Is Religion a "Private Matter?"

We often hear it stated today that the Jewish position on religion, as distinguished from the chr*stian, is that it is a purely private matter between the individual and G-d.  Is this true?

To anyone with a modicum of understanding of authentic Judaism this claim is one of the greatest distortions extant.  How could anyone say such a thing with a straight face?  The answer of course is that this claim has developed as a defense against persecutions by chr*stian "theocracies," but since we live in a largely post-chr*stian society the time has come for straight talk--which may, please G-d, save us from ever having to live in a neo-chr*stian society.

The truth is that private, non-communal, "G-d and me and nobody else" religion is a product of chr*stian, and not of Jewish thought.  It began in the "new testament" with the assertion of 'Otoh Ha'Ish that the time has past for public worship of G-d in the Beit HaMiqdash (or, for the Samaritans, on Har Gerizim).  Rather in the "new dispensation" people will worship G-d "in spirit and in truth," whatever that is supposed to mean.  This worship will be the same whether in Jerusalem, Har Gerizim, or in one's closet (where one is recommended to pray).  Why would anyone claim the end result of this reasoning as the "Jewish alternative" to chr*stianity?

Of course for the first ch*ristians worship was still public and liturgical with a symbolic sacrificial rite of sorts.  But chr*stianity had already introduced a concept that would finally bloom in Fundamentalist Protestantism* (American Jewry's bete noire) into the doctrine of "separation of 'church' and state" and "private, inner religion"--the very doctrine seized upon by many American Jews to counter the alleged objectivism of Fundamentalist Protestantism.  That concept was that G-d had been temporarily run off his throne--at least as far as this world is concerned--by the Devil, who is now by nature the "gxd" of this world and of every human being at birth.  The True G-d is not, by nature our G-d according to this theory.  Rather in order for one to make the metaphysical move from being under the "gxdship" of Satan to that of G-d one must be "born again."  Again, the first chr*stians understood this as a public ritual act (baptism).  But eventually the inconsistencies of classical chr*stianity would lead to the birth of Protestantism and eventually of Fundamentalist Protestantism, which takes the implications of classical chr*stianity to their logical conclusion.

The end result of this way of thinking held by the "fascist" Southern Baptists, whom ignorant American Jews believe to be the current manifestation of the medieval Catholic peasantry, is that every child at birth is a child of Satan, G-d forbid.  Satan is his "gxd."  HaShem is not.  To correct this situation each individual must be "born again," and not by baptism either.  Instead this "new birth" is a private, inner mystical experience which has no external guideposts whatsoever.  Only the individual (and G-d) can know that he is a chr*stian, that he is saved.  No one else can know.  The person may now say he is a chr*stian, there may be indications in his behavior, but only he and G-d can actually know.  And he may be wrong.  For you see, while the true chr*stian knows he is saved, it is quite possible for an unsaved person to to mistakenly think he has been saved.  There are many instances of people being "born again" many times, though of course only the last one was authentic (if even then).  So on the practical level only G-d can know whether the salvation experience of any one person has been authentic.  What kind of "organized religion" and "worship" do these concepts produce?

The chuches of Fundamentalist Protestantism are all, in theory, invisible, their memberships known only to G-d (and theoretically, to themselves).  Any particular congregation is peopled by a number of people who may or may not be "true chr*stians," who either "know" or think that they are saved.  There is no pope.  There is no rabbinate.  There is no beit din.  Each individual has G-d in his heart; what else is necessary?

As for worship, who has not seen on television the ecstatic worshippers, one great crowd of atomized individuals with hands outstretched in inner ecstasy as he or she commiserates with G-d without any ritual whatsoever?  Even in the most staid Fundamentalist Protestant service all that takes place is a few songs followed by a lecture--and a lecture in which each listener carefully scritinizes the words of the preacher by his own well-thumbed Bible.  This is the "crowd of unthinking sheep" sophisticated Jews (and classical chr*stians) poke fun at? This is the radically objective religion that is threatening to "impose" itself on Jews who hold sacred the idea that each individual exists in his own universe with his own concept of G-d, which has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks???

