What does Judaism mean to you?


Judaism impacts each and every person differently. Embark on a heartfelt journey with Mijal and Noam as they delve into the heart of Jewish tradition and explore what makes Judaism so special to them. From Jewish law and Shabbat to the supportive bonds of community, they reveal the enduring beauty and significance of Judaism in their lives.

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to figure out the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out, but we try to figure it out together.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Mijal: And we really love hearing from you. Please keep the feedback coming. Email us at and call us 1-833-W-O-N-Jews. Don’t forget that, Noam. That’s the number.

Noam: Okay.

But we do have a listener question, Noam. So this week’s question is from Jonathan and he asks, if you have a 30-minute walk or if you’re folding laundry or whatever like mindless task, who do you call in those 30 minutes?

Noam: I don’t like phone calls. my gosh, I hate phone calls. You hate phone calls? I hate phone calls. I’m so bad at phone calls. Terrible phone calls. I’m very bad at phone calls. Okay, okay. I feel very seen right now. Yeah, no, this is good to know. I don’t like phone calls. What do you feel about voice notes? No, no, voice notes, no. Don’t leave voice notes. Are you a voice notes person? Is that why you prefer more than phone calls? So I am, I’m bad. I’ll tell you why I’m bad. Because I like…

Sending them. But don’t like receiving them. Of course, no one likes receiving them. Awful. Yeah. They’re awful. But that’s not the answer to Jonathan’s question. I don’t know. So no, you have 30 minutes. My mom, my mom, the answer is my mom. That’s very nice. That’s my answer too, by the way. That’s the right answer to the question, by the way. Actually, yeah, you should call your mom every day if you can. Okay, people… Not every day, but… Okay, let’s all, let’s all do better at calling our moms. It’s a good thing to do in general. I think what I like to do though, what does your 30 minute experience look like if you’re not making a phone call? What are you doing to like utilize that time?

What do you do, Noam? How often do you fold laundry?

Noam: I’ll tell you what I do. I’m not a good laundry folder. I’m not. Very good dishwasher. I’d put myself in top 10 dishwasher out there.

Mijal: Okay, that’s the new list. Now, who are you comparing yourself to?

Noam: I don’t know, but I think that I am one of the better dishwashers out there. I am detail-oriented. Okay. I care about my craft. Okay, all right. let’s move to a more serious question. Yeah. Okay.

But so obviously we both love Judaism. I think we love being Jewish. We kind of work at being Jewish. So I want to ask you a question about it, actually. If you were to think about… Do you think that you care about Judaism and the things that you do just because you were born into it or is there something about being Jewish and Judaism that feels unique, different than other religions? Do you get my question? Am I asking it right?

Noam: I get your question. The way I’m thinking about that question though is what makes Judaism distinct for me and very particular for me. Meaning you’re not asking what makes Judaism different than Buddhism or Judaism different than Christianity or Judaism different than Islam. Correct?

Mijal: No, although that would be fascinating on a different day, we should do that.

Noam: Yeah, let’s do that separately. But what makes Judaism so unique for me? So this question is a question that I remember the first time I grappled with this question was I was in third grade. I was in an afternoon, Shabbat afternoon, Saturday afternoon learning activity that was organized by Bnei Akiva. Okay?

Bnei Akiva, it’s a youth group. And the whole idea was to Shabbat afternoon, Saturday afternoon, Jewish kids who are observant of Shabbat, there’s not much to do outside of like figuring out great activities to do. Like let’s do something that’s meaningful that you can learn from, that’s experiential.

So, Bnei Akiva would then came to Baltimore and said, let’s make this Shabbat afternoon experience something that’s different, something that is productive. And I wasn’t allowed to go yet. I think it was for fourth graders and up. And I was a third grader. And I went.

Mijal: So, you snuck in. Snuck in. You broke the rules. Well, I have an older brother. To go to Jewish youth school. Yeah, by the way. Very nice. That’s when I broke the, I broke curfew at seminary, to go to like a prayer service that you weren’t allowed to go to.

