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Is religion still relevant?



Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul

This question reminds me of little old Hymie Levy of London, who somehow found himself attending a cocktail party in the company of aristocracy. Poor Hymie was completely out of place mingling with the lords and ladies of British royalty and high society. One duchess was so irritated by this ordinary Jew’s presence, that she confronted him directly. Oozing sarcasm, in her finest elocution, she told him, “Did you know that my family traces its lineage back to the very people who were personally present at the signing of the Magna Carta!” Hymie was unfazed. He gave a little shrug of his shoulders and whispered straight into the ear of Her Haughtiness, “Un mein zayde, Moishe, vos poisonally present by de giving of de tzen commendments!”

Have the ten commandments passed their sell by date? Are faith and doubt, murder, adultery, thievery, lying, and jealousy out of fashion? Notwithstanding all our marvellous medical and scientific developments, has human nature itself really changed? Aren’t the very same moral issues that faced our ancestors still challenging our own generation?

Whether it’s an ox cart or a Mercedes, acting in road rage or courteous co-existence is still a choice we must make. Looking after aged parents is not a new problem. Whether it is Adam and Eve or Michael and Sheryl, the grass somehow always seems greener on the other side. For some inexplicable reason, the other guy’s house, horse, or Porsche still seems more attractive and desirable than our own.

Has anything changed? Yes, today we have astronauts and space stations, laser beams and laptops, but the basic issues and choices human beings face remain identical. Once upon a time, the question was, do I hit him with my club, or slice him up with my sword? Today, the question is, do I call up the nuclear submarines or send in the guided missiles?

Technology has developed in leaps and bounds. Fantasies of yesterday are reality today. Communication, automation, and globalisation have altered our lives dramatically. But the core issues, the basic moral dilemmas have not changed one iota. We still struggle with knowing the difference between right and wrong, moral or immoral, ethical or sneaky, and not even the most souped-up computer on earth is able to answer those questions for us.

Science and technology answer “how” and “what”. They do not address the question of “why’’. Why are we here in the first place? Why should I be nice to my neighbour? Why should my life be nobler than my pet Doberman’s? Science and technology have unravelled many mysteries, but they have not answered a single moral question. Only Torah addresses the moral minefield. And those issues are perhaps more pressing today than ever before.

Torah is truth, and truth is eternal. Lifestyles change with the geography. The storylines are different, but the gut-level issues are all too familiar. If we ever needed religion – or in our language, Torah – we need it equally today, maybe even more so.

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