Are you a “Bad Jew”? Admit it: you’ve thought it. You’ve said it. Sometimes apologetically or sometimes defiantly: “I’m a Bad Jew”. Why? Oh, the usual reasons. Don’t observe Shabbat, like bacon, are intermarried, don’t speak Hebrew, have no idea what the holiday of Shavuot is all about, etc.
We’re entering the High Holiday, Fall Festival, Jewiest time of the year. So I want to capitalize on this moment and tell you something serious, even sacred. You’re a good Jew if you’re a good person.
Here’s a little bit of text for you (I’m a rabbi, after all. I’m gonna throw a touch of text your way from time to time) from the Prophet Isaiah, about the fast on Yom Kippur (Isaiah 58: 5-7):
Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast?
No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and to not ignore your own kin.
Yes! Right? I mean, Yesss! Most Jews are “bad Jews” if the metrics are fasting on Yom Kippur, keeping kosher, or lighting Shabbat candles regularly. Guess what? It doesn’t matter! You know how people say “You do you”? Well, I say, “You Jew you.” Jew it your way.
The bottom line is this: Judaism is not meant to be a religion or culture of relics and traditions that are devoid of meaning but people do because they feel obliged. Judaism is meant to be a living tradition and culture that brings meaning to your life and goodness to the world. Isaiah knows what he’s talking about. What good does it do to fast, to afflict your soul, to pay for the High Holiday tickets, but then be a crappy person? No good at all. It’s not about any of the things you feel like a “bad Jew” about. It’s about how you treat others and how you treat yourself. That’s it. The Golden Rule. That’s all. It’s about Tzedakah, for charity and justice. Focus there this year and I promise, you’re a good Jew, a good person, and in for a good year.