Judaism for Everyone

Renewing Your Life Through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith


By Shmuley Boteach

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With the publication of his runaway best seller Kosher Sex (1999), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach gained instant fame as a sage and savvy commentator on public and private life. Now he turns his outspoken energy and vast erudition to the core teachings of Judaism itself. During his eleven years as Rabbi of Oxford University and founder of the university’s Jewish outreach organization, the L’Chaim Society, Boteach began to realize how well-matched the foundational beliefs of Judaism are to the broad human needs of the modern world. Unlike the dualist credo of other religions — in which the material and spiritual are always in conflict — the Jewish faith, argues Boteach, uniquely represents a spiritual philosophy concerned about life in this world, rather than in the hereafter. In Judaism for Everyone this most unorthodox of orthodox rabbis explores the Jewish and Biblical origins of civilization’s seminal moral ideas and presents Judaism as a program of action for people of all faiths. Boteach’s interpretations and commentary are a vibrant celebration of the dynamism that is Judaism. Whether he’s peppering his points with stories from his childhood, promoting feminism and decrying boredom, or extolling the virtues of leisure and solitude, Shmuley Boteach never fails to inform, inspire — and surprise. Judaism for Everyone is for everyone seeking a universal moral creed to maximize human goodness and inner potential.


“A great read, and a splendid stepping-stone to a thoroughly enriched life.”
—Deepak Chopra
Judaism for Everyone gets my vote for the best Jewish book of the year.”
—Arnold Ages, The Jewish Post and Opinion
“Boteach’s great faith in Judaism as a source of inspiration shines through.”
Publishers Weekly
“An entertaining read . . . Boteach’s goal of making Jewish thought palatable and agreeable to a wide audience outside the Jewish faith should be applauded.”
Jerusalem Post
“Good reading for people of all religions.”
Buffalo News
“A major achievement. Few books on Judaism convey its essence as clearly, as interestingly, as humanly as Judaism for Everyone.”
—Dennis Prager, author of Happiness Is a Serious Problem
Judaism for Everyone reaffirmed my own sense of Jewish faith. I’ve shared this precious work with friends from other practices who, thanks to [Boteach], now have a better understanding of what it means to be a Jew.”
—Alan Colmes, Fox News
“A cultural phenomenon.”
“A relationship guru.”
New York Daily News
“America. . . .may need a Shmuley showcase.”
Washington Post
“Surprisingly fresh.”
—Aaron Barnhart, The Kansas City Star
“A reality mensch.”
“Self-help superhero.”
Macleans, Canada
“He’s got at least one lesson we could all use.”
The Bangor Daily News
“A smart, insightful guy.”
—Hillary Rhodes, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
“A frank talker with considerable charm.”
Wall Street Journal
“A self-help sensation.”
—Alexandra Alter, The Miami Herald
“Strode the national stage by analyzing relationships on The Oprah Winfrey Show, acting as a spiritual mentor to Michael Jackson.”
New York Times

Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments
Kosher Sex
Kosher Emotions
Why Can’t I Fall in Love?
The Rabbi and the Psychic
The Jewish Guide to Adultery
Moses of Oxford, Vols. 1 and 2
Wrestling with the Divine: A Jewish Response to Suffering
Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge:
Basic Concepts of Jewish Mystical Thought
The Wolf Shall Lie with the Lamb:
The Messiah in Hasidic Thought

To my grandmother Ida Paul,
who ensured that I had a Jewish education
To Shneur Zalman Fellig,
without whose inspiration, influence, and
friendship I would not have become a Rabbi
To Michael Heinhardt,
whose love for all things Jewish
has given me inspiration
And to the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson,
of blessed memory, who inspired generations
of young Jewish men and women
to become spiritual leaders

May the same wonder-working Deity who, long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in the promised land—whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation—still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessing of that people whose God is Jehovah.
in a letter to Congregation Mikve Israel
in Savannah, Georgia, 1789
I have heard from my father and mother all the answers that faith in God could offer to those who doubt and search for the truth. In our home and in many other homes the eternal questions were more actual than the latest news in the Yiddish newspaper. In spite of all the disenchantment and all my skepticism I believe that the nations can learn much from the Jews, their way of thinking, their way of bringing up children, their finding happiness where others see nothing but misery and humiliation.

