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Ask the Clergy: DIY Judaism

DIY Judaism, what some consider the process of picking and choosing how one worships, may be an unfamiliar term to some. Rabbi Ravbid Tilles, assistant rabbi at Merrick Jewish Center, says the concept has its roots in the 1960s. It began to grow at the turn of this century as it gained popularity with Generation Xers and those coming up behind them.

"People in my generation feel like we can do anything because information is very, very accessible," says Tilles, a 28-year-old with a 19-month-old son. "Religion in general has always been a very communal and structured enterprise of who's in, who's out, who sets the rules. DIY Judaism is rejecting that notion because it doesn't fit with our modern sensibilities."

Tilles says this unofficial movement allows individuals to be more autonomous in their approach to religion.

"Religion at its core is a theocracy," Tilles adds. "DIY Judaism adds some autonomy to the theocracy."

"As a rabbi, I know that the reality is that DIY everything is out there. Therefore, we have to think about how people are accessing information, how they're accessing religion," Tilles says.


Rabbi Andrew Warmflash, Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, East Rockaway:

DIY Judaism gives people a sense of empowerment, a feeling they can learn and do things on their own. They don't need a professional in an institution to explain things to them.

I think people already pick the parts of religion they want to do, anyway, just some to a greater degree. They choose the traditions that are meaningful to them, which changes with various stages of life.

This doesn't mean they're more Jewish at some times and certain places. I think most people choose the parts they find meaningful and interesting. There are a lot of pieces to Judaism, 613 commandments. It is not a matter of choosing some beliefs and rejecting others. We as Americans value choice and determining our own choices.

My approach to DIY Judaism is guided by a piece of wisdom: One mitzvah [good deed] leads to another. You get such benefit from the things you do that it leads you to investigate more about Judaism, say, to visit the synagogue.


Rabbi Aviva Fellman, associate rabbi and director of congregational learning, Oceanside Jewish Center:

DIY Judaism very much fits in with our society, in that options exist. Take, for example, going to a restaurant but ordering chef salad without the ham. There's always the ability to adapt circumstances to what you want. I think DIY Judaism is a reality, but don't know if I classify it as good or bad.

DIY Judaism is part of a larger change in how families today engage. It is all about immediacy and having options.

What synagogue you belong to may not be indicative of what your home life looks like.


Rabbi Mendel Teldon, Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, Commack:

People confuse religion and spirituality. Spirituality is about being a good person with ethics and morals. Religion is a two-way relationship between God and a person. People can be good on their own. To be godly, you need a religion.

Judaism is a godly gift, given to us by "He Who Wrote the Code" of our physical and spiritual DNA. Embedded into every one of the myriad details of our tradition is the eternal guidebook of how to live life to its fullest.

Imagine buying a suit and reading on the collar "Dry Clean Only" and thinking: "Na, I can do this on my own. I don't want to be limited by little tags!"

While we each have a unique understanding of God and our journeys are coming from different places, we would be doing a disservice to ourselves and our families by not paying attention to parts of the user manual.

There also is tremendous space within Judaism for self-expression. That is where certain family and community customs or traditions enhance the experience and add a personalized flavor that makes it more meaningful.

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