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Home > Secteur-English > General > Jew and Tefillin. By Tzvi Freeman

Jew and Tefillin. By Tzvi Freeman

You’re out on your lunch break, walking down a busy street, and some black-hatted, bearded young guy walks up to you on and says, “Hi, are you Jewish ?”
Let’s say you say “Yes.”
“Hey, you’d look great in black leather ! Roll up your left sleeve.”
Before you’ve had a chance to decide whether you believe in this or not, what your dear mother would have to say, and whether this is really a normal thing to do in a place like this (it’s not), you’ve got black leather straps and boxes wrapped on your arm and head, your hand is over your eyes and you’re mumbling, “Shma Yisrael…”
Or let’s say you say “No.” And you keep walking.
But you’re thinking, “Why did I say no ? Am I Jewish or not Jewish ?”
Either way, something has shifted inside. Your idea of what it means to be a Jew may be shifting, may be crumbling, or may even be experiencingSuddenly, you’re thinking, “What does it mean that I’m a Jew ?” a nascent emergence. After all, when was the last time you ever thought about your Jewishness ?
And now all of a sudden you’re thinking, “What does it mean that I’m a Jew ?”
We’ve had fifty years of such scenarios since the Tefillin campaign was launched—followed by the Shabbat candle campaign, and yet more, totalling ten mitzvah campaigns. Now it’s time we can consider how these guerilla-type, street tactics have changed the way we think about what it means to be a Jew.
Paradigm Shmaradigm
Let’s consider three classic models of Jewishness and Judaism. We’ll call them Religion, Affiliation, and Observance. Here’s how their dynamic works :
Religion, says the general consensus, is about what you believe.
Affiliation is about where you pay dues.
Observance is about how much you do and don’t do.
If there’s a tefillin campaign, being Jewish can’t be about religion. If there’s a tefillin campaign, being Jewish isn’t about religion. It’s about you.Neither can it be about affiliation. It’s not even about observance.
Because if any Joe right off the street (and right there on the street) can be asked to wrap those leather boxes on his arm and head—whether he professes to believe in G‑d or is an avowed atheist, whether he stands for Israel or for BDS, whether he believes the narrative of the Jewish people or denies it or never even heard of it— just because he has a Jewish mother, then Judaism can’t be an ism, can’t be an ideology, can’t be a religion and certainly can’t be defined by membership dues.
So what is it about ? It’s about you. You’re Jewish. So you’re in because you’re in. Done. Period. Let’s wrap.
Basically, an identity thing. Identity first, action second (like leather boxes or Shabbat candles), and all this feeding into your mindset, which triggers yet more identity and more action.

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