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Bringing Judaism Home

May 3, 2010 | by Rabbi Chanoch Oppenheim

Add boiling water and watch love grow.

Some Jews have the misconception that Judaism is all or nothing: either keep the entire Torah -- Shabbat, Kosher, daily prayer -- or don’t do anything. They reason that doing "nothing" is honest; partial observance is hypocritical.

This is not a Jewish perspective because each mitzvah is a precious gem. If a person possesses a collection of gems he is very fortunate, and if someone has the opportunity to get just one or two, he'd be foolish not to. Over the years I have dealt with Jews who do many mitzvot and others who do just one. For instance, a husband and wife might not be Sabbath observant, but that should not stop them from lighting Sabbath candles. Likewise, just because a person doesn't keep kosher outside the house doesn't mean he or she shouldn't keep kosher at home. Jews should not deny themselves the opportunity to grab one of these gems simply because they are not doing them all.

These were some of my thoughts when I recently received a call from Ellen Engelhardt, President of the Board at Jewish Family Services, who is passionately committed to the entire Jewish community. At this point in her life, she wanted a different kind of commitment to Judaism -- she wanted to make her kitchen kosher.

Step one was to meet in the Engelhardt home to see their tableware collection, which turned out to be as large and eclectic a collection as I had ever seen. A few days later I showed up with a huge pot, propane gas, and a hot water kettle. And then the family activity began: Steve came home early from work, and he and the girls pitched in. It was an education for the entire family.

What did I learn? First, that a committed marriage is the unmovable pillar of Jewish life. Many times a spouse wants to do something that the other spouse doesn’t. A wife or husband might not be excited about the other's new interest, but when there is love, the spouse will want to be supportive. One of my rabbis defined love as ‘whatever is important to you is important to me.’

In this case, Steve wasn’t as enthusiastic as Ellen to make the kitchen kosher. Even though he wasn’t overjoyed, he supported Ellen’s decision because it was important to her and also the family -- their girls were overjoyed about this new mitzvah. There had always been a lot of love in the Engelhardt home, but the boiling water brought it out even more.

A related lesson is that doing even one mitzvah brings a family together. It was beautiful to see the Engelhardts bonding through the wisdom of the Torah. The girls had their curiosity piqued and asked many questions. And Steve inquired about a number of issues relating to technical aspects of kashrut.

Frequently parents ask, “What can we do to make sure that our children will want to remain connected to the Jewish community, support Israel, and take an active role in insuring Jewish continuity?” One way is to make Judaism alive in the home such as during and after the kashering process.

The next day Ellen called to say that she had found something we had forgotten to kasher. She said, “Rabbi, you don’t have to come over. I can fill the pot and turn that gizmo on and do it myself.” This was music to my ears because she had discovered that mitzvah observance isn’t necessarily about the Rabbi doing things for people; rather, Jews can learn to do things for themselves. We’re accustomed to our Judaism revolving around the Rabbi and synagogue, but the home is the main place where values are instilled through Torah observance. When Ellen accepted the responsibility to bring this aspect of Jewishness into her home, she naturally had the ability to do what was needed. The Torah was given to the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai -- not just a select group of leaders.

It is amazing to see the transformation wrought by some boiling water and a family committed to bringing a new gem into their Jewish life.

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