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Who Wants a Religion of No's?

Who Wants a Religion of No's?


Don't drink and drive. Don't speed. Don't go through a red light. Don't drive the wrong direction on a one-way street. Don't talk on a hand-held electronic device, apply lipstick, argue with your spouse, or be involved in any other distracting activity while operating a motor vehicle. Don't. Don't. Don't… Every state has its own driver's manual which contains tens of pages of don'ts.

Why in heaven's name would any sane person willingly enter a vehicle which imposes so many restrictions on his freedom?! We live in a society which is fiercely proud of its freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of privacy, freedom to choose your own cable company, etc. – freedoms which we will defend at all costs. Why, then, do we submit ourselves on a daily basis to such drastic restrictions?

While this question sounds highly philosophical, any five year old child will answer it in an instant: we drive cars because they take us where we want to go; and substantially quicker than any other method of transportation which is readily available. We willingly relinquish certain freedoms when doing so empowers us with a greater freedom and serves our greater goals.

Why do we submit ourselves on a daily basis to such drastic restrictions?On a deeper level, viewing all the abovementioned rules as "restrictions" is a tad childish. For in truth, every choice entails "restrictions." For example, if you choose to go shopping, that precludes you from mowing the lawn at that time. Would you call that a "restriction"? A real restriction is something which restricts your choice — not something that you choose in order in order to achieve your goal. The person who chooses to drive is not focusing on the don'ts, rather he is focused on his choice – arriving safely at his destination. He isn't overwhelmed by the rules; he barely gives them a thought. Highlighting the don'ts demonstrates a lack of focus on the goal.

The same can be said of Judaism: Don't eat dairy together with meat. Don't wear a mixture of wool and linen. Don't turn on a light on Shabbat. Don't gossip… The Torah's "Manual for Driving through Life Safely & Spiritually" contains many more pages and rules than the booklet published by the DMV…

But one has a choice how to approach Torah. One can choose to see Torah as a collection of limiting rules intended to make one's life miserable, or one can be broadminded and recognize Torah for what it really is—the best vehicle of all. Actually, it is the only vehicle which is equipped to transport us to our desired destination—a life of spirituality, meaning, and connection to the Creator. Yes, driving this vehicle will restrict us from doing certain activities which will jeopardize the safety and success of our journey, as well as endanger other commuters and innocent pedestrians, but every choice means restricting those things which impedes the choice from being implemented!

The holy Chassidic master Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once said, "Ideally one shouldn't abstain from sinning because sins are forbidden; rather, where does one find the time to sin?" When one is completely preoccupied with implementing the choice, then one doesn't have time to even ponder all the other options which this choice precluded.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via July 9, 2011

Also, remember, even Go-d changed... He repented that He had been so angry He caused a flood, and so He put a rainbow in the sky as a sign. So, even Go-d changes. He said "sorry". Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA July 9, 2011

Naftali, it is a matter of vocabulary. You can accept that the Torah doesn't change, but you ALSO accept the Tanya, Mishna, and all other books that have sages who EXPLAIN how to use those rules in changing times. To me, this IS changing the Torah, but to you, it is not. We see the same occurrences, but use different words for the explanations. Once the Amaleks were decimated, we now USE the word Amalek to MEAN something else, with the law still there to kill them. It means any enemy of the Israelites. And, it could also mean a spiritual enemy. Then, the word "kill" would mean spiritually eliminate their ideas from your mind. So, it is all in the vocabulary. What will we be left with? What you have, Naftali. Mishna, and all other books which explain the Torah. In my definition of Torah, it is the first 5 books of the Bible. In your def., it may be the 1st 5 PLUS the other books by the sages. So, we may be talking about the same ideas, but with different words. The wording of the Bible is harsh and cruel. Sages explain. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) July 8, 2011

Re: A Question of Belief Indeed, Karen, it is a question of belief.

But let's for a moment examine the consequences of believing that the Torah can change over time. What then will we be left with? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA July 7, 2011

Rishe Deitsch, $ is the problem, But, if I could have come, I would have loved to take you up on your offer. The interesting thing is that I think better over the computer than I do in person. In person, I stutter and can't think quickly with another person looking at me. Sometimes, after a face to face encounter, I think of answers a WEEK or more AFTER it is all over. I don't know why this is so. To Naftali, it boils down to this: IF WE BELIEVE that the Torah preceded the creation of the world, you are correct. If we don't believe that, then I am correct. It all depends on a person's point of view. Just because you believe it doesn't mean it is true in my mind. The strength of your belief is not, to me, proof. In fact, it is also not logical or correct, because of course the Torah has changed over time. Women now use sanitary pads and don't bleed on chairs, etc., so men don't have to find those chairs to be dirty. There are many such examples of changes, inc. in battle to kill women, kids & animals & take slaves. Reply

Rishe Deitsch Brooklyn, NY via July 6, 2011

the article is great; the comments, fascinating! If both are willing, I'd lke to invite Karen Joyce and Rabbi Silberberg to my house to talk over some hot tea and apple cake. This cannot be done in email or in comments. Must be in person. Just my opinion... Reply

dale goodman w. bloom., mi. via July 6, 2011

who wants a religion of no's good article. enjoyed reading. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn, NY May 18, 2011

To Karen Once Again:
The Rebbe explains why Torah is eternal, why its laws don't just expire or change, as you suggest they should. This is what he writes:

“There are two sorts of statutes: a) statutes that create life, and b) statutes created by life. Human laws are created by life so they vary from land to land according to circumstances. The A-lmighty's Torah is a G-dly law that creates life. G-d's Torah is the Torah of truth, the same in all places, at all times. Torah is eternal.”