Noam: This is like our… Rebellion. It’s our version of Jewish rebellion. Look how bad we are. We went there early. We got there late. Too much prayer, too much tarot. You were a third grader. I was following my older brother. My older brother is two years older and he was going to this activity and I went. And I remember the question that this, I viewed the person as like 50 years old, they were probably a 16 year old at the time. And they asked this question, the question was, if you weren’t born Jewish, would you be Jewish? Like would you choose to be Jewish? Yeah, would you choose to be Jewish? And then the next question was, if there are only the numbers, put aside the numbers, because I’m making this part up, but if there are only 15 .7 million Jews in the world,

Does that mean only 15 .7 million people are right about the world? And then it gets to this big existential question of what is truth and what are you searching for? And this is something that as a third grader, I remember – They ask this to you as a third grader? That’s like educational malpractice. But it came up and I’ve been thinking about it since, yeah, not every day. I’m not like every day thinking about this question. What makes Judaism so distinct? Okay, let me figure this out.

Let me solve for it. I like the way you put the question. So if you weren’t born Jewish, would you choose to be Jewish? And if yes, why? Is that the question? Yeah. So what was your third great answer? I wasn’t satisfied with it. I think people were talking about the examples that I remember hearing were the fact that there was a great revelation that happened to the Jewish people. Only the Jewish people experienced it. And so therefore the Jewish experience is so unique, different than everyone and it’s too bad that if you weren’t born Jewish, then you’re not doing anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish. One of the distinct character traits of Judaism is that you don’t have to be Jewish in order to ascend to heaven or anything like that. Well, that’s really interesting what you’re saying, Noam. You’re saying that they answered the first question through the second question, by which I mean, Judaism needs to be true, and right, compared to everything else for you to choose to be Jewish if you like, you know what I mean? Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. But I don’t think they were that philosophical about it. I don’t think it was, again, it was probably like a 10th grader who was running this activity.

Mijal: So let’s approach this question right now. I actually think about this question. I’ve also thought about it. We just had like a couple of weeks ago, we had the holiday of Shavuot, we were to see the Torah. And it actually came up in some of my conversations, like, is this something that we would want to be part of if we weren’t born into it? So what did you… Well, what’s your answer now? So the question of why be Jewish? Why be Jewish? So recently, I don’t know if you saw this. Why you know? Why I? For me, yeah. So I don’t know if you saw this, but Nas Daily… You know Nas Daily? Yeah, yeah, it’s awesome. Yeah, he’s great. He’s great. So he’s doing this thing where he’s tasting every religion. He wants to live a life of a religion for a month and see what that’s like. So if it’s Judaism or it’s Christianity or Islam, he’s trying out atheism also as a religion, which is interesting. He’s spending a month as an atheist. I mean, he’s like just sitting at Sam Harris’s feet. Is that what he’s doing? That would be so much fun, actually. Yeah, well, I would do that. I would do that, see what that’s like. And so he’s exploring Judaism and he says the most distinct aspect of Judaism is, you know what he said?

Mijal: What did he say?

Noam: He said, it’s arguing. Arguing for the sake of truth. Arguing for the sake of truth. But arguing. And I thought that was really interesting. Because in the video he showed, in this case I think it was men who were opposed, opposing one another. Not opposing in like an adversarial sort of way, but in a we are debating, we have the Talmud text in front of us and we are going to debate one another. And it’s this remarkable thing about Judaism. And they’re right, that they are sitting across from table. It looks like they’re yelling at each other, but they’re not actually yelling at each other. They are exploring ideas in Judaism and trying to figure out the truth of whatever it is that they are exploring. And he says that is the distinctive element. That’s what I came away with. I showed it to my 11 year old son as well, by the way, asked him what he came away with. And he said, argument, which was interesting. So it got me thinking a lot. If someone were to say to me, Noam, what you’re doing right now, what is so distinct about Judaism? So I have a top five. You know I like lists. I won’t say, so can I give you the top five? The top five things that make Judaism distinctive.