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, the mighty man in
his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him
that glories glory in that he understands and knows Me.
—JEREMIAH 9:22-23
MY JEWISH FAITH HAS ALWAYS BEEN my greatest love and inspiration. Knowing that millions of Jews, throughout history, have laid down their lives rather than relinquish the faith of their ancestors has given me considerable pause in undertaking the composition of this book. In the end it was entirely due to the request and encouragement of Robin Baird-Smith, original publisher of Kosher Sex and friend, as well as Joann Miller, my editor at Basic Books, that this book was written. It is my attempt to offer traditional Judaism to a modern Jewish and non-Jewish audience in a rational, intelligible, and inspiring light. The book incorporates the insights of many of the old giants of Jewish history as well as more contemporary Jewish thinkers. Foremost on this list are my great teacher and mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory; Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch; Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik; and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Other scholars whose ideas appear here include Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, my dear friend Dennis Prager, and Yeshayahu Leibovitz.
In my other books I have thanked my wife, Debbie, for being my greatest pillar of support, without whom none of my projects would have achieved fruition. In this book I thank her, not for supporting me, but for inspiring me. Judaism has long maintained that women possess a higher innate spirituality than men. My wife demonstrates this with her absolute love and devotion to God, people, and Judaism. Nothing that her Jewish faith requires is ever a burden to her, and nothing it demands fails to show her its immediate inner beauty. I also wish to thank my children, who are my joy and the lights of my life. Imparting to them my passion for the Jewish faith has been the foremost responsibility of my life.
I also thank Jo Ann Miller, Executive Editor at Basic Books, for her belief in this material and her enthusiasm for my ideas. I hope that her steadfast support will not prove misplaced. I extend my hearty gratitude to my agent and friend Lois Delahabay, who served as a wonderful matchmaker for this book. And finally, I offer humble thanks to my extremely wise friend Ron Feiner, who gives me profound advice on all aspects of life, both personal and professional, without which I would be significantly more impoverished.
As always, I thank Almighty God for granting me the strength to complete this task. I can only hope that I have done His great law some measure of justice.
Readers acquainted with my writings know that at the age of eight I experienced the trauma of my parents’ divorce, which split my family in two. My mother moved with me and my siblings to Miami, and my father remained in Los Angeles. We had always been an Orthodox Jewish family that celebrated the Sabbath, kept a kosher home, and observed the Jewish festivals, and we children attended a Jewish day school. As young boys, my brothers and I wore yarmulkes always, both at home and in public. But we partook fully in the modern world as well. My siblings and I consumed copious quantities of television and participated in all the adolescent fads that characterized mid-1970s America. We skated in roller rinks on Saturday nights, sang Bee Gees songs, and went to endless showings of Grease and Rocky. But there was a void in my heart that could not be filled. I began to lag behind the rest of my class and became, like some of my siblings, a troublemaker at school. Although my pranks made me popular among my classmates, I felt aimless and lost. With my father 3,000 miles away, I had no full-time authoritarian figure to exert any real influence over me, and my mother selflessly worked two jobs to support her five children.
When I was ten, my life took a vastly different course. My mother could not afford to send my brothers and me to a mainstream Jewish summer sleep-away camp. But the worldwide Hassidic Jewish movement, Chabad-Lubavitch, was opening an eight-week over - night camp in the blistering and mosquito-infested Homestead, Florida, and she signed us up. For the first time in my life, I was immersed in a completely Hassidic Jewish environment, and I found myself in my element. I was a popular camper, and for three consecutive summers I won the competition for learning by heart the most Mishnah, the ancient rabbinic oral code of law. The young rabbinical students who served as my counselors became surrogate fathers to me, and I continued to enjoy a close relationship with them during the year, attending virtually all the weekly classes and programs they ran for Jewish children in South Florida.
