In a recent column I argued for the need to bring Judaism to the mainstream world. Judaism has nearly always been relegated to a backseat role. This is bizarre, given that every great monotheistic faith derives its core principles and indeed its monotheistic raison d’?tre from Judaism. In effect, this makes Judaism the light of the world. Judaism is also, of course, the faith for which Jesus both lived and died, not Christianity. And yet, the light of Judaism has never been allowed to directly illuminate the earth with its potent radiance. Jews have forever erred in feeling that Judaism is not for non-Jews. Ironically, the greatest enemy of Judaism throughout the ages has been the Jews themselves who have remained utterly convinced that Judaism has nothing important say to the wider world. The results have been tragic. First, relative to the general population, there are barely any Jews in the world because we refuse to spread the light of our faith to those who might adopt it. Second, anti-Semitism could arguably have been mitigated had the demonization our people and our faith been countered by millions of non-Jews who turned to Judaism for wisdom and guidance.
It is time to correct this greatest of all Jewish omissions. The time for Judaism has arrived. The world today faces unprecedented social problems that Judaism is uniquely qualified to address. Whereas other religions focus on salvation and see the purpose of faith as assisting humans in gaining a place in heaven, Judaism’s supreme focus is on mastering life and bettering the earth.
I recently walked through the streets of Dublin where I was visiting for a television appearance. I saw a group of evangelical Christians promoting their faith on the streets of one of the most Catholic countries on earth. As I watched these Christian missionaries publicly argue that their faith had greater application to modern problems than the one being practiced by their listeners, I wondered to myself, why not Judaism? To be sure, Jews would never pull someone from a religion to which they are devoted. But the vast majority of people in the Western world have either rejected religion or pay only lip service to their faith. Why not offer them Judaism, which has the most profound answers to the simple questions of existence that human beings most fail at today: How we do keep the love alive in marriage? How do we inspire our children? And how do we overcome a life of shallowness and lift up our material endeavors so that they acquire transcendent purpose?
What would a universal Judaism look like? I propose the following as the basis for a worldwide campaign that the Jewish community can launch to both illuminate the world with the light of Jewish values, heal the world of many of its social maladies, and inspire the Jews themselves to recommit to a tradition that their non-Jewish counterparts find awe-inspiring and wise. First, and foremost, there would be a declaration that you don’t have to be Jewish to practice Judaism. Rather, it’s about bringing the following principles into your life, whatever your identity.
Values: Focus on the following values as the cornerstone of your life.
1. A passion for study and the acquisition of knowledge.
‘. Fate does not exist. What we become in our lifetime is dependent entirely on the choices we make. Period. Man possesses freedom of choice at all times. Therefore, choose righteousness.
3. Charity is the mother of all virtue. Give generously.
4. Define yourself by personal relationships rather than professional achievements. Put family first.
5. Do the right thing even for the wrong reasons. Repairing the world is more important than repairing yourself. World redemption precedes personal salvation.
6. Hate evil and fight it. Wrestle even with God in the face of seemingly divine miscarriages of justice.
7. Every human being is created in God’s image and all are thus equal and their lives are sacred.
The Sabbath: Every Friday to Saturday night, impose a ‘4-hour technology cutoff that insulates you from the busy-ness of the world. Do not answer the phone. Do not turn on the TV. Walk instead of drive. Reconnect with family and community.
Marital Law: Have sex in marriage as often as possible. Lovemaking is the glue that keeps a husband and wife intimately connected. But separate sexually for 1′ consecutive days each month in order to impose an erotic barrier in the relationship that both enhances lust and makes your bodies exciting and new. Do not think about anyone but your spouse during sex. The focus should be on the woman’s pleasure before the man’s. A man must respect his wife more than he respects himself.
Child-rearing: From the earliest age instill within your child a love of learning. When your children are young, impose borders and rules that they know not to cross. As your children grow older, relax the left hand of discipline and begin the right hand of inspiration. Have regular talks with your children about the afore-mentioned values. And apologize freely to your kids when you have hurt them.
Holidays: The Jewish year revolves around eight holidays evoking eight different meditations and reflections. On Rosh HaShanah, reflect on God’s kingship and the subjugation of our lives to His will. On Yom Kippur, reflect on misdeeds and the need to repent of error and better our ways. On Sukkot, immerse yourself in nature. Reflect on removing artifice and manipulation from your life and reconnect with your most authentic self. Light candles on Chanukah and reflect on the soul’s capacity to illuminate the world’s darkness and the power of goodness to triumph over evil. On Purim, reflect on the joy that comes with knowing that God’s providence determines all human events. Celebrate God’s guiding hand in history. On Passover reflect on human liberty and the spiritual capacity to transcend physical limitation. On Shavuot, reflect on the centrality of law to human governance and the importance of divinely ordained ritual in communing with God. On Tisha B’Av, mourn for all the human tragedies that have forever consumed the innocent at the hands of the wicked and pray for the redemption of mankind.
The Bible: Read a chapter of the Hebrew Bible every day. Begin with Genesis and proceed through the end of the Hebrew prophets. Make the Bible a constant source of discussion at home.
Dietary Laws: Eat only kosher animals, defined as animals that are not themselves predatory and are only vegetarian. They possess split hooves rather than paws which makes them incapable of preying on the weak. Never mix dairy and meat products as a symbol of the need to always embrace life and abhor death. Milk is the elixir of life. Meat is death incarnate.
Obviously, this summation is only a beginning and minds greater than my own will refine and fine-tune the universal Judaism that we can then disseminate. But disseminate it we must.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s "Shalom in the Home." His forthcoming book is "The Broken American Male" (St. Martin’s Press).