Mijal: But a question before you go there. Are these your top five that are also your answer to the question that you were posed in third grade, which is? if you were born into it, would you choose it? Because, by the way, to me, these are two different questions and I would actually have different answers for them. Like, what mixture that is indistinctive, and if I wasn’t born into it, would I choose it? If you weren’t born into it, would you choose it? Yeah, but I’m saying… Would you? No, no, yes, but the answer is to… You would? I think so, but it’s an… Why do you think that? It’s an unfaustifiable question though, because I don’t know what my life would be like if I was someone else, right? Correct. Okay. But why would you presume that you would choose it?

I think the question there is, do you love it so much that it’s not just imposed upon you or just quote unquote like inherited? And I love my people. I mean, I can talk about why also, but that to me, I might love it for reasons that don’t make it distinctive from everything else. So that’s, but that’s, you know. How does love work then? So what’s your, isn’t that why? That’s a different question. What’s your top five? But tell me top five, the answer to.

I’m answering why Judaism is so special to me. And from my experience.

Mijal: Give me your top five.

Noam: So number five, Judaism is both a religion and a people. That is something that makes it distinct and something that I love about it. So I’m answering two different questions in one. And I’ll give you a very quick story about what I mean by that. After 10 -7, I was walking around Manhattan. I did not have a kippah on my head. I had a hat on my head, because my wife and maybe my mother -in -law, I don’t remember who, was like, don’t wear a kippah in public in New York City. It’s not safe to do that anymore. And so you should put on a hat. And I was embarrassed that I did that and I listened, but I put on a hat. And this is within a few weeks of 10 -7. And this woman, I have no idea who she is by the way. And she just goes over to me and she goes, I’m so sorry. How’s your family doing? Like my family? She’s like, how’s your family doing? And I was like, I know what she’s asking. Said, everyone’s doing okay. I said, how about yours? She’s like, everyone’s okay, everyone’s okay. And then we went on our way. I have no idea who this woman is. I just know that she saw us as Jewish. She felt like she was part of this family. I have no idea what she believes or doesn’t believe. I just know that she felt like she was part of this family and she saw me as part of the family.

That example, that story is a story that is a distinct Jewish story of being both a religion, meaning that we have a belief system, that we believe in things, that we pray, that we have a religious system, that we believe in ethical monotheism. That’s the religious aspect of it. We have rituals, we have all these things. But we’re also a people. We’re part of this huge community, this gigantic family that sees each other as a distinct family. In Hebrew, we say, am Israel. You know that, right?

So the Jewish people, that is different than anything that I understand in other religions, which is we’re not France, we’re not England, and we’re also not Christianity and Islam. We are both a people and a religion. I think that confuses people, but I think it’s remarkable. Yeah. That’s number five for me. What are your thoughts on that one?

Mijal: Yeah, I think from like a personal level, just being part of a people, and feeling very, very connected to my people across time and space is something that I treasure. I can’t imagine living life without that. And I think also, I do think it’s important to unpack a little bit the fact that it is quite unique. Like I’ll give you an example. When you try to look at Jews through different surveys in America, a lot of the surveys like from the Pew Center assume that Judaism is a religion, because they’re studying religion. So they’re going to study Muslim Americans and Christian Americans and Jewish Americans. And part of what’s hard when you look at those surveys is that all those questions presuppose it’s a religion. And meanwhile, there’s all of these ways in which it isn’t only a religion. So you can be an atheist and be part of the Jewish people. You can believe in nothing or disagree in everything. And this actually goes back to the Nasdaq -e -Tenghi. That’s why we argue so much.

Not that there aren’t distinctions in terms of how the different denominations in Judaism believe certain principles of faith or not, but no one’s asking what you believe or don’t believe.

The language that I would use as a sociologist is we’re both an ethnicity and a religion. The fact that we are both of that, we have a set of belief systems and also a shared history and…

shared ancestry and shared sense of being a we, those things by definition will mean that we’re going to have a tremendous amount of internal diversity. Because we’ve lived all over the place, we disagree over a lot of things, but we still think of ourselves as being from the same people. So that’s the we aspect is what we’re talking about is in a world that feels lonely at times, this we aspect of being part of this broad community of people that you don’t even necessarily know is something that stands out to me. Yeah, yeah, I think it’s beautiful. Are there times that you want to not be associated with being Jewish though? No, I just, I was thinking about that. I don’t know, like, I’m not talking about the fear factor. I’m talking about maybe the plane factor.

