In last week’s essay, I suggested that we take much more notice of the Jewish people’s spiritual uniqueness and of the power of Judaism, so as to deeply inspire possible candidates for conversion, especially those who are living in Israel and are of Jewish decent, though not halachically Jewish.
Too little attention has been given to this matter, and most conversion programs have implemented nothing even close to what we have suggested. They pay lip service only.
It is as if the heads of these programs no longer believe in the power of Judaism, or have not understood the sweeping ideological dimensions of this phenomenon. So they offer a lukewarm introduction to Judaism’s thought.
There is absolutely no point in teaching the intricate laws of Shabbat unless the candidate has a deep understanding of the ideological basis of Shabbat and is shown how these laws emerge from this ideology. This is true regarding every other aspect of Judaism as well.
It cannot be done in a few standard classes, quoting several authorities and thinkers. It requires in-depth treatment in which candidates can state their own opinions and are encouraged to argue with the teacher. The last thing that should happen is for the teacher to spoon-feed the students. One cannot inherit Judaism; one can only discover it on one’s own with a little help from a great teacher.
This problem is widespread not only in conversion classes. It is a tragic malady afflicting a large part of mainstream Orthodoxy. We teach our children Talmud and Halacha, but little time, if any, is given to the great musical symphony behind the talmudic texts, or behind the halachic codes such as the Mishnah Berurah. What is the point in teaching them these texts when they have little or no idea of what they are actually studying?
Mainstream Judaism has lost its belief that Judaism is something unique and is actually the greatest idea that was ever launched in world history.
We see this decline in the fact that by now many rabbis are rewriting Judaism in ways that make it dogmatic, small-minded and ultimately just like another mediocre religion that is completely disconnected from reality and no longer has much to do with what Judaism actually stands for.
It is no surprise, then, that this kind of Judaism is losing many of its young people.
To argue that most people have no interest in Judaism is a fundamental mistake. Most human beings long for meaning in their lives, but are unable to find it on their own. Some don’t even recognize their deep desire for it.
Just as a human being who’s never had an encounter with classical music won’t know what he’s missing until he is introduced to Mozart, Beethoven or Bach, so it is with Judaism. But it all depends on who is playing the music. Performing music is more than just playing musical notes. It is liberating them from the confines of those very notes while not transgressing them. The notes are only the departure, not the arrival.
Who will not be deeply touched and feel their souls bursting out of their bodies when they hear the late famous pianist Annie Fischer play Schumann’s Klavierkonzert in A minor? Heaven descends on every sensitive human soul that hears these sounds, as the intimate reverberations burst out of the instrument, which is more than just a piano.
Suddenly, the listener feels his soul being touched and taken on an incredible journey, which he has never before known. A whole new world opens up and man becomes transformed. Just as a symphony is a mission in which all the emotions of the composer, the conductor and the musician come together, so it is with Judaism. Judaism is a mission, and it is one that most people in the world long for. Every human being carries the potential to look at a pile of stones and imagine a cathedral.
Most people want to be part of a mission, but since it was never offered to them they aren’t even aware that it is what they are seeking.
Somehow, many rabbis and teachers seem to have lost their own search. If you have not been to paradise, you cannot lead another through this heavenly experience. French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said that the great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.
Still, one cannot expect that all candidates for conversion are alike, and surely it will take time before they can grasp the uniqueness of Judaism and hear its music. Some will never be able to grow into it; others will need a long time, and for some the commitment will be too much.
How can we deal with this problem? Stay tuned.