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Judaism or Lennonism?

Judaism or Lennonism?

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Question:

I don’t want my children to be small-minded or fundamentalist, so I haven’t given them a Jewish education. They have been brought up without any religion; they are free to choose whatever beliefs they like. I try to live by the words of John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace . . .

Isn’t that what life is about?

Answer:

I admire your passion and idealism. You have obviously given some thought to your children’s moral future, which is a credit to you. You are free to believe what you want, and teach your children what you feel is right. But I don’t see how you are any less closed-minded than any other fundamentalist.

You say you have brought up your children without religion because you don’t want to force your ideals on them. But that is forcing your ideals on them! By not learning about Judaism, they have not been given the choice to explore their identities at the time of their life that will influence them the most—their youth. They didn’t choose that—you did. You have decided their religion for them. They are Lennonists whether they like it or not.

And if that song is your bible, then they are being brought up in a much more closed-minded religion than Judaism.

You have quoted only one verse. But I think the last verse of the song is the most revealing. There it is made clear that John Lennon’s view of the world is as closed-minded as the most narrow extremist. He writes:

You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will live as one.

In other words, there is “you” and there is “us.” You are the unenlightened ones. We have found the truth. But hopefully, one day you will become one of us too. Only then can the world live as one. Sound familiar?

Contrast this with Judaism’s view that not everyone has to be Jewish. A non-Jew can live a perfectly fulfilling and meaningful life while remaining a non-Jew; they don’t have to join us. What can make us live as one is the recognition that we are all created by the same G‑d. But we don’t all have to serve Him in the same way.

We each choose a value system to live by and to teach our children. Whether you call it religion or something else makes little difference—it is a particular way of looking at the world. But can you imagine a religion that isn’t so narrow to believe that everyone has to join it?

It’s easy if you try.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Victor Gherschön Mexico May 28, 2013

Judaism is a way of life, having our own rules. Live and let live! We don't need to copy some ideas, because we have a big philosphy like in "Pirke Avot".
John Lenonn has not any moral profit to be followed. Reply

Anonymous Lakewood N.J. May 27, 2013

I have often heard the argument that children should be brought up without religious training so that they can then choose the religion they like, if any, as adults. This idea reduces religion to a short list of beliefs and practices that a person can choose from in a few minutes, the way they choose dinner from a menu at a restaurant. It ignores the fact that jewish practice requires years of learning and skill development. You can't decide which profession to practice without years of hard study, interning and certification, all beginning at an early age with an established goal. You can't wake up at 21 and decide to be a tennis pro or olympic ice skater if you haven't arisen early each morning from age five to engage in hours of training and practice. And if a religion requires you to know nothing and do nothing, does it really have a value? What a pity to deprive a child of knowledge of his own religion, so that he cannot make an informed choice. Reply

Anonymous May 26, 2013

After comparing for a few decades, my opinion is that Judaism is the most civilized religion. Someone described it as being the "religion of maturity" and rightly so. One of the strength Judaism has is that people are able to debate, agree or disagree, and you are not condemned for daring to ask questions. Perhaps that is why many great scientists and well known intellectuals are Jewish. They are taught to think deeply and rationally. In some cultures and other faiths you are condemned as not having enough 'belief ' if you ask questions.
Coming from such a background, I do not see Judaism as "small minded" or "fundamentalist". It would be a unfortunate to deny a child of any Jewish education when s/he is fortunate enough to receive it almost as a birth right. Reply

Tupelo Tupelo May 25, 2013

I agree completely. "Imagine" is about a world with NO G-D. Lennon not surprisely believed the lie that men don't need the torah. "Imagine" is a perfect reflection of the 1970's. Lennon was a great composer and musician but like other famous millionaires, was without wisdom. Reply

