Is it better to be an observant Jew (e.g., keep Shabbat, eat only kosher) but be a bad person (e.g., unkind to your fellow man), or to be a good person who is not as observant?


We have all met people of great character who are not religious, and lowlifes who present a pious facade. Some concentrate on having a good relationship with G‑d, while others would rather focus on having good relationships with fellow human beings.

It is not up to us to judge who is better—that is G‑d’s business. But we do have to decide what is right for our own lives. Are rituals meaningful if not accompanied by kindheartedness? Is goodness missing something if it is humanistic rather than divine-based?

From a Jewish perspective, you can’t really have one without the other. Ritual without human compassion is hollow, and kindness without spirituality is limited.

If someone is able to serve G‑d—pray fervently, eat kosher, observe all the festivals—but nevertheless doesn’t act kindly to others, then that is dysfunctional religion. If you really love G‑d, then surely you should also love His children! Such a person’s service is empty.

But by the same token, one who is kind and caring but has no spiritual connection may be a very nice person, but lacks a vital element—the soul element.

From a purely “humanistic” perspective, I am me, you are you; we can love each other, but we will always remain distinct and separate. If I am kind to you, then it is “me” going out of my way to be kind to “you.” But from the soul perspective, we are all one. Our bodies may be separate, but our souls are deeply linked, because we are all part of the one divine source. So the kindness I show you is as natural and innate as the kindness I show myself.

All Jewish rituals are means to become more sensitized to this soul-reality that unites us.

Yes, there are religious lowlifes. But imagine how much lower they’d be without religion.

And there are secular saints. But their kindness would be infinitely deeper if they became more aware of the soul dimension, and practiced the actions that make it real in our lives.