Mendy Kaminker
Mendy Kaminker

Why ‘oy veys’ are bad for Judaism

A conversation between “Frank” and Rabbi Mendy Kaminker:

Frank: Rabbi, I think that you are treating them with kid gloves.

Me: treating who?

Frank: everyone. You are just too nice and too accommodating. A few days ago, for example, I saw you talking to two young Jewish men who moved to town. You were friendly, offered to wrap Tefillin with them and invited them to learn Torah together.

Me: And what’s wrong with that?

Frank: I’m not saying it’s wrong to be nice. I am saying that it’s wrong to always be nice.

Think of the Prophets. They always rebuked the people, warned them and told them about the great punishments for those who deviate from G-d’s ways. How about following that path, for a change? How about telling these two young guys that if they do not take Judaism seriously, they will assimilate and lose themselves forever from the Jewish people? I don’t think it’s too bad if you mention that there’s reward waiting for those who follow G-d’s paths and punishment waiting for those who don’t?

Me: honestly, it is very likely that these young people are not so connected to Judaism precisely because of your approach.

Frank: explain.

Me: For far too long, in too many Jewish homes, the motivation to stay Jewish was based only on negativity. Too many oy veys. If you marry out, you will make your parents sad. If you eat non-kosher, you will really upset your bubby. If you do not do this or that, G-d will be angry.

Did it work? In many cases, it didn’t. Because the best way to motivate someone is by positive motivation.

Think of yourself: You mentioned that your doctor recently told you that you have to lose weight. Now imagine if someone constantly warned you, “If you don’t lose weight, you’ll be sick! You have to diet, or otherwise! Eating this cake is really bad for you!” These warnings would have an impact on you, but a short-lived impact.

However, if someone kept reminding you that eating well will make you feel better, choosing the salad instead of the cake will greatly benefit your life, and walking daily will lift your spirit – the constant positive messages had a greater chance to helping you make the right decisions

If we want people – young or old! – to embrace their Judaism, it must come from a happy place. And Judaism is all about happiness. As King David reminds us in Psalm, “Serve G-d with joy.” Each moment of our Jewish experience must be a happy moment.

If we want Judaism to thrive, we must do it with much less oy and much more joy.

Frank: So how do you explain the Prophets? When you read the Tanach, so much rebuking; why is that?

Me: Actually, now is the ideal time to ask this question.  Because we are just about to celebrate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s Yahrzeit, the famous Kabbalist who was one of the greatest Talmudic sages.

In his famous book, the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon quoted a phrase from the prophet Chavakuk, who said: “God, I heard what was said of You, and I was afraid”! And Rabbi Shimon noted: There (in the prophetic era), fear was appropriate. For us, it (our connection) is dependent on affection. As Scripture says: You shall love the Lord your G-d; and it is written: From the Lord’s love of you; and it is written: I have loved you, said the Lord.”

On the basis of this statement, there was clearly a shift. Perhaps in the times of the prophets, rebuke was more appreciated and effective, but for us “it is dependent on affection”. Our motivation to stay connected to G-d should be mainly based on our love and affection to him, not on fear.

“If you look at the different approaches in recent memory,” the Rebbe once said, “you would easily come to the conclusion that the love-based approach is much more successful than the other.

So Frank, to be frank, it is much easier to focus on rebuking and rebuking. It takes less energy and less effort, but the only way to influence lasting change is to inspire with love and joy.

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of
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