3 Things I’d Like to Change About Judaism

On the seventh day of Passover, we had lunch at our friends’ house. By day seven, most everyone has had enough of matza and of holidays. Yet, among traditionalists living outside Israel, another day remains. And so a certain amount of Pesach fatigue is natural. Our host, J., innocently offered her opinion about the three things she would change about traditionally observant Judaism if she could. Finding this fascinating [and being a bit of a trouble-maker], I suggested we go around the table and let everyone give their list. Soon, other friends and neighbors stopped by and joined the festivities. When the holiday ended, JR, another friend, had posted this topic on Facebook, and the conversation continued.

A quick word about change in Judaism: Judaism changes. Period. It may change differently depending on whether one is a traditional Jew or a liberal Jew. But change occurs. None of us observes a Judaism that existed 1,000 years ago, or even 100 years ago. Nobody.

Having said that, it looked to me like the changes desired fit into two broad categories: 1. Halacha / Jewish practice; 2. Jewish sociology and custom. These are some of the responses:

Halacha / Jewish Practice

  1. Eliminate the Ashkenazic practice of not eating kitniyot (rice, corn, peas, beans, peanuts) on Pesach. How communities decided that someone might confuse a rice product with the grains that can actually become leavened is unclear. But labeling Tupperware containers should alleviate any concerns.
  2. Eliminate the yom tov sheni – additional day of Biblical holidays – observed by traditional Diaspora Jews for Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot, and by all traditional Jews, including in Israel, for Rosh Hashana. There is a fixed Jewish calendar, so the original issue yom tov sheni was meant to fix: uncertainly of dates, has not been an issue for well over 1,000 years. 
  3. Eliminate the prohibition against men using a straight-edge razor. Biblical law prohibits sharing the “corners” of one’s beard. Electric shavers can only go so far.
  4. Eliminate the objections to showering on Shabbat. 
  5. Eliminate the prohibition against shaatnez, wearing clothing of wool & linen combinations
  6. Loosen kashrut restrictions (especially when travelling) – these suggestions ranged from permitting all wines to allowing all foods that don’t have clearly non-Kosher ingredients to returning chicken to its original pareve (non-meat) status
  7. Change laws of divorce so that women cannot be “chained” to marriage against their will
  8. Eliminate prohibitions against homosexuality (actually, only male homosexuality is against Biblical law)
Sociological
  1. Stop labelling Jews (Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Hasidic, Reconstructionist, etc.)
  2. Stop allowing rabbis to create new stringencies and demand that people follow them
  3. Do away with idea that, in some Orthodox circles, it is OK, or even desirable, for a man to “learn” all day, while his wife works. Doesn’t Mishna say that study without work is useless?
  4. Do away with day schools [there was no clear educational alternative suggested]
Here’s the thing: These, and many other changes have been made by at least some communities. In some cases, the changes were based on historical reality; in others, they were based on local practice; in still others, there were attempts at liberalizing or “modernizing” Jewish life.
My questions:
  • What would YOUR list of three things to change look like? 
  • What are the obstacles standing in the way of change?
  • For teachers of Judaism: Would you consider asking your students (at least those of middle – high school age) to list the three things they would change about Judaism? If you do, I’d love to see their lists.
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One response

  1. 1. I would change the strong demarcation line that Torah/Orthodox Judaism draws in dealing with non-Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jewish movements. When I first joined the Orthodox community, I appreciated this. You didn’t have to worry about the “acceptability” of the shirum you attended, the books you read, or even the music you listened to. However traveling to Israel…seeing first hand that there is a very large gray area (so-and-so is a very knowledgeable, engaging Torah scholar…but is a leader of a non-denominational chavurah….so can I learn with them, or not?). Many Orthodox rabbiem will not even sit to speak with non-Orthodox rabbiem. For many years, I followed suit. Found myself passing judgement and shunning unnecessarily. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

    2. Kol isha. I get it…but I don’t. As a woman, this should be a non-issue or me. I can understand it’s point in regards to davening or singing zemirot. However should it also extend to the performances of young Jewish girls…where fathers cannot go see their daughters perform? And oh, pop music is also out (not that there is any great loss there, but in the last 50 years, there have been some amazing female pop singers frum men are missing out on).

    3. Honestly about discrimination and racism. I was going to call out ‘conversion to Judaism…the process’ specifically. But as I thought about it, the larger, underlying issue is xenophobia. Post-Shoah, many Jews have nurtured a superiority complex…where the Jews are good…and non-Jews are evil and not to be trusted. An ideal human being…is a Jewish human being so to speak. This spills over into everything; especially when a non-Jew is looking to become Jewish. To many Jews, this person is forever tainted….even after the mikveh. Judaism needs to leave this idea behind COMPLETELY. We are a chosen people…not a superior people. There is a very big difference between the two.

    Shabbat Shalom!

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