The Jewish Home

by Dr. Daniel Schur, Rabbi

As we turn our attention to the Jewish home of today, once a citadel of strength for the preservation of Judaism, we are painfully grieved to behold the essential differences that mark it from the Jewish home of yesterday. A Latin proverb once defined a home to be a place where the heart is. Today, without exaggeration, the Jewish home is primarily a place to go away from. Once, the Jewish home was a practical laboratory for the teachings of the school and the synagogue. Today, it's merely a physical resting place from daily labors. It is my sincere conviction that nothing can foster a Jewish personality, unafraid of the assimilating contacts with an unfriendly secular world, more effectively than a Jewish, spiritual home. Since the days of Israel's founders, the Jewish home unceasingly, sustained by religious faith, became a veritable haven of truth and vital Jewish living - the Jewish home mirrored the Jewish soul.

A Jewish home totally lacking in Jewish spirit, must lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish soul. After centuries of tragic experience, we must realize the everlasting truth that an inadequate Jewish home starves the Jewish soul, but to produce a positive Jewish personality with a definite philosophy and understanding of Jewish values, there must be a fireside radiant with the practice of good deeds and religious observance. The Jewish home of today merits the unfavorable description recorded in the Torah, when the ancient priest was called to cleanse the plagued home for examination, and he declared, "And behold, the plague is in the walls of the house."

In former days, the Jew, in accord with his talent and capacity, devoted at least part of his leisure to organized Jewish study. No Jewish home was complete without a bookshelf of standard works on Judaism. How different today - Jewish learning is confined to childhood, and the walls of the Jewish home are deathly silent. No Jewish books. The People of the Book is gradually becoming a bookless people. What shall be done with Jewish volumes left in the personal estates of parents is often the problem of children. They have no use and no place for them in their homes. Is it any wonder, then, that Jewish life is characterless and anemic? The inequity of discarding the symbolic and ceremonial in the Jewish home, and the widespread neglect of the Torah, gradually but surely will destroy the vibrant Jewish personality of former generations.

The parchment inscription on the door post, the "mezuzah", the observance of the dietary laws, prayers and "brochos" for every stated occasion, the sanctification of the "Shabbos" and the "Yomim Tovim", the holidays, the sharing of bread with a stranger, the ready giving of alms to the indigent, the charity saving coin boxes for the larger needs of the Jewish community, and the reverence for Jewish learning, helped develop a strong Jewish personality. Even the very walls of the home spoke eloquently - a picture of the holy city, a likeness of a great Talmudic scholar - these and other symbols filled the home with reverence, with a spirit invigorating the soul with love of God and the love of tradition. The Jewish home of today merits the unfavorable description recorded in the Torah, "Behold, the plague is in the walls."

If the religions of the world seek to swallow our children, to threaten us with the dangers of assimilation, we must armor ourselves with Jewish homes, homes filled with good deeds and religious observance. Without the virtues of a religious home, and Jewish living, deflation in Jewish life is the natural order, leading to the losses greater than those inflicted by the cruel hand of our ruthless enemies.