At the time of my Bar Mitzvah, the principal Lubavitch figure in my life was Shneur Zalman Fellig, a young rabbinical student who exerted spirited influence on me, was my surrogate older brother, and is one of the people to whom I have dedicated this book. He somehow finagled a meeting between myself and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the foremost Rabbi and Jewish spiritual leader of his time. I met the Rebbe at three o’clock in the morning, in his tiny Brooklyn office, while hundreds waited outside for their private meetings. I had been told that I would have only a few moments with him, so I prepared a long letter detailing the negative effects of my parents’ divorce on me, how I had become a cynic, and how my life at school consisted of teasing the girls and playing practical jokes on the teachers, while my life at home consisted mostly of fighting with my siblings and watching television.
I was moved by the Rebbe’s slow reading of my letter, occasionally marking passages with a short yellow pencil. When he finished, he looked up at me and I saw in his piercing blue eyes a sea of infinite kindness. He said to me: “You are too young to be a cynic, especially since you will grow to be a source of naches, inspiration, joy, and pride to your family, your school, and the entire Jewish people. I bless you today to grow to be a light unto all people.” He then asked me to write to him and to inform him of the progress I was making in achieving these goals, and he said that he would write to me too, a promise he kept. When I emerged from his office, I felt filled with hope for the first time in my life. That very night I decided to leave my Jewish day school and enter a rabbinical seminary.
In some religions the purpose of life is to perfect oneself and become more Godly, a noble objective to be achieved through spiritual pursuits such as faith, prayer, charity, and abstinence. For Judaism the purpose of life is the healing of the world. Man is invited as a junior partner in creation to assist God in purging the world of evil, indifference, and injustice and imbuing it with compassion and loving-kindness. The Jewish dream of creating a world with no war or conflict held immense appeal to a young child whose heart had been broken by the dissolution of his parents’ marriage.
The Jewish mission is not to teach the world how to make money, but rather what to do with money once it is made. Our purpose is not to teach the world how to develop atomic energy, but rather to what use such energy should be put. The Jews have always served as the lamp lighting the way for humanity to find God. Our purpose is to show direction, thus ensuring that all the goals of mankind remain pointing firmly heavenward. The Jewish people are like an arrow, a vector, always reminding humans to lift their eyes toward the infinite expanse of the cosmos and see reality for what it really is, that there is an invisible God behind all human events, and that man can find Him if he but lifts the curtain of nature, which conceals the God of history.
This book seeks to demonstrate the modern relevance of the world’s oldest monotheistic faith to men and women of all ethnicities, nationalities, and persuasions. It was not written, nor was it intended, primarily for a Jewish audience. The L’Chaim Society, the educational outreach organization I founded at Oxford University in 1988, has been one of the few Jewish organizations in the world with a high proportion of non-Jewish members. Every Friday when I served as Rabbi at Oxford, of the hundred or so students who joined us for the weekly Sabbath meal, more than a third were non-Jews. They came not to convert to Judaism—only a handful of students converted in the eleven years I served as Rabbi there—but rather to grasp a spiritual framework that is all about the celebration of life, that glories in human warmth, and that teaches that God is loving, comforting, and approachable.
It is my great hope that in these pages, no matter how close or far Judaism feels to you, you too will experience some of its life, dynamism, vibrancy, and soul-piercing depth.
Shmuley Boteach
Englewood, New Jersey