Mijal: The what?

Noam: Yeah, I’ll explain to you.

Mijal: Like flying plane?

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: Okay, what’s the plane factor?

Noam: Well, sometimes I fly a lot. I fly a lot. Like every other day. I fly a lot. I fly a lot.

Mijal: Are you good at keeping miles, by the way?

Noam: I’m very disorganized. I’m not good at those things. I give myself a C plus B minus. But sometimes I don’t want it. I just don’t, I want to be anonymous.

Mijal: Okay great, I call it the vacation factor. Okay. When I go on vacation, like I don’t want, I go far away from kosher food, basically. No kosher restaurants. You don’t want to be near a kosher restaurant? No, I want to be as far as possible.

Noam: Someone was saying to me yesterday that their father chooses to only go on vacation if there’s a synagogue within walking distance. And I was thinking exactly what you’re saying. I only want to go on vacation to a place with no synagogue, no kosher food. And just we’ll figure this out.

Mijal: Yeah, yeah, it’s funny. Does that make us bad Jews?

Noam: We’re not bad Jews. We’re not bad Jews.

Mijal: Okay, we’re going a little bit far off. So this is not wondering, this is rambling. We’re going far afield here. Okay, scratch that. Okay, can I give you number two? No, but you asked me, are there ever times that it’s hard to be a Jew? It’s not a fear factor. I think there’s like a heaviness factor sometimes. I walk around my day sometimes and I’m like, I’m almost… You know, I had this moment, maybe a month or two after 10/7. There’s like a walk that some of us do on Shabbat afternoons in Lower Manhattan to raise awareness for hostages. We still do it now. We hold up hostage posters and we walk around Washington Square Park and Union Square Park. And sometimes I would like go with my kids and have them hold up posters. And I remember this just like moment. It was near Christmas and we are in Union Square and my little girl, she’s like holding up a poster. And right next to us, there’s like this huge long line of like young people, pretty drunk and all dressed up and Santa Claus. And I just remember being, I don’t know if I mentioned this to you, maybe I have, I was like, I was envious. Their existence felt really light. And ours felt really heavy. So I struggle with that heaviness.

Noam: That’s a very good point. There’s a Yiddish phrase that you might not be so familiar with. But tell me if you know this. Have you heard of that? It’s hard to be a Jew. Yeah. So there’s a phrase, it’s hard to be a Jew. But my wife’s grandfather always said, and I’m probably going to butcher it, Uber is as good as I need it. But it’s good to be a Jew.

Mijal: Yeah, it is good to be a Jew. So it’s both of those lived realities. Okay. So your first of five reasons is that you love the feeling of we, the Jewish people. You helped me frame that. Yeah. The feeling of we in addition to being a religion. That’s number five. Number four.

This is easy money. Shabbat. I mean, come on. Shabbat is probably, with due respect to everything that Steve Jobs did at Apple, it’s gotta be the greatest invention of all time. No? Shabbat. Shabbat. Why not? And you know what’s amazing about it? I’ll tell you why. I just think it’s so funny that everyone is always like, even right now, Jonathan Haidt, the professor at NYU, who wrote a lot of great books and…But he’s talking about right now taking a digital detox. Everyone should take one day off from their phone. And it’s like, okay, guys, friends, this concept that you’re talking about that sounds revolutionary is there’s a line from Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Okay, we have this thing called Shabbat, the day of rest in which we actually take a break from everything going on in the world. Shabbat means to pause, to stop, to rest.