We now take a brief break for the guffawing to dissipate.

Now let us look at the authentic Jewish view of religion.

First of all, we must not make the mistake of so many at pooh-poohing the sound Fundamentalist Protestant understanding that there is indeed great evil in the world.  Many Jewish and classical chr*stian apologists not only seem to overreact to Fundamentalist Protestant pessimism to the point of saying that maybe things aren't really so messed up after all (which is itself a denial of objective reality) but even of pooh-poohing the Fundamentalist Protestant individual's feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  If someone's conscience is screaming at him, it is wise not to interject oneself with blithe dismissals.  The point is not that the world is not messed up or that we are not all guilty and inadequate--in fact, we are nothing--but simply that the true antidote to world and individual sins and imperfections is the Torah.  It was already there helping to correct individuals and the world before chr*stianity ever came into existence.  A "new testament" was never needed.  The Fundamentalist Protestant is actually only being more honest than his Catholic and Eastern Orthodox fellow.  His antinomianism, his insistence on a purely passive and internal religion is much more logical and internally consistent than the insistence of classical chr*stianity that the utter inadequacy of ritual and "works" applies only to G-d's Holy Torah but not to the rituals (mostly adapted from paganism) and works of the new religion.  And the Fundamentalist Protestant cannot charge us, as he can the classical chr*stian, of hypocrisy, for the Torah never "superceded" any precursor religion which had to be at first obeyed and then rejected.  The Torah is eternal, written before the creation, given in parts to the ancients, foreseen in prophecy by the 'Avot, and given in full for all time at Har Sinai on the Sixth day of Sivan in the 2448th year of creation.

The major difference between the Fundamentalist Protestant and Torah worldview is precisely that religious truth is Objective.  Though G-d indeed has a relationship with each individual, though He exists within the most secret places of our hearts and minds, He is nevertheless Objective and Real and external to ourselves (otherwise we would be worshipping some idea of our own creation, G-d forbid).  How do we know when He and not Satan is our god?  Because He always was our G-d!  There is not, there never was, any other G-d.  He is objectively the G-d over all creation and of every single human being who will ever live, regardless of whether that individual believes in Him or not.  One does not have to "make" Him one's G-d by some inner mystical experience (though it is indeed a duty, with great merit, to accept the yoke of the Seven Laws).  Jewish tradition is second to none with regard to mystical ecstasy (the Qabbalists and Chassidim are enough to illustrate that), but if one has not had such an experience one need not despair that he "has not yet passed from nature to grace."  HaShem is your G-d.  It doesn't matter if you have never "spoken in tongues" or felt like shouting.  He is your G-d.  Already.  Right now.  You may call him your G-d and Father right now because He is, and there is no other "gxd" to whom you have ever belonged or from whom you must be purchased.  To say otherwise is to commit the heresy of dualism, of saying that there are two "gxds," one good and one evil, who are battling each other.  Yes, evil exists in the world and within each individual but this is not the reason and a false religion is not the answer.

Parenthetically, it must be stated that Satan does indeed exist (Judaism knew of him before any other religion), but he is not an evil counterpart of G-d or at war with Him.  Indeed, he does everything in his power as the yeitzer hara` cause us to fall and to sin.  That is his job (along with accusing us before G-d, coming for us at death as Mal'akh HaMavet, and acting as the guardian angel of 'Edom).  It is perfectly legitimate to pray for protection from him, as do pious Jews every night.  But he is not an evil "gxd," G-d forbid.  Ultimately it is G-d who creates life and death, who afflicts and heals, and he created both the good and evil inclinations--not because He is passively indifferent but because somehow all these things are being used by him for good.  The fact that we don't understand how these things work for good does not give us the right to delve into strange, foreign, and new religions and worldviews or to defect from our objective Father in Heaven.

