HomeJune 2012The Real Story

The Real Story

There is an old saying: “Anyone more religious than me is a fanatic; anyone less is not really Jewish.”  As someone on the more observant end of the spectrum, it’s strange at times to hear what people say about you.  Here is some of what I’ve heard about us more traditional Jews.
Your kids have arranged marriages: It seems that people are watching too much Fiddler on the Roof.  Arranged marriages are prohibited by Jewish law.  Each young man and woman must make his or her own choice.  In many religious families there are Shidduchim — dates suggested by friends, family or even a Shadchan, a matchmaker.  Usually the prospects are checked out in advance.  Dating is with the purpose of getting married.  The decision about marriage is the choice of the young man and woman.  If it clicks, great; if not, it’s discontinued.  Intimacy is reserved for marriage.  No one is strung out for months or years wondering, will he or she make a commitment?
You don’t think that secular Jews are Jews: Nothing could be further from the truth.  A Jew is a Jew, period.  It makes no difference it you wear a black hat and beard or never walk into a synagogue.  All Jews share the same heritage and history; all are considered one hundred percent Jewish.  I spend most of my time teaching and helping Jews who are far from religiously observant, because I value them as Jews.
Religious Jews don’t serve in the Israeli Army: Combat units are filled with religious Jews.  Some young men receive deferments that are renewed annually as long as they study in a yeshiva, an institute of higher Jewish learning.  Segments of the Orthodox community choose to pursue lifelong study.  In the Chabad community young men attend the yeshiva receiving deferments, and then join the army.  Just a few weeks ago the army recognized its 120 most outstanding soldiers at an event with Israel’s president and prime minister; two of the soldiers were from the Chabad community.  Religious women do not serve in the Israeli army.
Religious women are second-class citizens: Women are highly educated and take a leadership role in the community.  Throughout Orange County the Chabad rebbitzens stand on the forefront of Jewish community leadership.  They are well educated, articulate and role models to all.  Judaism sees the most important task of a woman as raising a family.  While professions can be pursued, there is no greater accomplishment than raising children imbued with strong values.
The small religious minority controls the government in Israel: According to the Israeli census and the recently published Guttman Survey, more than 30 percent of Israelis are Orthodox Shabbat observant, and another 32 percent are traditional.  Just 4 percent say they are anti-religious.  The balance are secular.  Israeli Jewry is much more observant than American Jewry.  More than 60 percent are religious or very traditional, the great majority supporting Judaism as vital to Israeli society.
Stereotyping what you don t know is a defense mechanism.  If you heard something about religious Jews and disagree, pick up a phone or e-mail an Orthodox rabbi and ask if it’s true.  Meanwhile, remember that the foundation of Judaism is to love your fellow Jew as yourself.

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