Anonymous May 24, 2013

Kol hakavod Aaron Reply

Yoshi CT May 24, 2013

In this song, Lennon also says stuff like "imagine no possession." He's simply listing off Marxist ideas. He isn't saying everyone should embrace they're one original ideals, he isn't even doing so himself. He's just advertising a radical philosophy that has taking tens of millions of lives. Just because he says it will lead to peace doesn't make it so. A lot of terrorists say they are upholding the religion of peace; would you want to raise your kid like them? People are capable of being mislead into thinking a very non-peaceful philosophy will create peace. Even celebrities. Reply

ruth housman Marshfield Hills, MA May 22, 2013

If you were to follow Hillel's precept, then paying close attention to a song, that is beautiful, that came to Lennon in a dream, might be close to an ideal, of how the world might be, as in the world to come. I think it's a very slanted interpretation, one that I honestly feel is forced, to say this about his last lines. He is saying, to believe in peace, to join others in this dream of the way the world could be, is a beautiful thing. Just Imagine! Certainly I believe we as Jews, and people around the world, who celebrate their traditions, history, and have ways of being, need to share this, to teach this to their children. That's another issue. And it's really extreme to just teach according to Lennon. But I can say, when the Beatles sing, Love is all there is, they are close to a deep inner truth about G_d. I tell people who do not believe in G_d, to subsitute the word, LOVE. Personally I will advocate for a world that is about a deep kind of caring, of sharing, of empathy:The Path. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 10, 2011

The common denominator of what is right with any religion would be that we give our children the inner strength to face calamities in life and still remain positive. It is hard without religion. If you have to give up on ORGANIZED religion and practices (such as the traditions and prohibitions of Judaism), at least read the scriptures and teach your children the positive lessons which will help them. Do your own "home schooling". Read them Psalms, Proverbs, etc. Then, if you want, you can teach them the other chapters as being HISTORY, and give them a sense of belonging to a very long and strong ancestry. That also will help them in life. Don't just give up teaching them about their Judaic roots just because you don't want organized religion in your home. Without KNOWING about the good points of various religions, HOW will they know which to choose? In fact, a good aspect of Judaism is it can be a springboard to choices. "See, I have set before you good and bad... now choose"... Reply

sue Kanata, ON August 25, 2009

Many of us voted to stop the conditioning of all our Canadian children into particularly Christian style worship, the only prayer forms and religion history education that Canadas schools offered. We all felt that this type of presentation was discriminatory and, particularly offensive to non-Christian new Canadians. Our bill of rights is meaningful and strong.
Religious issues being quite sensitive and personal to many of us, Canadians do not consider a discussion of religions to be polite socially, unless it is a planned event. It is against the law for employuers to ask people to divulge their religion.
Subsequently, although this is all a democratic ethic, there is lost youth and there are so many more people claiming to be atheists.
When a close friend used a Vista i desksaver,image it was, pathetically, a picture of the finance towers of New York, with the caption "A world without religion". The implication: see these edifices ($$)will remain unscathed if you do not worship. Reply

Yaacov Beryl August 24, 2009

IMAGINE isn't religion: it's a pop song that asks us to think about a view of human relations. Lennon often said he believed in G-d, but didn't offer definitions or doctrine. He said IMAGINE wasn't about 'No G-d', but about not dividing ourselves along lines of Jew-Christian, Catholic-Protestant, etc. It’s about tolerance-not about effacing differences or proscribed ways of believing. ONE OF MY teachers said a crucial part of wisdom is the ability to differentiate between similar things. For example, during Havdalah, we differentiate between Shabbos and other days without denying the validity of either. The 'dreamer' chorus is realistic and idealistic: It acknowledges differences, yet asks us to take the subtle and difficult psychological step of acting AS IF we are one so that we might be able to "be as one". IMAGINE IS A PLEA for tolerance of all whom Hashem put here on our diverse paths back to Him. Imagine a world where we lived by such a creed; that's all the song asks us to do. Reply

Anonymous toronto, ontario June 24, 2009

It is difficult to deny that religion in general is not divisive, certainly it is not divisive to the in group. The song is idealistic yes, but lets get a grip here, the song expresses a desire for inclusiveness. Is it surprising that god's chosen people might find that alien. The song is unrealistic at worst. Reply

sue Kanata, ON June 23, 2009

All of the musicians in the Beatles went to India, to study Hinduism quite extensively. I believe at least one of them is a Jew. The sixties revolution permitted all of us to explore and to make diplomatic friends everywhere.
Only John Lennon was Marxist. Youth is often idealistic and does not see the suffering that dictated ideologies tend to cause.
Their interests basically covered east and west, democracy and communism. As a youth movement, we all explored with open minds. In our day, the KKK and other narrow people were brutally savaging people for having long hair, or just blue jeans-ironically, symbolic of the working class. Since so many Lubavitcher men adopt traditional style, I would like to feel that the dedicated spiritual people of the sixties opened the world for religious traditionalists, too. Reply