So what is the nature of Jewish worship?  It is public, objective, and communal.  It is not for a spiritual elite of mystics who have had an inner experience but for all who are halakhically Jewish through birth to a Jewish mother.  Any time ten adult Jewish males gather there is a minyan, a quorum for worship.  No Jew has to ask himself "now, was I really saved, or do I just think I am?" or "was my mystical experience real or imagined?"  These things are irrevelant.  HaShem is G-d and Israel is His Priestly People, and anytime ten of them are gathered Israel is there in microcosm.  And wherever there are genuine Rabbis and Battei Din (courts of Jewish law) there is the Jewish "Theocratic State" in microcosm.  For unlike the private, inner, spiritual nature of Fundamentalist Protestantism, Jewish Law binds every person born to a Jewish mother (and Noachide Law binds every other human being).  If it is a struggle to arise every morning and go to synagogue and recite the hour-long prayer service in a minyan before even eating breakfast, if it is not a case of Divine possession manifesting itself in uncontrolled ecstasy, so be it.

It is Judaism, not chr*stianity, that is Theocratic.  Judaism is not a voluntary congregational religion but the Law of Israel, a Theocratic state-within-a-state wherever a minyan gathers.  Even classical chr*stianity, "theocratic" for so long, was not so from the beginning and did not possess a state mechanism for many centuries.  Judaism is Theocratic by its very nature.  Judaism is a state.

And can any form of worship more public, more objective, be conceived of than the `Avodat HaQodesh (sacrificial service) of the Holy Temple--a service that all Jews were required to participate in if only by paying a half sheqel a year for their part of the communal sacrificial animals (and actually more often at certain occasions)?  Where was the American Civil Liberties Union?  Where was the Anti-Defamation League?  And even Chanukkah, the festival the foolish think celebrates the "right" of every autonomous individual to worship anything or nothing, celebrates a victory that began when the priest Mattityahu killed a fellow-Jew for slaughtering a pig in violation of public religious law.  Even the "public objective sacrifice" of liturgical chr*stianity pales into subjectivism compared with this service, ordained by the Torah and for whose restoration faithful Jews continue to pray three times a day (on weekdays).  It is true that the service of G-d requires more than ritual, and the Holy Prophets indeed thundered at people who participated in the sacrifices while living otherwise sinful lives (or who conducted the sacrifices in ways that violated Halakhah), but they are still Divinely mandated and no man may set them aside.  It is true that both the Fundamentalist Protestant and the liberal humanist regard them as a primitive embarrassment better replaced with something "higher" (salvational religion for the former, a "religion of pure ethics" for the latter), but they are the form of worship mandated by G-d Himself.  Who dare challenge Him?  (Unfortunately, the answer is "practically everybody!")

Finally, the "separation of church and state" of the American system is itself a product of Protestant thought.  Since Protestantism holds that there can be no objective religious authority to stand in judgement over the individual as he commiserates with G-d in an internal mystical dialogue, then the state must stand aloof and allow the Protestant citizens to maintain their relationships with G-d as their consciences dictate.  This is indeed the very origin and purpose of "separation of church and state."  It is Protestant from beginning to end.  One could argue, in fact, that the entire system breaks down when a religious tradition other than Protestantism or enlightenment rationalism is introduced into the mix.

Judaism, by contrast, seems more like the religions of "primitive" tribes, in which the "gxd" is public, objective, and national, and in which dissent is not permitted.  This may embarrassing, but it is true.

I am sure that in making these points I have oversimplified and been overly crude here and there, but in the current age when thinking is so muddled, perhaps this may be forgiven.

Well, Dersh . . . have you anything to say?

*The reader will notice the repetitive use of the clumsy designation "Fundamentalist Protestant" when referring to that particular religious tradition for contrast.  My apologies for the clumsiness of the phrase, but I see no way around using it.  I could not use the word "Protestant" alone because so many Protestants are not Fundamentalists, nor could I use the designation "Fundamentalist" alone because the writer is a Fundamentalist, a defender of that school of thought (which merely holds that religious truth is true and not merely symbolic or allegorical so that supernatural phenomena may be rejected), and believes in fact that Torah Jews and practicing Noachides are the true Fundamentalists.  My criticisms are aimed exclusively at the "Protestant" part of the equation and I maintain that one can never be a real Fundamentalist until chr*stianity in any form is rejected and the Torah acknowledged and embraced.