Dear Rabbi Lazer Brody,
I’m 17, and a junior in public high school. My parents belong to a conservative synagogue, and give me all kinds of flak because I don’t attend services or observe the high holidays. Being honest, I went to McDonald’s last Yom Kippur, and ate Kentucky Fried all Passover which drove them mad. Really, I have a great set of parents, but we fight a lot because of the religious issue. I read in a book that a person is not responsible for breaking Jewish laws under coercion. I didn’t ask to be brought into this world, nor to be born Jewish. Doesn’t that exempt me from keeping the commandments?
Free Spirit from Philadelphia
Dear Free Spirit,
You are my kind of young man – sincere, straight shooting, and sharp. With your mind, you should either set your sights on law school or begin learning Gemorra. I’d recommend both…
Allow me to answer your superb question with a 17th Century Jewish parable: In a little Polish hamlet, lived an elderly cobbler with his two unmarried daughters. Not a single matchmaker in the area succeeded in finding a marital prospect for either daughter. Why? The cobbler’s older daughter was the sweetest girl in the hamlet with a kind and loving heart, but she was so ugly that even horses in the street would buck and rear in abhorrence when they saw her. The younger daughter was a blond and blue-eyed beauty, but she had the mouth of a fishwife, shrieking and cursing all day long.
A new family, a tailor and his two sons, moved to the hamlet. One of the tailor’s sons was blind, and the other was deaf. Moishele, the local matchmaker, pounced on the double opportunity. What a perfect match! He invited the cobbler and the tailor to tea, and proposed that the blind young man marry the ugly daughter, and the deaf lad marry the sister with the nasty mouth. Both sides agreed, and the match was sealed by a handshake and a l’chayim, a toast.
Both young couples lived in absolute bliss until the day when a famed German physician visited the hamlet. People with previously incurable medical problems flocked to the doctor. Among them were the tailor’s two sons. Using relatively routine procedures, the doctor cured both brothers; the deaf brother could now hear perfectly, and the blind brother walked out of the doctor’s clinic with 20-20 vision.
The formerly deaf brother walked into his little wooden house, and called out, “Darling, my beautiful wife, I’m home!”
A screech chilled his blood. “You good for nothing shlepper, where’ve you been all day long! Why don’t you bring home some money you lazy son of a… .” The miserable husband with his new sense of hearing fled for his life.
Meanwhile, the young man with his new eyesight came home to his sweet turtledove. “Honey, I’m home.” He froze in his tracks. When he saw the hatchet face that greeted him at the door, he fled for his life, too.
Both brothers appeared before the local Dayan, or religious court judge. “Your honor, not only do we want our money back from the doctor, we want to sue him for ruining our lives”. The Dayan summoned the doctor, and began legal proceedings immediately. The brothers stated their case again, and the doctor stated his rebuttal.
The wise Dayan stroked his long beard for a moment, and addressed the doctor. “Doctor, would it be difficult for you to take away the one brother’s hearing, and to return the second brother to his previously blind state?”
“Not at all, Your Honor,” stated the doctor, “if the court so orders, I’ll be happy to do it for free.”
“Then so be it,” declared the Dayan. “The case is closed.”
“Wait a minute!” protested the brothers. “We don’t want to go back to being deaf and blind!”
“Aha!” nodded the Dayan, “so you do enjoy the benefits of the doctor’s services. Your case is invalid and you are certainly not entitled to a refund. Case closed!”
* * *
Free Spirit, my dear young friend, if G-d were to ask you right now to return your life to Him, would you be willing? I don’t think so. Therefore, since you desire to continue living, you show that you do enjoy the benefits of life. Consequently, you can no longer exempt yourself from His laws on the basis of coercion.
I hope to hear from you again soon, but meanwhile, let me leave you with a thought: Imagine sending somebody that’s never seen a football game in his life to see the Super Bowl. What a waste of a good ticket! By the same token, until you learn about Judaism, you’re unable to appreciate the joy, the beauty, and the brilliant rationale of our laws and customs. Believe me, Simchas Torah, Lag B’Omer, Seder or Shavuos night is a lot more exciting than the Super Bowl, and I love football. Yiddishkeit rocks, my man – if you can’t hear the boogeyin’, you need a hearing test. Anyway, falafel beats McDonalds any day of the week.
Hang in there, F.S.! Yours truly, Lazer Brody