There’s a great term in Israel. It’s called an etnachta. It means just pause. It’s from cantillation notes in reading the Torah. And it’s when you’re reading the Torah, there’s a pause called the etnachta. There’s a movement, etnachta, pause, rest, stop, shabbat. That resting, that stopping is the most invigorating, ironically enough, part of the seven day experience. And it allows you to do a lot of things that we… There’s an educational theorist named John Dewey. And he argued that learning without reflection never happened. So if you’re teaching in class, or I remember back in the day, I was a teacher, I was a principal, did all those things, and I’m still teaching, teaching, teaching.

Every single thing that I’m obsessed with doing is reflection. Because you could learn, learn, learn, activity, activity, activity. If you do not pause and have that reflection, it’s as though John Dewey said that learning never took place. That’s what Shabbat is to me. If you don’t pause once in a week and then take those 25 hours off, that’s the way Shabbat has it for us. That’s why God, I believe in God, dictated the whole experience to say, hey, listen, pause this one day, then it’s very hard to actually maximize your six other days. So it’s that seventh day that has tremendous value for your seven day experience. And I think it’s remarkable and I love it. I look forward to it. The second Shabbat ends, Saturday night, you know, I don’t know if people sing six more days till Shabbos, they start right when Shabbat ends. And that longing is such a special part of my existence. What do you think about this one?

Mijal: No, I love Shabbat. I feel like my brain feels different. And I think especially, it’s not just technology, it’s the news. It’s like that constantly being anxious, right? That’s the title of Haidt’s book, Anxious Generation. And by the way, I’ve told some people, there’s people who like for a lot of reasons can’t fully disconnect. I’ve said like, take a social media break, take a news break, you know, 25 hours. Try to incorporate elements of Shabbat, even if you can’t do like, you know, the full thing yet. And I do think I agree with you that Shabbat is, especially right now in 2024, Shabbat is one of Judaism’s greatest gifts. 100%.

Noam: What do you think of this line from Asher Ginsburg, who’s known as Ahad Ha’am, who said, more than the Jews kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept the Jews.

The idea is that, well, if you look at the percentage of Jews that are actually observant of Shabbat, it’s probably not that high of a percentage. And the argument is that most Jews obviously do not observe Shabbat fully throughout history, but Shabbat has kept the Jews, says Ahad Ha’am.

Well, I think the play on words that Ahad Ha’am is playing with is kind of saying, It’s not like we’ve done like a favor to Shabbat, you know what I mean, by keeping it. But it’s actually what we get out of keeping it. It’s so great. And it’s great, I think, in two levels. One level is the individual level. So I think you were noting there’s all of these benefits right now that we get, like we’re healthier, happier, better lives with Shabbat. But I think there’s an additional layer in this statement, which is that sociologically, like as a people, keeping Shabbat has kept us, right? How has it kept us? In so many ways, no. So tell me. No, it’s like we have a shared calendar. Right now we take it for granted, people don’t work on Saturdays. But for most of history, Jews actually suffered a lot of stigma for not working on Shabbat.

They were seen as immoral in many different times. If you kept Shabbat, you were much more guaranteed to maintain your Judaism and to maintain your community. So there’s so many elements there. There’s a family element, a prayer, like so many beautiful, amazing elements. There’s a theological issue though with it that I started thinking about as you were talking, and I don’t want to get too down this rabbit hole.

The downside though of the Ahad Ha’am idea is that it’s instrumentalizing religion.

which from a philosophical perspective or theological perspective is butchering Judaism. Shabbat is a mitzvah, it’s a religious commandment.

given to us in the Hebrew Bible to observe, and we’re talking about the benefits of it, meaning when we’re turning an end in and of itself into a means for something else.

Mijal: Right, so put differently, Noam, I think you’re asking, should we be, tell me if I’m getting you right, should we be focusing on the benefits of certain laws and commandments? And if we do so, does that take, like, then when the benefits are gone, we stop keeping it.

Noam: Exactly. Or we only value it because of the benefits. That’s exactly my question.