WESTERN SOCIETY IS DEFINED AS MUCH by its social ills as it is by its successes. True, the West has largely eradicated poverty, made great strides in fighting disease, and created a high standard of living. But it is also plagued by crumbling families, material excess, and the loss of spiritual purpose. Cumulatively this points to the erosion of values in Western life. Loneliness is endemic because we value money and career over family and relationships. Purposelessness prevails because we are defined more by material greed than spiritual hunger. And depression dominates because we value youthfulness over wisdom, and a perfect body over an enlightened spirit.
But what can explain the loss of values in the West? Are these not societies that were built on strong religious foundations? Taken as a whole, Western society has lost its values precisely because religion has lost its way.
In the United States, the dominant faith, Christianity, comes generally in one of two forms. The first consists of the formal, mainline Christian denominations, like the Lutherans and Presbyterians, which tend to be more socially liberal and have thus either endorsed or tacitly embraced much of Western culture’s values. The second is composed of the evangelicals and charismatics who condemn and reject the culture’s mores and have chosen abortion and gay marriage as the most important spiritual battlegrounds of our times. This obsession with two sexual issues, to the near exclusion of everything else, has helped marginalize religion and has undermined the ability of the faithful to impart real values to an increasingly valueless society. Fifty percent of heterosexuals are divorcing, but our evangelical brethren continue to obsess over gays whom they say threaten the institution of marriage. The truth, of course, is that straight people have done an admirable job of destroying the institution.
Islam faces numerous problems as it confronts the modern world, including an aversion to Western democratic values and a rising number of fanatics who preach violence in the name of God.
All of this points to one conclusion—the need for greater influence on the part of that other great world religion that gave rise to both Christianity and Islam: Judaism. Not only because Judaism is the only great monotheistic faith left standing, but rather because the values of Judaism are uniquely suited to modern times.
How has it come to be that the world’s oldest monotheistic faith is the one with the least contemporary influence? Judaism spawned every other great world religion that believes in one God. Yet, outside the Jewish community (and, many would argue, even within our community), it is virtually unknown. Most people know of Jews and Judaism only in a tragic context. In thinking of golden civilizations we conjure up images of pontificating Greek philosophers, Roman legions shimmering in the golden sun, and the artistic wonders of the Renaissance masters. The Jews are the ones who were defeated by the Romans, slaughtered by the Crusaders, expelled by the Spaniards, disemboweled by the Cossacks, and cremated by the Nazis. Every Jewish child studies in school about how each nation lived and how the Jews died. It is my intention in this book to refute this lie and establish Judaism as a program for the development of human potential that is suited to people of every persuasion.
There are many reasons Judaism lacks contemporary influence. Foremost is the tragically mistaken notion on the part of Jews themselves that Judaism is only for Jews. To be sure, Jews do not proselytize, believing we must all, in the words of my friend Marianne Williamson, “honor our incarnation.” The faith into which you were born is the manner in which God expects you to worship Him. But this was never supposed to mean that Judaism as a system of belief and values was not meant to influence the lives of all the earth’s inhabitants, non-Jews included. Plenty of Westerners meditate and do yoga. But that does not mean they have any intention of embracing an Eastern faith.
After 3,300 years of near-exclusive practice by Jews, why do I say that in these times, Judaism is for everyone? Because it is the only religion that can address the corruption and loss of purpose that is endemic to the Western world.
Western society has figured out nearly all the great macrocosmic questions. We know, for instance, that the best form of government, which will likely never be improved upon, is liberal democracy as Francis Fukuyama has argued. We also know that no financial engine can ever equal that of a free market-based economy. We have not cured all disease but know how to research their cures. And though we haven’t brought about world peace, we know how it can be achieved through the spread of representative government, freedom of press, and freedom of religion. But while Western society has answered these big questions, it has failed at the smaller, microcosmic questions. We know how to build skyscrapers, but we don’t know how to sustain a marriage. We know how to launch a satellite into orbit, but we are flummoxed when it comes to raising good kids. And we know how to send messages effortlessly across the world in nanoseconds, but we don’t know how to overcome our addiction to the impulse purchase. America especially has become a country of great contrasts: the wealthiest nation on earth consumes three-quarters of its antidepressants.
It is into this contradiction where Judaism fits. Most of the world’s great faiths have traditionally focused on the large questions of existence: How can faith-based governments be created? Where do you go after you die? How did Satan come to be? Jews and Judaism, lacking even their own country for two thousand years, have focused instead on the small yet profound questions of existence. How does a man remain attracted to his wife for the duration of their marriage? How do families learn to consecrate time and make special moments holy? How can we ensure that we are always honest in our commercial dealings? And how do we raise children who are motivated, respectful, and intellectually curious? It goes without saying that a failure to master these questions virtually guarantees an unhappy and failed existence.
