Better off without religion?

Dear Rabbi,

I came across the Jewish Weekly recently in Manchester and I was intrigued by a lot of what I read. I see that you answer questions and I would like to propose one of my own. I am not Jewish or a member of any faith for that matter. I was born Protestant but I have decided that we’re better off without G-d. Isn’t the world better off without religion? Anti-Semitism, racism, terrorism, these are generally all acts committed in the name of one religion against another. Doesn’t that then suggest that religion itself is the root cause of all this malice and that if we dispelled with religion altogether, then arguably here would be nothing to hate. Religion has a corruptive and destructive streak, giving a license to the most heinous crimes, thus it is best to abolish it.


Dear Fred,

The worst crimes in history have been perpetrated in the name of religion, in the west no less than in the east. We Jews are perhaps more aware of this than most others: the crusaders, the inquisition, Martin Luther, pogroms in honour of Easter and Christmas. Aboriginal people throughout the world recall the missionaries coming to them with the cross in one hand and the sword or Koran in the other, and proclaiming: “Either you kiss the one or the other will kiss you!” How many wars have been fought and how many atrocities committed in the name of one faith or another, and all, of course, “for the glory of G-d” or with the battle-cry “Allah al-akhbar!”
Is religion really at fault? Were these criminals truly G-d’s warriors? The easy answer of “no,” and to dismiss them as crazies, ignorant fanatics or fundamentalists etc., is too simplistic a response. I suggest to you the following: In the gun-control debate there is a famous saying: “Guns don’t kill; people do.” This is certainly true, though in that context we should ponder the question as to how much we should facilitate and whether we should make it easier for people to act improperly. The basic premise, however, remains correct. Nearly everything in life is a two-edged sword, with a positive and a negative side.
The truth is just as many people have been killed by the following of various secular social philosophies as by the propagation of certain theological beliefs. No less destruction has been wrought by scientific research and discoveries, or colonialist pursuit of wealth at the expense of native populations. It is not this or that premise that is responsible for the consequences as much as what the human mind and so-called rationalism does with it. Would you now suggest stop thinking, to cease scientific pursuits or to develop social theories and philosophies? Obviously that is absurd.
Man’s greatest gift is the power of free choice. In order for free choice to operate, a world that can enable man to love must also enable a man to hate. Free choice means that a world in which man can make himself into a Moses must also allow for the possibility for man to make himself into a Hitler. Human reason and the pursuit of religion need not be changed. Humans must change by realizing their positive potential and utilizing it for its intended purpose to make this world into a better place. So it is not religion per se that is the problem. It is people’s subjective interpretation, their own rationale, the applied human reasoning that pacifies the conscience and justifies the actions.

When to get married – or not!

Dear Rabbi,

More than a year ago I met the love of my life and already back then we booked the wedding for this time next year. Recently I checked the calendar and a friend pointed out that it is an unlucky time to get married as it is a sad time. My family and I are not observant and my fiancé’s parents aren’t Jewish – he converted through the Progressives. I don’t know if that makes any difference. Can you explain about this bad energy and why it’s a sad time to get married around now?

Dear Anna,

This time of year is an especially sad time on the Jewish calendar as it was when our Temples were destroyed and countless Jews were persecuted or exiled. It is therefore customary not to hold celebrations during this time and to wait till after the “three week” period has ended. The actual three weeks fluctuate each year as they are subject to the lunar and not solar calendar.
However I would add in your case, there is no good time to get married. You are marrying someone who is not in the first instance Jewish and his slapstick conversion in order to whitewash the marriage is utterly meaningless. You have a Jewish soul, regardless of your observance levels. Your fiancé does not. Thus you can never be soulmates in the truest sense. If you are concerned about “bad energy” then you need to know, whenever, if ever, the two of you marry, that will be an especially sad time on the Jewish calendar regardless.

Shabbat Cruising

Dear Rabbi,

I want to go on a winter cruise. It’s going to run through Shabbat. Is that a problem? What can I do?

Dear Simone

Park around the corner like everyone else? Seriously, if you get on the boat before Shabbat, and establish the boat as the place you are staying for Shabbat, then there is no problem with you remaining on the boat on Shabbat. But you couldn’t get on the boat on the Shabbat. Nor should you disembark on the Shabbat.
There is a school of thought which maintains that you need to bring a Rabbi with you on the cruise in order to deal with the halachic dilemmas as they emerge. You can contact me through this paper.

Bon voyage!