Mijal: YA different way, you know what, wI’ll put it differently. When I was a kid and we lived in Uruguay, I went to a school that was largely, I was with kids who didn’t observe the way that I did. So I was one of the only kids in my grade who kept Shabbat. So Shabbat, when I was a kid, was actually really, really, really hard. Yes. It was not enjoyable at all because all my friends would go out and they would do things and I was not allowed to join them. So I remember actually feeling very, very constrained by Shabbat. And we could come up with many examples in which Shabbat doesn’t feel good.

Noam: You’re nailing my question. So, I mean, it’s a very big philosophical question in general. Like philosophers have had this, do we want to have what we might call like Ta’meh Mitzvot, which is, do we want to explore the reasons, the benefits, the functionality of all of that Mitzvot?

I think we need to be able to do two things at the same time as people who want to live by certain ritual and rhythm to our lives. One is to actually, yeah, I think we should be exploring the benefits. I think 100 % we need to think about how is this shaping my life and what is it giving to me and how is it the benefits and this and that.

At the same time, I think the question that I like us to ponder and wonder on as we do this is what happens, can we have a religious orientation in which we do things, we appreciate the benefits, but we’re also committed to them even if the benefits wouldn’t exist, right?

Perfectly said. And to me, that’s actually part of what it means to be, we spoke before about Judaism being a religion and a people. To me, part of the religious aspect or part of what to me it means to stand before God, right, is, and I think of God as this like great supreme being that we cannot fully understand and comprehend, is that there’s going to be, okay, I don’t want to get into like a Pandora’s box here. There’s a word that has like a really bad rep, but I don’t know what…

Noam: I want to guess the word.

Mijal: What’s the word?

Noam: I want to guess commandedness.

Mijal: I was going to say like submission.

Okay, right. Yeah. I think… Yes, exactly. I think for me as a religious person, I want to have an element of submission.

Noam: So do I.

Mijal: Okay, one second. let’s take the Shabbat example. Yes, let’s interrogate all of the ways in which it makes our lives really wonderful. And I actually really believe in that. But also, let’s interrogate the ways in which we should be, what are the things that we are going to commit ourselves to, even when they don’t benefit us? That to me is like a question at the heart of religious existence. And I would say even more, it’s at the heart of relationship. Like you don’t just…

commit to doing the things with your child or with your partner or with your friend. If you enjoy it, if you benefit from it. If you enjoy it. There’s going to be all of these layers in which you say, this is part of what it means to be a good citizen. Part of what it means to be part of a community. Part of what it means to do all these things. And I think I’ll say one more thing here, Noam. Some communities tend to really emphasize the benefit. Right? This is all of the ways that like Shabbat makes your life amazing. Some communities tend to emphasize the obligation. Like, don’t think about it. Just do it. It is commanded from Sinai.

And I think we need to be able to do both. That’s why I wanted to explore this issue of Shabbat with you.. Because there are many elements to it and it leads to different types of conversations around what it means to be Jewish. And one of them is perhaps part of…

being Jewish and keeping Shabbat, it is the submissive aspect to it that also helps you liberate yourself. If you do both. No? I think I’m using it differently, but okay. How is it different? Meaning it’s a combination of being obligated. Here’s how I’m saying it. It’s the obligation to observe Shabbat leads to a very free and liberated existence.

Yeah, although I would say… If you’re not observing Shabbat, what if it doesn’t? That’s what I was trying to say before. You’re saying if it doesn’t have the benefits, the benefits that we were talking about before. I also, what I was thinking about when you were talking about the way you grew up, I went to a school where 80 % of the kids were not observant of Shabbat as well. And it was hard to observe Shabbat. I couldn’t go to the parties on Friday night. I couldn’t do that. And I didn’t do that.

But there was still something for me that at the end of that whole experience was, wow, to be part of something like this without having a choice in the matter and feeling like I don’t have the choice is what allowed me to actualize myself. So maybe we should add to your list now. So we started off with peoplehood. We added Shabbat as like a radical gift of a day. And maybe like we’re adding a sub, another section here. Yes, sure. Which is…

You know, like obligation in an age of radical choice. Yes. And what it means to hold on to that. And it’s almost like I often think that we live in like a, because we live in like modern times, 300 years ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, most of this conversation. But there’s something about our ability to choose obligation. And that’s very powerful. Yes.

