Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Religious Renaissance

Rabbi Adlerstein has a post on a disturbing subject at Cross-Currents. He makes some good points, and I do not mean to negate any of the constructive criticism in the post. However, I think an important possibility is being overlooked.

The question is, why is it that seemingly well-adjusted citizens of Israel are moving to Messianic Judaism for their religious experience? While the question was raised in the scope of Israel and Messianic Judaism, the issue is just as valid when asked about youth in any Jewish community who replace the religious experience of traditional Judaism with any alternative. It is my contention that the answer lies in the culture of replacement that we have absorbed from the world around us.

We live in a world-culture whose mantra is, ‘if it’s not perfect, trade it in!’ Every day, people opt to upgrade their cell phones, computers and cars, instead of having their present ones fixed. It is easier, and the thrill of novelty is an opiate to the drudgery that is so much of life.

The same holds true for many aspects of our lives. The current culture is that if a marriage becomes challenging, divorce is the answer. If one's career seems to grow boring, career change is immediately suggested. People pick up and drop hobbies and leisure activities in the blink of an eye. Sadly, this replacement culture has invaded the study halls, as well. Many people feel the need to constantly be presented with novel, interesting subjects in university or the beit midrash. Sadly, even religious experience, no matter how inspiring, can become routine, and that spark we first felt when serving God may be dampened.

The fact is that habit can be a bore. No matter how exhilarating, the doing the same thing every day can become dull, and people will begin to look for new inspiration. And so, we must ask: how are we meant to deal with flagging interest in these areas of life that are so important? Mature people who are confident in their faith will look inward for this renaissance, but many modern people will immediately look outward to find religious renewal.

It is unfair to place the blame for the lack of this external renewal on the practitioners of Jewish Orthodoxy. Even in boredom, it is our job to recognize the inherent value in what we are doing, and re-ignite our passion through it. We can’t just trade it in, when it is an important part of our lives.

This level of responsibility and maturity must be a part of our educational plans for our youth. We must periodically bring up new aspects of the service of Hashem. There are plenty. A good discussion on the power of prayer can be enough to uplift a flagging spirit. Excitement about the poetry and depth of Tanach is another way to boost interest. Educators must make an effort to show their charges the many aspects of Torah, and teach them that they can find renewed inspiration through their age-old traditions, instead of looking for it in other faiths.