Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mitzvah, Kosher, Heaven, & Hell

I had a fascinating conversation with a couple before I met with the local rabbi last night.

We were talking at the kosher deli and a woman came over to get some chocolates. She was pretty upset because they were out of non-dairy chocolates. The couple I was discoursing with was explaining to me that they have to wait six hours before and after eating meat to have dairy products.

I have known a lot of Jews that don’t follow this mitzvah (command) so I started asking a lot of questions, because I honestly am trying to understand what their perspective is and where they are coming from.

I asked, “What happens if you don’t follow the mitzvah and you break kosher?” They said really nothing happens. They said it was a command from God and if you follow it then you make God happy, but if you don’t follow it then God in His mercy is just a little bummed. So I said, “I bet you have to be really careful to eat at a restaurant other than here.” And they told me that they can’t in order to keep kosher. I said, “Is it because there is blood in the meat?” (thinking of Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17;12, 14; 19:26; Deut 12:16, 23, 27; 15:23; 1 Sa 14:34; Psalm 50:13; Ezek 33:25). They said, “No!” They explained that it’s only because of the manner in which the meat and food is prepared. I always thought kosher meant the food was blessed by a Jewish priest, but from their perspective it’s just the ritual preparation of the meat.

So back to mitzvah (command). I said so if you break the mitzvah of kosher then God is upset with you? They explained that if you break a mitzvah God isn’t upset He’s just bummed a little. So I said, “Then if you break God’s mitzvah He’s not pleased with you.” The woman looked at me and said, “Well, everything is relative…isn’t it?” I was a little confused what she was talking about, but I asked her to explain. She said that it does bring God pleasure when we follow His mitzvah, but if we don’t it’s no big deal, you can just do what you want to do, it’s a pretty diverse approach. Then the gentleman looked at me and said that they don’t look at God the way Christians do. I asked him to explain. He said that I have the wrong perspective on God and that there really is no consequence if we don’t follow God’s mitzvah, but that we just miss opportunities to connect with God when we don’t follow His commands…that we basically do things to make God happy, but if we don’t it’s no big deal. He said that it’s like parents. Parents don’t have children to punish them, rather to love them. When the kids do bad things against the command of their parents the parents are just a little bummed, that’s all.

Then I asked, “Do you believe in heaven and hell?” And they said yes, but not in the way Christians do…

I was really confused…and they left shortly after all of this. If you are a Jew and can clarify some of what I understood, or support what this couple was telling me that would be great. Is this what all Jews believe, or just this couple? If yes, think we disagree on the interpretation of the Hebrew Scripture. Stay tuned, in my next post I’ll write a little about my conversation with the rabbi that flowed out of this conversation.


Wayne said...

That's fascinating. I know almost nothing of modern Jewish practices or beliefs. My hunch is that there is probably a significant diversity among Jewish people regarding this.

"He’s just bummed a little" - that's priceless.

jwd said...

I don't get the attempt at the parent analogy. What kind of parents are "just bummed a little" and do nothing when their children disobey them?

Sounds a little like Jewish Hedonism - if making God happy makes you happy, then do it, but it's no big deal if you don't.