Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 18 June 2011 / 15 Sivan 5771

Judaism - No Passing Fad

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Avraham

Dear Rabbi,

I am currently learning at a beginning level in a yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva. I have graduated college and decided to take time out to catch up on Jewish learning before continuing to prepare for a profession (although I don’t know what that would be). My parents aren’t thrilled. They are asking me where this will lead me and what practical benefit it will have. They also claim that I have always had fleeting interests that pass, and that my interest in Judaism is just another fad that won’t last. They say that for all these reasons, I should just give it up and “get on with life”. How would you suggest I respond to them?

Dear Avraham,

It’s interesting that you’re having these problems since your name is Avraham. The “original” Avraham’s family was also not thrilled, to say the least, in his new-found interest in G-d. But he persevered, and became a spiritual father of Nations. So you’re in good company.

First of all, I would suggest you share with your parents your sincere, heart-felt appreciation for raising you with the good values and Jewish awareness that came to serve as the basis for your interest in Judaism as an adult. Many people nowadays lack true, solid values, and, unfortunately, so many Jews are so far removed from their unique heritage that some people have come to refer to this mass assimilation as “The Silent Holocaust”. Express to them that your interest in Judaism does not conflict with the good upbringing they gave you but rather complements it.

That being said, explain to them that you have found Judaism to be a vast repository of wisdom, guidance and inspiration whose truth not only engendered world religions and enthralled billions of mankind over the millennia, but is just as relevant, if not more so, in today’s modern world. As much as your parent’s contributed to your Jewish education, there’s so much more to learn and you feel that you need to take time off to catch up on what you’ve missed.

Emphasize that this in no way will prevent you from pursuing a profession later on, but will most likely benefit you both personally and professionally. And the truth is, many young people take time off after college to do a great variety of things. Whether educational, experiential or recreational, these expeditions are all viewed as beneficial and rewarding. Insofar as what you’re doing is educational, it’s certainly no less important than what lots of other people who take time off are doing. In fact, I’ve been told that Law Schools, for example, actually look favorably on a Yeshiva experience’s contribution to developing analytical skills and legal-minded thinking.

In addition, you can also explain to them that since Judaism is so multidisciplinary, you are actually becoming enriched in many fields: Theology, Philosophy, Logic, Ethics, Law, History, Language, Mysticism and even Music and the Arts. The unique Jewish approach to all these fields, together with the interaction Judaism has had with other approaches throughout World History, will certainly contribute to your well-rounded education, maturity and value as a member of society.

Lastly, regarding their claim that this is likely to be just another interest come and gone, I think you should stress the major difference between what has interested you in the past and Judaism: Namely, your interests in the past were just that – interests; but Judaism is not just an interest, it’s an all-encompassing, holistic way of life.

But in any case, whatever happens, you only stand to gain. If it passes, you will still have been rewarded greatly by what you will have learned and experienced, as above. In such case, this experience will be no less valuable than the many other things that have interested you, through which you’ve grown, and which contribute to what make you uniquely you. However, if, unlike your previous interests, your love for the Jewish way of life doesn’t wane, it will only serve to prove that you will have finally found your Truth. And since you’ll be truly content, you’ll be happy, and that will make your parents happy as well.

And since Judaism doesn’t dictate where you live and what profession you choose, these are things that you can work out after your program of study. Anyway, as of yet, you say you haven’t committed to a particular field of interest or profession. It seems perfectly acceptable to “take time off” in order to get clarity on this as well. All the best!

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