Anonymous nz June 20, 2009

brillant Reply

Dharma Adelaide June 20, 2009

The Beatles thought they ere better than, and more popular than G-d. Imagine there's no religion, imagine there's no God. It's dangerous to follow the words of someone who's god was himself and his money. If the man wanted peace he would have stopped displaying himself and his wife in the nude and wanting all the publicity he could cram into one life time. And he would have gone to the countries where there was no peace and asked for it just as U2 and such singers do. Reply

sarah ny June 19, 2009

i loved ur answers chabad.org rocks! Reply

Anonymous June 19, 2009

Funny, but as a rebelious 60s hippie, I had the opposite opinion. I brought my son up in a religion, exposing him though to other religions. That way he knew enough to choose. And he stayed the religion he was trained in but it was his choice. I felt it unfair to cheat him out of any religious training! Reply

Paul Slocumb Cape Elizabeth, Maine June 19, 2009

The passage of time has allowed many to gloss over the them-and-us fundamentalism which characterized both sides of the war about the war in the '60s. Forgotten too was the demonization of "the other" which inevitably accompanies fundamentalism and its permission to allow the end to justify the means. Thank you Rabbi for your gently direct response to what appears an honest question from a conscientious parent. Thank you for pointing out that religion has no monopoly on fundamentalism. ANY world view, be it sacred or secular can drift into fundamentalism. Thanks also for pointing out that parents can't not-influence their kids! It's sad that anyone would chose to live their life based on the lyrics of a pop tune with so many time tested wisdom traditions so readily accessible. But such is the influence of pop culture in our times. I feel sorrier yet for the children. All concerned need our prayers.
G-d's love to this dear parent, the little ones, and to you, Rabbi Moss. Reply

Joan Levinson, MSW Trinity, US June 19, 2009

This person's approach sounds like the Roman ruler who ordered a group of babies to be brought up without being talked to by their mothers to see what language they would speak, having heard none. If I recall the results of that one, the babies died from lack of loving encouragement. We also know from more recent examples, the huge nurseries in Communist countries for orphan babies, that children are stunted when their care lacks emotional content and teaching them the religion of their parents is a part of that emotional and moral content. Reply

h June 19, 2009

5 men sat around a large tree, 1 said, i think if everyone was like me the world would be a better place, the 2nd argued, i think if everyone was like me, then the world would be a better place, the 3rd shook His head & adamantly said No! I think if people were more like Me the world would be a better place, the men were at odds, 1 asks the other what makes you so much better than me? i believe in established morals that everyone must know, the 2nd man said, yeah i believe in self control, a 3rd said I believe I was made in a image of God & born to enjoy My life, I believe He created He with an inherent weakness that prohibits Me from self control but I have morals so I just do the best I can, the men said to him, & that’s okay w/you if everyone is like You? & the men hid their wives, daughters & sons from the 3rd man & 3rd Man became irrate, He said, your daughters & wives should have the right to choose whether or not they want to be like Me, so he amassed an army and imposed his way Reply

james boag toronto, ontario June 19, 2009

I am torn on this topic because I know what it is like to be born into the world with no landmarks, no orientation, to make ones way through an unknown land. This in a sense is unfair to innocence I should say, but, science has made a housecleaning of much religious belief. Somehow Judaism must lead the way into a new understanding while maintaining the ancient wisdom which remains credible. This is a problem for all historic belief systems.

Much of society is in free fall spiritually speaking. While it may be felt that one cannot liet go of tribalism, and I do understand its seeming impossiablity. Necessity however dictates this responsibilty across the board.

So what is the answer? I simply do not know, but I look for signs which might indicate some sense of inclusiveness. Of course inclusiveness does spell extinction, extincition of separateness for both peoples and systems, the answer to which could only be a further creation--on going creation. Reply