One of the great tasks of Jewish education is to deliberately create an atmosphere of rebellion among its students. Rebellion, after all, is the great emancipator. We owe nearly all of our knowledge and achievements not to those who agreed but to those who differed. It is this virtue that brought Judaism into existence. Avraham was the first rebel, destroying idols, and he was followed by his children, by Moshe, by the prophets, and finally, by the Jewish people.
What has been entirely forgotten is that the Torah was the first rebellious text to appear in world history. Its purpose was to protest. It set in motion a rebel movement of cosmic proportions the likes of which we have never known. The text includes all the radical heresies of the past, present and future. It calls idol-worship an abomination, immorality an abhorrence, the worship of man a catastrophe. It protests against complacency, self-satisfaction, imitation, and negation of the spirit. It calls for radical thinking and drastic action without compromise, even when it means standing alone, being condemned and ridiculed.
All of this seems to be entirely lost on our religious establishment. We are instructing our students and children to obey, to fit in, to conform and not stand out. We teach them that their religious leaders are great people because they are “all-right-niks” who would never think of disturbing the established religious and social norms. We train them to view these leaders as the ideal to be emulated. But by doing so, we turn our backs on authentic Judaism and convey the very opposite of what Judaism is meant to project.
By using clichés instead of the language of opposition, we deny our students the excitement of being Jewish: excitement resulting from the realization that there is a need to revolt and take pride in it, no matter the cost; excitement at the awareness that they are part of a great mission for which they are prepared to die, knowing that it will make the world a better place because they are the real protestants.
When we teach our children to eat kosher, we should tell them that this is an act of disobedience against consumerism that encourages human beings to eat anything as long as it tastes good. When we go to synagogue, it is a protest against man’s arrogance in thinking that he can do it all by himself. When couples observe the laws of family purity, it is a rebellion against the obsession with sex. By celebrating Shabbat, we challenge our contemporary world that believes our happiness depends on how much we produce.
As long as our religious educators continue to teach Jewish texts as models of approval, instead of manifestations of protest against the mediocrity of our world, we will lose more of our young people to that very mediocrity.
Judaism, in its essence, is an act of dissent, not of consent. Dissent leads to renewal. It creates loyalty. It is the force that compels the world to grow.
To forget this is to betray Judaism.