Should I Be Jewish Just Because My Parents Are?

The following is a question submitted by a Maidelle reader:
My parents decided to keep Shabbat and kosher and send me to a Jewish school and all that stuff. How can I enjoy Judaism if it’s just a tradition from my parents? As I grow up, I need to grapple with the decision to take religion or observance for myself. I don’t know.

We asked another one of our readers, Chaya Freeman, to respond, here is what she had to say:
I’m probably your age, so I’ve been thinking through the same question. It’s a funny question, the type I like to flick off with a simple answer that doesn’t make much more sense than the question does. I tell myself, my mother is Jewish, and therefore I am, too. A sheep is born a sheep because its mother is a sheep, and I was born a Jew because my mother was born a Jew.

But the question is a good nudnik question and it doesn’t leave me alone. Sure, being born to a Jewish mother is a sign that I am Jewish, but it’s not the reason I am Jewish.

Being Jewish is a personal thing. It means G-d and I have a relationship. G-d and I, we like to talk. I talk to G-d in the morning, and at night before I go to sleep. In the middle of the day, I tuck my chair into my desk, turn off my phone, and we talk, and G-d listens to me, at least some of the time.

A relationship also means that we do things for each other, so I always make sure to tell G-d what I want. Sometimes G-d does what I ask, and sometimes G-d doesn’t, and that’s also part of the relationship. I try to do what G-d wants, like my parents do, and like their parents did before them. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes I do it just because it’s what I’m used to doing. Sometimes I wonder which is worse.

In a real relationship, there is passion in the words you share. There is magic in the things you do for each other. There is love in the recipe every time you throw it together. Spilling a box of Quaker’s oatmeal cookies onto a tray and serving them as homebaked is cheating.

If being a Jew means that I have a special relationship with someone as awesome as G-d, then I’m going to take advantage of that relationship. Sure, it’s not easy being in a relationship when your partner asks so much of you, and I mess up a lot, but I try my best.

I think more than anything else, G-d wants me to be real. G-d wants me to act like a Jew because I want to, not because it became a habit for me.

If I act like a Jew just because my mother does, then I’m like a sheep which eats grass just because her mother does. I’m pouring machine-made cookies onto a pretty tray. Life becomes cold and boring, the relationship dies, and I bury it in my backyard.

G-d wanted me to be born a Jew, I don’t know why. But I am a Jew because G-d chose me to have a special relationship. It’s a personal thing.

~ Chaya Freeman

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