Every religion is known for certain characteristics: Christianity for its deep faith, Islam for its strong passion, Hinduism for its penetrating spirituality. Judaism is known above all else for its emphasis on mitzvah—a righteous action, the belief that what we do is always more important than what we believe. It is a curious notion for a religion but one that Judaism affirms passionately. But that’s what makes Judaism much more a science for the fullest development of human potential than a religion in the conventional sense of the word.
We often speak of the similarities of the great monotheistic faiths because there is a great deal that unites them. Yet Judaism stands alone, not for its rejection of the divinity of Jesus or the prophecy of Muhammad, but for its singular concern with values.
There are, of course, the values that the Jewish people bequeathed the world that have since been co-opted by other faiths and for which we have lost the copyright. Among these are the belief in the unity of all things stemming as they do from the one true God; the infinite value and absolute equality of every human life (expressed by the Hebrew Bible with its declaration that all are created in the image of God); the primacy of education and a knowledge-based life; and the belief in charity, philanthropy, and our responsibility for the welfare of our fellow man.
Most of these values are no longer accredited to the Jews. We gave the world the one true God. Today the name is Jesus and Allah. The Hebrew Bible’s idea that all men are created as equals today goes by the name democracy. The idea of a brotherhood of nations, rooted in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, today goes by the name United Nations. Consider also that the teaching of Leviticus 19:18, that one must love one’s fellow man as oneself, is today called the Golden Rule and attributed to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, even though Moses proclaimed it thirteen centuries earlier.
British historian Paul Johnson put it this way: “To [the Jews] we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”
But there is a second tier of values—values that remain wholly Jewish and that have not been embraced by the world, but that can bring great healing if they were to be disseminated. They are, in acrostic form, DREAMS, or Destiny, Redemption, Enlightenment, Action, Marriage, and Struggle.
The first value is Destiny. Unlike the Greeks, who believed in the “awesome power of fate,” the Jews are messianists. For Christians, messianism is a spiritual concept that speaks of humankind’s redemption from original sin. But for Jews, messianism is a physical concept that connotes humankind’s capacity to make the world a nearly perfect place. Jews believe in humankind’s promised destiny of an era in which peace will reign over the earth, “the wolf shall lie with the lamb,” and the predatory streak in humans and in nations will be purged.
In short, we reject humankind’s sinfulness and instead believe in its perfectibility. It is not sin that Judaism focuses on, but atonement: the ability of a human being to correct his ways and become Godly. We are even willing to wrestle with God Himself, battling whatever divine plans He may have for afflictions, and instead demanding and bringing healing to the world. Abraham argued with God to save the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses debated with the Creator to rescue the Jews after the sin of the Golden Calf. They did so in the knowledge that it was the will of the Creator that they sought to rescind the devastating divine decree.
Whereas Christians believe in a leap of faith, and Islam translates, literally, as submitting to God in faith, the word Israel means “he who wrestles with God.” This explains why Jews always struggle to improve the society into which they are immersed. Jews have always flourished in societies that were meritocracies and have nearly always foundered in societies that were aristocracies. For Judaism champions the individual’s capacity to raise himself up. This also explains why so many Jews have founded utopian movements aimed at social justice and the equal distribution of wealth.
Despite their tragic history, Jews remain eternal optimists. Most of all, this explains Zionism and the establishment of modern Israel. Jews returned to their homeland just three years after the Holocaust ended, and they did so while many other nations succumbed to calamities much less serious. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik told us, the burning fire to return to the land of their fathers could not be snuffed out even by the raging flames of the crematoria of Auschwitz.
The second fundamental Jewish value is Redemption


On Sale
Dec 22, 2009
Page Count
464 pages
Basic Books

Shmuley Boteach

About the Author

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is one of the world’s leading relationship experts and spiritual authorities. His twenty-two books have been bestsellers in seventeen languages, and his award-winning syndicated column is read by a global audience of millions. He is the host of TLC’s award-winning Shalom in the Home and was Oprah Winfrey’s love, marriage, and parenting expert on Oprah and Friends. He served for eleven years as rabbi at Oxford University, where he built the Oxford L’Chaim Society into the University’s second largest student organization.

Today, Newsweek calls him the most famous rabbi in America. The winner of the highly prestigious London Times Preacher of the Year award, Rabbi Shmuley is also the recipient of the National Fatherhood Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Debbie, and their nine children.

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