Noam: Okay. Number three, I’m going to say these two words Universalism and particularism. I love this dialectic that we are both universalists and particularists in Judaism.

Mijal: Okay, so let’s unpack that. I think what you mean is that to be a Jew is to inherit a tradition that encourages us to care deeply and radically about the world, to see every individual created in the image of God, to be concerned with big questions of existence and to care about huge social issues and do so as people who hold a particular identity, who walk in the steps of their ancestors, who see themselves as part of an extended family and who care about the particular issues of that extended family.

And there’s something about what it means to be Jewish that invites us to not see these two things as choices. You have to choose one over the other, but to see them as dual and parallel obligations. I don’t know if obligations, but like parallel orientations that we have to embody kind of at the same time.

Noam: You said it better than I would say it.

Mijal: Okay, do you have an example of what you mean about loving this? Because it’s a little bit abstract. It is abstract, but I think a lot of my Judaism is in my head. On the one hand. And on the other hand, it’s, I think so much of Judaism is about our behaviors. And like you were describing the Shabbat experience, some Jewish communities look at Shabbat as an obligation, obligation, obligation, obligation, do, do, do, don’t, don’t, don’t. And others are much more about the benefits of it and the light at the end of the tunnel, the positive experience.

In Judaism, I think it’s also the case that there are groups within Judaism that are hyper-focused on the particular, meaning their group, their community, their tribe, their distinct seven-day experience. And then there’s Jewish communities that are thinking about the world, repairing the entire world, tikkun olam, which literally means fixing the world. And going out there, going to all parts of the world to help people, to help people who are more vulnerable, more oppressed, whatever the issues are and going out there and helping. I love when Judaism is done well and done right.

Mijal: According to Noam.

Mijal: According to me. Yeah. Yeah, according to me, but I don’t mind being non-postmodern about this and saying what I think is the case and saying not just to me, but what I see in Judaism is when we embody both universalism and particularism together.

In one experience.

Mijal: Can you give an example of what that looks like for you?

Noam: It means giving a darn about people outside of your… Golda Meir, who was the Prime Minister of Israel from 69 to 74, she said that one of the major goals of the creation of the Jewish state was to help other countries. Well, she was really into that. She was like traveling all over Africa, especially. Exactly. But she didn’t do it from a PR perspective. That’s the cynical side of us. It’s like, Israel does all these things from a PR perspective. No, she did it because she genuinely believed that it was the mission of the Jew to do that, to go out there and help. And it’s the mission of the Jew to take care of the Jew as well. So it’s both. And people struggle with it, with that concept. It’s both. It’s and. All of us struggle with it. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious. I think people struggle for good reason. Like there’s often a tension. Yeah. Right between this, you know.

But you say you love living with that tension. I love it. I love it. I love it. And I think Judaism embodies that. And I don’t want to speak about other religions because I don’t, it’s not what this episode is about, but other religions, I won’t be specific, are much more thinking about universalism in the context of you have to believe something specific. And if you believe that something specific, then you’re part of the community. Also Judaism doesn’t believe that. It’s the prayer of Aleinu.

The text of Aleinu is all about universalism and particularism. The first paragraph is of Aleinu, which is a prayer at the end of morning services, afternoon services, and evening services, shacharit mincha and ma’ariv. The first paragraph is all about it’s our obligation to serve God and to be deeply Jewish, let’s say. Right? Yeah, in a particularistic way.

And then what’s the second paragraph? Right, it’s in a more universalistic way. That is Judaism. That’s what we have to do.

So that’s number three. So we have one, for me, what makes Judaism so special? The sense of we. We. Shabbat. Shabbat. And then universalism and particularism. Yes. Number four.

Halacha, Jewish law. Okay, so you love halacha. there’s something freeing about bound. You can be more, sometimes you can be more free when you have boundaries than when you have radical choice, which can be overwhelming and there can be a tyranny in radical choice in itself. Exactly. So that for me is the fourth thing.