In simple words this means: if a law is enacted in response to a certain circumstance, then when that circumstance changes, so should the law. But what if the law actually precedes the circumstance (as the Torah precedes the creation of the world)? What if the law is not in response to a specific situation, but is one of intrinsic worth? Can then the law change? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 17, 2011

Naftali, here I have no clue. Understand? No, I didn't even understand the answer. In this article, you said, "it is the only vehicle which is equipped to transport us to our desired destination—a life of spirituality, meaning, and connection to the Creator". There are different meanings of spirituality, just as there are different ways of showing love. If your definition of spirituality is to always obey to the letter of the law without thinking or feeling or having choices, then you are so correct. You must have a religion of "no's" in order to be spiritual. What would happen if all the NO's would be turned into positive commandments? Thou SHALL, thou MAY, thou COULD. In my college special ed classes for teaching, one class particularly awed me. It was about positive reinforcements vs negative. Along with that, we also learned how to voice requests in a positive way and re-structure negatives. Some things we Jews do is because of tradition. No logical explanation. It just IS. That's all. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn, NY May 12, 2011

To Karen Again: Karen, let's discuss this. I assume you took a few moments to try to digest what the Rebbe said. What do you think that was? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 11, 2011

The Torah creates life (22nd day point) Naftali, this further confuses me. Please explain your point with commoner's language. Thanks. I don't see how not sitting on a chair or whatever is the "no" law creates life. Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn, NY May 9, 2011

To Karen: Look at the Hayom Yom for the 22nd day of Shevat. Take a few moments to contemplate what the Rebbe is trying to say.

I hope it clarifies matters for you! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 22, 2011

Does anyone really, honestly think... That by wearing certain fabrics they will become closer to G-d? I think that forcing people or even convincing them to jump through legalistic hoops in order for them to be close to G-d is tantamount to blackmail and intimidation. I love Judaism, but will not bow to laws that are still on the books from thousands of years ago. In America, we still have laws on books which pertained to old times and have never been erased. Examples: male horses and cows needing to wear pants to hide their private parts so females won't faint. Etc. In my opinion, these are old rules made for people of that time only. Another example is the one of men not sitting on a chair after a woman has sat on it who had her menstrual cycle. Nowadays, women have sanitary pads and don't bleed onto chairs. These are outdated rules. Reply

Karen Joyce Kleinman Chaya Fradle Bell Riverside, CA via March 29, 2009

GOOD POINT about "no's"..I would add... WHO WOULD WANT a religion that plays such a victimization drama role? No one likes us so we have to stick together. "THEY" HATE us. They want us dead. Oh, poor us, and we have to MAINTAIN the sadness in perpetuity. Such a negative outlook, and why would someone stay in such a religion? I would like to say to the ultra Orthodox "no" people to OPEN YOUR EYES and see that we are chasing away a great portion of our own Jewish people. Some are leaving to go to a "happier" and more rewarding theology. It is a HEAVY anchor weight to bear, to keep alive mourning for our attacked Temple longer than the Torah demands us to mourn. That's why we can't play happy music on the Sabbath? There are many happy Sabbath songs. That's why we can't play instruments on the Sabbath, when the Torah itself COMMANDS us to play instruments (Psalms). That's why my Rabbi said "Judaism is NOT a feel good religion"? That is emotionally a sick feeling. G-d is love, loving, caring, strengthening. Joy. Reply

J.L. Plainview, New York via March 30, 2008

Jewish Law-Rules & Regulations Sometimes, the easiest choice made is the one made for you. Being born into a Hassidic family, albeit, a community, may make the desire to follow Jewish law second nature. It may be that the one who returns to Judaism makes a choice to have law imposed upon him. One of the reasons that we need laws is that we need limitations, not just for prohibitions, but to give us a sense of self, and a sense of being a part of something bigger. If our behavior is limited by law, and we live up to the law, then we know exactly what we have achieved. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / USA October 9, 2007

Very interesting... Rabbi Silberberg makes good points here. I met a Rabbi who said something similar like, "When you are swimming, do you feel bad that you are not playing tennis? So why feel bad about not driving when you are resting on Shabbat?" I'm still very secular, but these explanations are helping me to understand the value of mitzvot. It's just that my philosophy is that a few good rules are better than lots and lots of rules. I feel like a Gentile trapped inside a Jew! That's why I quit the Democratic Party and defected to the Libertarian Party; Democrats and Republicans pass too many laws! Reply

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