There is a good chance that being a Jew means little or nothing to you. That would make a great deal of sense because few Jews have been raised to take Judaism seriously. This is not a judgment on your parents. Most of them weren’t raised that way either. It is just a fact.
Nevertheless, to the extent that you have the slightest sense — even a negative one — of being a Jew, here are some ideas I would ask you to consider as you enter adulthood.
If you incorporate Judaism into your life, you will be both a better and a happier human being.
It will give you — to the extent you choose — God, membership in the most ancient and arguably the most influential group in history, and a lifelong and life-filling purpose.
Let’s begin with God.
Since no American religious or ethnic group is as secular or even atheist as are Jews, there is a good chance that you are either agnostic or atheist. So I ask you to do something few if any Jews have asked you to do: Consider taking God seriously. As even neuroscience now suggests, we human beings are hard-wired to believe in a God.
Here are some reasons you should consider taking God seriously.
First, a life without God has no objective meaning. If there is no God who made the world, nothing has any ultimate meaning. Everything, including you, your family, your friends, your beloved pet, are pure coincidences about which the universe couldn’t care less. Your birth was purposeless, as are your life and your death. You make no more difference to the universe than the chair you are presently sitting on. I know that you probably feel that your life has significance. We all feel that way, but if there is no Creator, that is just a feeling we have in order to protect ourselves from confronting the meaningless of it all.
Second, without God, there is no ultimate good and evil. There is no moral code in nature; either there is a God who is the source of morality (objective right and wrong) or there is no moral right and wrong. Without a transcendent source of morality, there are only opinions of what is right or wrong. I am sure that you feel that gassing Jews and lynching blacks were wrong; but the people who did those things thought they were right. If there is no God, how do you know whose opinion was right? Because you feel it? So what? Why are your moral feelings better than a Nazi’s moral feelings? Again, neither nature nor science provide morality. The only law of nature is “survival of the fittest,” which means “kill the weakest.” Nazism was based on that law of nature.
In fact, “kill the weakest” has been most of humanity’s law as well — until we Jews gave the world the universal moral God that much of the world eventually came to believe in. No one before us gave the world a universal moral God. No one. And this idea is the most important one in mankind’s history.
Without it, the world will never come close to being a good place. Only when the world comes to believe that the Creator of the world demands that everyone — Jew, non-Jew, American, Arab, Japanese — be good and that He (I call God “He” because “It” is too impersonal, not because God is a man) judges everyone by the same moral standard — is there any hope that good will be far more common than evil.
I know that you have been told that God is unnecessary to morality. But, if God is not the source of a standard of right and wrong, who or what will be? Your heart? The government? Neither is at all reliable.
Yes, I know that many Jews (and non-Jews) today reject God as the source of right and wrong. But you should know that the whole purpose of the Jewish people has been to announce to the world that there is one God for all people and that this God demands that all people be good. We Jews never said that everyone has to be Jewish. Because God judges all people by their good and bad deeds, we Jews have never demanded, let alone forced, others to become Jewish. There are many ways to come to the One God. But there are no other moralities. We care that everyone be good, not Jewish.
Which brings me to the issue of purpose. Without a clear sense of purpose, people cannot live a meaningful or happy life. And no nation can survive without a sense of purpose. That is the secret of the Jews’ 3,200 years of existence, mostly outside of a homeland: Jews have lived with the deepest sense of having a purpose. We have believed from the beginning that we are The Chosen People. Never in Jewish history did this mean that we Jews are superior to others. In fact, one of the main reasons I believe the Jewish Bible is true is that Jews are never depicted in it as better than anyone else, and often are depicted as pretty awful. Chosenness only means that we have a God-given task, not any innate superiority.
If we Jews were true to our mission — to bring the world to belief in the one God who is the source of one morality and who demands we be moral — the world would be unrecognizably better.
By affirming membership in the Jewish people, you not only become part of the greatest moral project in history, you give yourself something else that is necessary for a happier and better life: something bigger than yourself to belong to. Another thing for which we are hardwired is to be part of a community. And no one has a longer history of communal belonging than Jews. By identifying with the Jewish people, you not only identify with the longest uninterrupted way of life in human history, you also share your life today with Jews around the world. Life should not be lived alone. And by living a Jewish life, we celebrate each other’s births, transitions to adulthood (bar and bat mitzvahs), marriages, holidays and, yes, pain and death as well.
I know that nearly all this is probably new to you. If you had any Jewish education, you probably learned some Hebrew prayers, and that’s it. Not very inspiring, I admit. But before you live another 80 years without God and/or Judaism, you owe it to yourself to explore Judaism. Maybe you will conclude that it is nonsense. But at least you will then be able to say that you know what it is you have rejected.
We Jews need you. You need us. And the world needs Jewish Jews.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.