When will we ever learn? 

Our sages have taught that the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple and the resulting Diaspora was that the Jewish people engaged in sinat chinam, baseless hatred among themselves. Last year on Tisha b’Av, charedi thugs disrupted the observance of that day by breaking up the prayer gathering taking place at the egalitarian section of the Kotel.

This year, as we again approach Tisha b’Av, charedi vandals viciously disrupted three American bar mitzvah celebrations, again taking place at the egalitarian section of the Kotel, and in effect ruining three children’s coming of age celebrations. The police watched and did nothing as these innocent simcha attendees were called Nazis, prayerbooks were desecrated, and the events were ruined. Can one imagine what would have occurred had secular Jews tried to disrupt a charedi service at the Kotel?  What would have happened if Palestinians attempted to do the same? 

If we as a people are to ever learn from the past, now is assuredly the time. Every Jewish organization that we support must unequivocally condemn such malicious and inappropriate behavior. Moreover, these same organizations and institutions must make it crystal clear to the Israeli government that the long ago developed Kotel compromise must be implemented without any further delay. Let us be careful not to repeat one of our greatest historical mistakes.

Richard Kahn

The nature of belief

I read with interest the recent article you featured by Andrew-Silow-Carroll with his take on the newly minted theory of Fictionalism, whereby religious rituals are practiced in tandem with a deficit of belief in G-d, and how he reads this theory into the outreach practices of Chabad-Lubavitch. (“Religion for non-believers: It’s a Jewish thing,” July 1.)

Andrew writes: “In an ethos that is part mysticism and part pragmatism, Chabad holds that doing precedes believing.”

It is Andrew’s contention that Fictionalism is “principled self-deception,” which is lamentably more appealing than secularism but is somehow luring Jews into Jewish observance successfully, as can be observed in the work of Chabad-Lubavitch.

While I am in no position to debate Andrew’s presentation of Hershovitz, Goff, De Botton, and a half dozen other prominent thinkers, I do believe your readers deserve a better understanding of Jewish ritual as it is conceived of by Chabad-Lubavitch.

Indeed, it is regrettable that someone of the prominence of the said author would cast a vibrant movement such as Chabad-Lubavitch as being engaged in “Fictionalism” without making the most elementary attempt at understanding its underlying doctrine from the inside out.

The nature of a Jew’s belief in G-d is addressed in the seminal work of Chabad Chassidism, the Tanya, which makes the following case: a Jew, no matter whom, possesses a divine soul which is a part of G-d, as it were. The inner consciousness of this soul is never severed from G-d, nor does it wish to be. As a “part” of G-d, it wishes to see the divinely ordained destiny of mankind fulfilled in its entirety through the Torah and its precepts, which is the divine Will. The soul’s belief in G-d is irrevocable and this inner voice of faith can only be muted but never extinguished, regardless of how deep one questions or doubts G-d’s existence or abandons religious practice.

It is Chabad’s belief that when a Jew performs a mitzvah; when a Jewish woman lights the Shabbat candles, she is recalibrating her actions with her core beliefs and true identity, deep within her soul. She may be intellectually or emotionally conflicted about G-d and may harbor uncertainty or misgivings about religion, rabbis and ritual; but her Jewish core still remains wholesome and intact, standing at the ready for a spark of positive, divinely oriented energy, to ignite her passion for what she knows deep down to be true.

If “the impulse behind all those mitzvah tanks and advertisements imploring women to light Shabbos candles” were to be understood as anything other than to strengthen people’s belief in G-d, it would constitute a most egregious oversight of the central tenets of Chabad philosophy.

Actions have the power to enhance a relationship, and our relationship with G-d is no exception.  Maximizing “Jewish behaviors” maximizes one’s belief in G-d because a mitzvah connects one to G-d. And this is precisely the reason Chabad-Lubavitch outreach has been so successful: a mitzva hands a Jew the gift of discovering his or her true Jewish identity, his or her G-dly soul. This is because mitzvos are not just practices that foster community and continuity; they are divine mechanisms that help us recognize our true selves and help us sense, for even just a moment, the truth behind our reality, the truth of G-d.

So in sum, what all those people putting on Tefillin and lighting Shabbat candles are embracing is a return to their roots, to who they really are. It’s a phenomenon being celebrated all over the world, as it should be.

Rabbi Avrohom Bergstein
Associate Rabbi
Anshei Lubavitch of Fair Lawn

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