Pause for Thought
This thursday (27th of March), I will be giving a 'Pause for Thought' on BBC Radio 2 (during the breakfast show at roughly 6:15 am GMT). I was asked to do it as part of a 'Young Believers' series (I know it's not a great name but, what can you do?)and the only limit was that it is related to Judaism and being Jewish. Now, if I was to post the finished script, somehow I think it might dent by already small listening base, so I'm going to post my initial script - its a bit more formal and essay-esque than the finished recording, and the language is stronger, but the fundamental argument remains (DISCLAIMER - this text is unedited, to hear the final Pause for Thought, make sure you tune in to Radio 2 on Thursday morning):
It was the middle of January, and, on the fourth anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah, I was in my local Synagogue reading publicly from the Torah as I have done every year since. The experience was enjoyable and yet somehow, quaint. During the Kiddush after the service, I was complimented on my reading by all who I spoke to, including our new Rabbi – who was impressed by my reading ability. All of the praise, and the wording with which it was delivered, demonstrated vividly to me the important position that acts of observance hold in the minds of the religious. What, to me, seemed as much a performance as anything else was somehow a sign that I was a ‘good’ Jew. I certainly got the impression that people’s opinions of me were somehow strengthened because I could read and sing well. Yes the Torah is important to Jewish people, and the sacred act of its regular reading on the holiest day of the week demonstrates its constant relevance; however, perhaps in placing too much importance on acts of worship, followers of all religions are forgetting the essential message of morality that is the basis of their faith. Does my having a clear singing voice, “inheriting the musical ability of the biblical Levites [from whom I am descended]” as the Rabbi put it, make me any better a Jew than someone who is not able to recite his portion as well? Similarly, are my apparently more pious friends better Jews because they pay more attention to following individual traditions such as wearing the yarmulke, the skullcap, than me?
The most important part of a religion, for it to remain relevant in a changing world, must surely be the underlying ethical principles of that religion, not the ultimately meaningless customs and ‘acts of faith’ that often seem more and more outdated and irrelevant as time goes on. Certainly these customs and acts strengthen an individual’s religious identity, but that doesn’t make them necessary – they are not the only way to strengthen a religious and cultural identity, the two often going hand in hand, nor must one judge another person’s religious identity based on the traditions they choose to follow, the acts they choose to perform. Surely I am no less of a Jew for not keeping glatt Kosher – the strictest form of Kosher, or for choosing to shave my face. Judaism, like most religions, has many different variants, with the relationships between the different denominations (as well as those with no denomination) as uneasy as ever. When one group rejects another group within the umbrella of a religion because they do or do not perform specific acts, or because they believe things that are an alteration or a progression from the traditional viewpoint, there must surely be a problem. I am not saying that all Jewish denominations should come together, that surely would be impossible – as the old joke goes, for every two Jews there are three opinions. However, what I do believe is that it is wrong to deny someone else’s identity because it does not conform to your own rigorous standards. All Jews essentially follow the same basic set of morals, even if they interpret the way in which they should be followed differently. In the words of the 1st century Rabbi, Simeon ben Gamaliel, “The world rests on three things: justice, truth and peace”, perhaps certain sections within the Jewish community (as well as other religious communities) have forgotten this.