Mijal: So one second. So you’re saying, just make sure we understand, you’re saying you like the idea that we almost have like a roadmap that you wake up in the morning and it’s not like do whatever you want to be a good person, but actually it lives like a tradition here with layers and opinions, that helps you, gives boundaries to the experience.

Noam: Yeah, now again, each of these could be its own episode because I’m going to pause and say one thing and leave it at that. I don’t want to be controlled by Jewish law, but I want to be influenced by Jewish law. And I want… Ooh, ooh. We got to unpack that now. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m saying I want to have a very healthy relationship to the Jewish legal system. I like that I have that roadmap. Okay. And that’s what the word halacha means. The root of the word is to walk, to go.

to have that map.

And the fifth thing, so we, well, let’s say the four. Number five is we. Number four is Shabbat. Number three is – Universalism, Particularism, and then Jewish law. And halacha. Yeah, the Jewish legal experience. The roadmap, let’s call it the roadmap. And number one is this, shiva.

Okay. Number one is Shiva. What’s Shiva? So after someone passes away in Judaism, there’s a seven -day experience which is governed by halacha, the way, halacha is the way, the way of Judaism.

After someone passes away, there is a communal obligation to take care of the person who just lost someone deeply close to them and to go to their place where they live, their residence or wherever they are, and to just comfort them for seven days. And they can’t partake in the rest of the world. They have to be in it. They have to be present. They have to experience it.

I just came from a devastating funeral where, someone lost an eight year old son, a terrible, terrible tragedy. And I was absolutely astounded to see what the community does. And I’m not saying that other communities don’t do these things again. I’m not getting into the cynical world of everyone does everything for everyone. What this community did within a couple of days was they raised $5 ,000 to take care. Again, some people know this family, some people don’t know this family, but they just, they said, we’re gonna cover your food expenses. We don’t want you to think about breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few months, whatever it is. We don’t even want you to think about it. So we’re gonna raise that money and we’re gonna get you that money and we’re gonna cover everything that you need, whatever you need.

That meal train, that Shiva experience, that taking, that being part of the community is so special. And again, and I’m not saying that other religions and other groups, whether or not it’s a basketball team that you’re on or a bowling team that you’re on or another religion, I’m not saying that. But Judaism has that and the Jewish community has that. And it’s not just my distinct community in South Florida that has that at all. This is happening across the world. That’s special. Yeah.

And I would say it’s like the Shiva and the weddings, right? It’s both. Right, yeah, right. That’s a good point. In the most difficult and the happiest moments, you’re not alone. You’re seen, you’re held. And by the way, that’s actually beautiful because that’s what… Like the faith experience, there’s something there that can be abstract or… Like faith in God can sometimes hold you when you’re struggling and sometimes it’s like it’s far away. You know what I mean?

Noam: Well, tell me what you mean.

Mijal: Okay, this is gonna get me all theological.

Noam: Do it, do it.

Mijal: There’s actually like the sages say, do you wanna be like God? Do what God does. God comforts the mourners, God visits the sick. When you’re broken, when you’re brokenhearted, and when you’re alone, and when you’re in grief, and when you’re in pain, not everybody always feels God’s embrace. But when a human being comes, and when a community comes and embodies what a godly life is supposed to be like, you feel it. You’re less alone. It’s absolutely breathtaking. And those of us who’ve been graced with the embrace of a community in hard times and in good times, there’s no blessing like it.

Noam: Agreed. It’s magnificent. It’s magnificent. Yeah. So those are my top five. The we, Shabbat, Particularism and Universalism. Jewish Roadmap. The Jewish Roadmap. Yeah. And how would you say this last one?

The wedding and shiva. 

Mijal: What’s that quote from Les Mis, to see another… to love another person is to see the face of God. And I would say to be loved by another person is to see the face of God. Love it. Thank you, Victor Hugo. Is that the author? Is that how you say it in English? Victor Hugo. How do you pronounce it? Yeah, that’s it. Victor Hugo. Thanks for this conversation. This was fun. Okay. Thanks so much. See you soon.

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