Uri Orbach
Photo: Tomer Barzide

Who does Torah belong to?

Religious Jews say ‘Judaism belongs to everybody’ but do they really mean it?

Us religious Jews like to say that “Judaism belongs to everybody.” We always tell grumbling seculars that instead of complaining that we “took away their Torah,” they can go ahead and open the nearest bible or Gemara and study as much as they want. If they press us, we even find out some information about really interesting classes on the rudiments of Judaism by some modern and really nice rabbi. We can combine it with a little Kabbalah too.


Yet what happens when a few seculars really start studying the Torah, but not with us? What do we say when some kind of secular takes our offer seriously, and even writes a book about the Bible or offers his own point of view on some biblical verses?


Then, in the face of the slight fear of losing our exclusivity, we snore with contempt: “Oh, come on. With all due respect, it’s impossible to have everyone starting to interpret the Torah.” And if it happens to be a secular Jew who is also a diligent student we truly get outraged: “With all due respect, Judaism isn’t math! We can’t have any secular Jew do what he wishes with our holy Torah when his Judaism and studying are merely a hobby, while for us it is a way of life.”


I don’t care how they study

I really want the seculars to study the Torah. I really don’t care how they do it. Us religious Jews cannot whine about the “terrible ignorance” of the seculars when it comes to Judaism, but tell them that in order to study Judaism they must also become religious.


Knowledge of Judaism and basic familiarity with books and biblical verses are an urgent matter for every Jew and Israeli even more so than becoming religious. If we wait for seculars to adopt the entire religious package and only then start studying Torah, we shall wait in vain.


When we say that the Torah belongs to everyone, we apparently don’t really mean it. We add a warning note that at the end of the study session, please return the Torah to us, the religious Jews, and don’t you dare interpret it in a way we don’t like, and if you don’t have a kippah on your head, perhaps it’s better that you go read Haran Coben’s latest thriller instead of the Torah. When we told you, excited secular, that Judaism belongs to everybody, we didn’t imagine that you will take it seriously and open a book. We were just kidding with you.


The required change of perception is truly simple. Seculars must stop looking for excuses and thinking that Judaism only belongs to religious Jews. Come on; start studying without asking for permission and without pangs of conscience. Meanwhile, religious Jews should remove the sour expression from their face which they tend to use every time a secular Jew deals with Judaism and instead be happy about every additional Jew who shows interest in the Torah.


פרסום ראשון: 07.06.08, 10:42
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