This post is about Judaism: what it is and what it isn’t. I’m going to be very blunt because quite frankly its time to make this really clear. You can call me ‘ultra ultra orthodox’, you can call me ‘unaccepting’, you can even call me ‘discriminating’. It’s all semantics. Literally.
One of the things I fell in love with when becoming observant was that people who learn and speak Torah always question the definition of words. You’ll say a word like ‘trust’ and they’ll question what you actually mean by that. We all use the same words but they can mean different things to different people, especially in different communities, cities, countries, and even within families. So before you argue, make sure you are arguing about the same thing. (Actually its the same in dating – you can both say you like a peaceful home, but one person means no guests and the other means speaking softly. Define your terms).
So here we go.
Being Jewish is being born into the Jewish people (your mother has to be Jewish) or converting to Judaism.
Judaism is the belief system of the Jews (a moral, philosophical and practical code of law), i.e. believing there is an all mighty God who gave the Jewish people a Torah to follow and live by.
Note how I wrote Judaism? It’s not plural. There are no Judaisms. It is one. Like the Torah. Like God. Echad.
I hear all the Jewish ‘sects’ that keep cropping up in places like America and their incorrect labeling really bothers me. You can call yourself whatever you want: liberal, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, but unless you follow the definition above you are not practicing a form of Judaism: It’s just not Judaism. So, please, stop calling it ‘reform judaism’! It’s reform, fine, but its not Judaism. If it doesn’t quack like a duck, its not a duck! Just like a feminist has to believe in the precepts outlined in the definition of a feminist if she wants to call herself that, you have to believe in the definition of Judaism if you define yourself as an observant Jew. Otherwise, you’re just observing some other philosophy, and I’m cool with that!
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s some externally looking Orthodox Jews who actually aren’t observant to Judaism. This isn’t about whether you appear to look like you practice Judaism. Wearing a black hat doesn’t suffice if you don’t really believe in God and Torah. You can have the garb and not really believe in Judaism. Or if you think Messiah is already here, you therefore don’t believe in Judaism either.
So can you be a Jew who doesn’t practice Judaism? Absolutely!! Vast majority of us Jews fall into this category. If you don’t follow the definition of Judaism, you are really a non-observant Jew. Or alternatively, a Jew who does not observe his Judaism. That’s not a statement of whether this is good, bad or otherwise. It is just a definition. There are no moral judgements you’ll ever hear from me about the extent to which you observe. That is your own journey. But be real about it. If your beliefs aren’t the same as the definition of the thing, you’re not observing that thing. It’s ok just to say “yes, I’m a Jew who isn’t observant of Judaism” or “I’m a Jew but I practice XYZ”, or even “I’m a Jew and I believe in some of Judaism”. But ultimately, don’t skew the definition of Judaism to your own liking.
And if you think this is a restrictive, think again. Jews are not all the same. We’re all in fact completely different, unique. We practice Judaism with our own flair. Judaism doesn’t restrict this. In fact it encourages us to live up to whatever our unique mission in this world is. Only we can complete our unique task. And please don’t respond with ‘but my Orthodox community doesn’t allow for this individuality’…clearly your definition of Orthodox is not the same as mine. Once again, I’m not referring to externals. Go find yourself a more Orthodox community who actually live by Judaism, where you can bring to life all your personal individual potential as a real Orthodox, practicing, believing, living-the-definition Torah observant Jew. It’s possible. And most importantly, its real.