For the week ending 21 January 2012 / 25 Tevet 5772

Bad Jew

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: D.

Dear Rabbi,

Am I a bad Jew if I eat bacon, don’t go to temple very often, actually only on the major holidays (I do celebrate Passover, and try to keep it)? Religion just isn’t a very big part of my American Jewish life. Let me know, thanks!!

Dear D.,

I don’t know. Here’s why:

From a Jewish point of view, teenage years start at 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy; ending at 20 for both. The significance of these ages is that 12/13 is when a girl/boy becomes liable in the Earthly court for transgressing commandments, and 20 is when one becomes liable in the Heavenly court. Why is the Heavenly court more lenient (i.e., judges one at a later age)? Because the Heavenly court judges a person as a whole, and until 20 the person has not yet finished developing his personality. Here on earth, on the other hand, we can’t judge people, we can only judge actions. As a teenager grows we can judge his actions, but not the person.

So, the question of whether you are “good” or “bad” is for G-d to decide. We can only speak about what you do, not who you are.

Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zatzal, once related that in Polandin the early 20th century, a few Jewish students were allowed to attend medical school. The only catch was that they had to supply their own Jewish cadavers to study on (after all, it would not befit a Polish cadaver to help a Jewish student). Familiar with the problem in Jewish law of dissecting Jewish bodies, the students approached the foremost Halachic authority of the time, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. They proposed, that in order to gain entrance to medical school, they be allowed to use the bodies of deceased Jews of ill repute or criminals. The Rabbi, after recovering from the shock of the suggestion, responded, “For me to allow that, I would have to know what G-d thinks about those people. And that I can never know.”

From your own description, your actions leave room for improvement, and you’re concerned about that. That’s a good start. Now I suggest that you take the next step and start to improve.

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