2016-06-30
Excerpted and adapted from the book, "Judaism for Everyone: Renewing your Life through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith" by Shmuley Boteach. Copyright c 2002. Reprinted by arrangement with Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved.

I believe that the age of Judaism has arrived.

In the past two millennia, Christianity and Islam have been the decisive factors shaping world history. These religions concern themselves with macrocosmic issues-political, economic, and social. Judaism has concerned itself with small questions: whom to marry, how to be a good son and honor one's parents, how to practice honesty in business, how to wrestle with and ultimately conquer the darker angels of one's nature, how to refrain from gossiping behind a friend's back, how to overcome feelings of jealousy and celebrate the good fortune of others, and finally how to imbue everyday life with passion and meaning. The Jews have turned their creative powers inward rather than outward and focused on perfecting themselves and the world around them.

While the macrocosm is improving, the microcosm--the inner world of man--is deteriorating with alarming rapidity. Divorce and infidelity rates are higher than ever. The crime wave, the curse of the Western world for several generations, today even involves children who shoot one another at school with guns. Drug and substance abuse climb, with no end in sight. Antidepressants, Prozac for example, remain the miracle drugs of a despondent and depressed generation. (One in four Americans has been treated at some point for depression.) People flock to movies and watch endless hours of television in an effort to escape the monotony and pain of their lives for a while.

What our generation requires above all is a way to master our lives in a confusing world of endless possibility and choice. Judaism can provide it.

What our generation requires above all is a way to master our lives in a confusing world of endless possibility and choice. We want a creed that will offer us passion and success without substantial sacrifice. Judaism can provide it. While other nations were perfecting the art of war and building armies and navies, Judaism was perfecting the art of building families and communities and closing the generation gap to ensure that an ancient tradition could be passed from father to son and mother to daughter with minimal disruption. No other method of living has so celebrated life amid a devotion to spiritual values. Judaism offers a spiritually based philosophy that is concerned primarily with life in this world, rather than the hereafter.

Western civilization is predicated on various foundation stones, and it is [my] purpose to demonstrate not only the roots of some of these ideas in Judaism and the Bible but, more important, how Judaism is a program of action designed to internalize these concepts within the heart of man and society. I have compiled the eighteen cardinal tenets of the modern world as I see them, and I have shown how each emanates from a different strand within the fabric of the Bible and Jewish faith.

The Belief in the Brotherhood of Mankind and the Kinship of All Living Things. We all emanate from a single source in God, and thus humanity is one family, responsible for each of its members. Because we are all children of the one god, there is hope that all humankind can live together in peace and harmony. An all-encompassing unity is at the heart of creation. There are no opposing forces at odds in the universe. This emanates from the belief in one God and one Creator.

The Belief in the Equality and Infinite Value of All Human Beings and in Their Dignity, Which Must Be Upheld and Protected by All. Every human is special and irreplaceable. Our worth is not judged by our possessions, but by our divine, immortal soul. Human life is sacred. This stems from the biblical statement that man was created in the image of God.

History is Directional and Continually Evolves for the Betterment of Mankind. Every good deed, however small, is significant and cumulative and ultimately brings us closer to the perfect world, which is in our power to bring about. Action is far more significant than dogma or belief. The right thing should be done even if for the wrong reasons. This springs from the ancient Jewish belief that history began in chaos but will culminate gradually in the messianic era. The Messiah will one day perfect the world, but in the meantime we must contribute to the world's completion.

Peace Is Superior to War, Forgiveness Higher than Vengeance, and Cultivation of the Mind and Spirit More Noble Than Cultivation of the Body. This stems from the Jewish insistence that the Sabbath, a day of rest is holier than all the workdays of the week, as well as from the ancient messianic prophecies that promised a perfect world devoid of conflict and hostilities.

Man Is Utterly Free-Empowered with Freedom of Choice, He Is Capable of Liberating Himself from the Cage of Human Nature. There is no fate-not in the stars, not in our genes. We are responsible for our own actions and will be rewarded for good deeds and held accountable for bad. This idea flows from the Festival of Passover and the exodus from Egypt, which emphasizes that the Jew has been permanently and irrevocably redeemed from Egypt, the symbol of human and natural bondage.

Law Is Ineffective Unless It Is Immutable; Morality and Ethics Must Be Anchored in an Absolute Divine Standard. There is a universal standard of conduct by which people must treat one another. Man cannot be trusted as the arbiter of his own morality. Law, the best means for communicating love, translates human potential into actuality. Any society not based on the dictates of law is unjust. There is no moral relavitism at work in creation; rather, God's law represents the noblest ideals of goodness. This crucial concept arises out of the Ten Commandments and the Festival of Shavuot, celebrating God's giving the Jews the law at Sinai.

