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Did you ever hear of a Jewish monastery? Or a Jewish convent? The reason you haven’t heard of any is because there aren’t any – there cannot be any.
Some religions view celibacy as the ideal – in fact, sometimes the only – path to spirituality. The physical body and its associated pleasures are essentially a huge test to be overcome, a trap to be avoided. If one wants to be married to G-d, the theory goes; one can’t be married to anyone else. If one wants to live a life of the spirit, one must deny the body. If one wants to become a spiritual person, one must leave other people and live on a mountaintop.
Judaism disagrees, and has always disagreed. Our religious leaders get married and have children, as do the rest of us. In fact, to be a judge on Jewish court, one must be married. True, we must train ourselves to master our inclinations, to improve ourselves and not let love of the physical override our minds and hearts. However, the physical world is not evil. It is not to be denied. It is to be channeled. Jewish holidays are full of wonderful food and celebration. Husband and wife are supposed to have a beautiful - and holy – intimate life.
The point is that Judaism believes that true spirituality is involved in life, not a denial of life. Prayer is central to any spiritual growth and any connection to G-d. But it is not the only way of connecting to G-d. Spirituality is found in how we eat (i.e. not eating meat and milk together, avoiding lobster, with all the educational, behavioral and mystical explanations thereof), how we treat our employees, if we try and help the poor and cheer up the lonely, etc.
There are no Jewish monasteries because we don’t believe in them. G-d wants us to engage life, to raise it up from mundane to meaningful. To bring soul into our bodily existence. To live holy lives. Holiness is not limited to the House of Prayer or the Hall of Study. Everything we do can be meaningful and holy.
This lesson affects us all as individuals, and has a special importance for parents. We Jewish parents need to bring Judaism into our lives, not just our synagogues. We need to teach our children to be menstchen, not just “nice”, to do acts of chesed, not just kindness. To lead complete Jewish lives, rather than be twice a year (or, for that matter, once a week) Jews. By explaining that being Jewish is central to who we are in all aspects of our lives, we add innumerable possibilities to our children’s Jewish activities and growth, and allow them to connect to Jewishness and G-d in whatever way they most easily relate to.
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