which children are involved. So after Bar or Bat Mitzvah (for some a few years after that) they kind drop out of or downgrade their religious participation. They often resume upon having a child of their own. Consider how we think about holidays like Chanukah and Purim. It is most often framed as a children’s celebration. This is a cycle that repeats itself over and over – from generation to generation. Wash, rinse, repeat.

While keeping the children’s attention is paramount, as we can learn from our worst enemies’ attempts to restrict Jewish education, nevertheless, this should not translate into reducing Judaism into a juvenile experience. Recent polling data suggests that college students and young adults (pre-parenthood) are simply not being engaged Jewishly at the same level that other demographics are.

If I may humbly suggest, there are two key points that need to be addressed. The short term need is to create religious (not just social and social action) programming that will capture the attention of pre-parenthood adults. The long term need is to drive home the absolute imperative of continuing one’s Jewish learning beyond Bar Mitzvah or the early teenage years.

For many their perspective of Judaism is through a childish lens. Their knowledge of holidays and Biblical narratives is from Hebrew school. Taking that into account, it is not hard to see why Judaism is not taken any more seriously than Disney characters. Abraham and Moses are as real as the tooth fairy and the big red fella in December. They have never been exposed to Jewish philosophy or serious ethics. They have never been taught about the great wisdom that Judaism, the Talmud and Halacha have contributed to the development of civilized societies. Mitzvahs are seen as child’s play. Holidays are there to keep the kids busy. Torah stories are Aesop’s fables. No wonder there is no interest.

How many people would allow themselves to stop learning math or science at sixth grade and still consider themselves knowledgeable enough to render an opinion? Why is that when it comes to Judaism we are satisfied with an elementary level education and that is enough data for us to assume that we can do without the whole deal?

Bottom line is – we must become more learned and that will foster an interest in remaining engaged all throughout our lives. The word Halacha is defined as Jewish law. But it actually comes from the root Halicha – to walk or go. One cannot know how to go or proceed as a Jew without studying Halacha. One cannot know how to think as a Jew without becoming aware of Hashkafa or Jewish thought. Singing David Melech Yisrael with the hand motions is just not going to cut it. There needs to be a serious pursuit of Jewish learning for us to take ourselves and our Judaism seriously.

Purim is a good time to start. It is not just a kids’ holiday. Let see the adults in our community get as enthusiastic about Purim as they were about the celebrations last weekend.

Mazel Tov to David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the birth of a grandson, Yosef Mordechai, to Saadya and Chaya Sarah. Mazel Tov to the other grandparents, Reuven and Chana Liba Nathanson.

Wishing you a happy Adar and a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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