Man Is Not Master of the Planet, but Must Seek to Be One with the Universe, Protecting All Life and the Environment. Man is custodian of the earth, and the world is his garden, which he must nurture and protect. This idea emanates from Adam and Eve's being placed in the Garden of Eden, as well as from the Festival of Sukkot, a seven-day period of total immersion in nature, which sensitizes man to its wonders.

Leadership Is the Cornerstone of Human Inspiration and Social Change. Strong leadership is central to every healthy society. "Without vision," as King Solomon said, "the people will perish." This concept emerges from the centrality of the Messiah to social change, as well as the critical role the Kohen-Priests and the Rabbis have played in Jewish history.

Man Must Have Values by Which to Live. A healthy life is one in which priorities are set. Those things that are eternal and valuable, like family, must be placed before the ephemeral and superficial, like career and success. A day of rest every week is essential in retreating from the bustle of every day life in order to reconsider priorities and rejuvenate the spirit. Judaism is solely responsible for teaching man that rest has a higher function than simply facilitating more work. This is another idea that stems from the weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath is an uninterrupted celebration of values, wherein the important is never superseded by the urgent.

Man Is More Than the Sum Total of His Actions. Man possesses an internal soul that transcends the negative things he does. Man can always reinvent himself and turn his life around. Renewal is at the heart of retaining passion in life, and man is possessed of an infinite capacity to recreate himself. This idea stems from the Jewish belief in repentance and the numerous biblical examples of God's heartily accepting sincere regret, most notably in the story of the prophet Jonah and the city of Nineveh. It is also the theme behind Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, as well as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Man Must Harbor a Hatred for War, Violence, and the Sight of Blood. Instilling these ideas is the purpose behind the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut and strict prohibitions against eating blood.

The Family is the Bedrock of Society and the Most Important Social Unit. Some of the most important biblical observances, such as the eating of the paschal lamb, can be done only in the family. Similarly, the Bible always counts the Jewish people in denominations of tribe and family.

Man Need Not Bow His Head in Submission in the Face of Seeming Divine Injustice, and Humans Must Never Accept the Suffering of Their Fellowmen in Silence. Man's highest calling is wrestling with God. We are invited to enter into a real relationship with God, involving give and take, not merely bowing and submission. This idea, found only in Judaism, traces its origin to the name Israel (Yisrael), literally, "he who wrestles with God," as well as to the giants of Jewish history, like Abraham and Moses, who contended with God about punishing sinners.

Men and Women are Different but Equal. Men and women have different ways by which to maximize their fullest, unique potentials. This stems from Adam and Eve's having been created separately, but as complements to each other, as each other's helpmates. The Bible gives different laws for men and women, and both kinds of laws are vital to the nation.

The World Is Enriched by Cultural and Ethnic Diversity. Racism is evil because it denies the improvement that every people brings as it joins the family of nations. By working together, respecting one another, and being enhanced through exposure to one another's differences, we create a family of nations, or to use the biblical metaphor, a garden whose beauty is dependent on its different colors and fauna. This critical idea is inherent in the concept of the Jews' being the nation chosen to bring together the disparate contributions of all other nations within one divine framework.

The Most Beautiful Things in Life Are Those That, like Love, Are Invisible, Transcendent, and Cannot Be Experienced with the Five Senses. This follows from the belief in God, holiness, and spirituality.

Man Must Do the Right Thing Because It Is Right, Even If That Makes Him Unpopular or Jeopardizes His Vital Interest. This, one of humankind's hardest lessons, has been taught to the Jew by two thousand years of anti-Semitism.

Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons Is Far More Important Than Waiting for the Proper Motivation. This idea is based on the Jewish obsession with world redemption, which always comes before personal salvation.

Now that Western society has adopted or at least pays lip service to the values I listed, the question that follows is this: Why do we still need religion? Judaism has imparted a wealth of content and meaning to the lives of the earth's inhabitants, but now that its role as a harbinger of these eternal values has been fulfilled, can it not be consigned to the dustbin of history? Isn't religion nothing more than an attempt to make people better? So let's get rid of the ritual and focus on the message.

There are two answers to the question why we still need religion. First, religion's highest purpose is not to perfect the stae of humankind, but to draw people closer to God and, by extension, to one another. Second, although religion's secondary purpose is to uplift man from the level of the animal, it is not enough simply to teach man values. Rather, a program must be established that actually instills values into the human psyche so that they are translated from the abstract into the permanent.

The monumental values I have listed cannot remain like flowers cut off from their roots. Judaism is not just a collection of ideas. More significantly, it is a program of action by which to bring Godly ethics and values to mankind, ensuring that they take root within the individual and each successive generation.

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