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Is my name Max or Moshe?

Thursday, 4 January, 2018 - 9:45 pm


How important is the preservation of the "ethnic" aspect of Judaism?

Over the course of the centuries, Jews were always distinguishable from their fellow citizen not only by their unique beliefs and rituals, but also by their distinctly Jewish culture. For the most part they conversed in their own language; whether it was Ladino, Yiddish, or any of the other "Jewish" languages which sprouted up over time. Jews were also distinguishable by their uniquely Jewish garb and names. In whichever country they landed, the Jewish community managed to create a sub-culture which effectively separated them from their co-citizens.

Today, many minimize the importance of maintaining these external expressions of our culture. They argue that this insularity was necessary when the Jews lived in the Dark Ages and needed to distance themselves from the rest of the population who at best were ignorant and superstitious. In a modern and enlightened society, however, there is no need to flaunt our Judaism by maintaining a Jewish sub-culture. Yiddish is for Bubby and Zaidy, and Jewish culture is fascinating...when viewed in a documentary or as a museum exhibit.

"Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it." Research into Jewish life in Egypt - the first time our people were guests in a foreign land - reveals an interesting fact: our ancestors were actually very lacking in the area of Jewish observance. They largely assumed the pagan beliefs of their Egyptian taskmasters and were bare of mitzvot. What they did possess was a fierce Jewish pride and a stubborn refusal to identify themselves as Egyptians.

It's no coincidence that the entire Book of Exodus, which describes the Egyptian exile and the redemption that followed, is called Shemot, which means “names”.

This is because the one thing that the Jewish People maintained in Egypt was their “names”, i.e.: their Jewish identity. Throughout the bondage in Egypt they never changed their Jewish names, they continued conversing in the Holy Tongue, and they maintained their distinctively Jewish garb.

Using one's Jewish name or wearing a kippah may not be as meaningful or spiritually uplifting as studying Torah or doing a mitzvah, but in a certain sense these symbols of Jewish identity are far more important. They demonstrate Jewish pride and dignity, they are symbols of our uniqueness, they are our defense against assimilation, and in their merit we will witness yet another redemption; the Final Redemption.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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