During the High Holiday season, writers are often looking for a great movie quote, iconic image, or meme to link to the holidays. Many do this to connect people’s lives outside of synagogue while they are inside the sanctuary. One such text that many wrote about this year is a joke offered by Paul Rudd in the Between Two Ferns Netflix movie. When Zach Galifianakis asks “Are you [a] practicing [jew]?” Rudd responds “No, I’m not a practicing Jew… I perfected it.”
Molly Tolsky, the editor of Alma, used this joke to talk about how so many Jews feel disconnected from the Jewish community because of the idea of needing to practice Judaism in a particular way. Do you pray? Do you go to services? Do you recite blessings over food? Do you refrain from using electronics on Shabbat? Molly talks about her vibrant Jewish identity, how she is the editor of a Jewish website, and how important being Jewish is to her, irrespective of practicing. She, like many, have fallen into the trap of defining practice too narrowly.
Judaism is not only about actions and rituals. It is about belief, community, values, self-development and so much more. I have met people that pray three times a day but are unethical. They use legal loopholes to collect welfare while not contributing to the larger community. When one looks at the confessions on Yom Kippur, one will be amazed at how many of them focus on the larger world. Seeing Judaism as something not to perfect, but practice in all aspects of one’s life.
What I love about Judaism, what motivates me to be a Rabbi for Hillel, and what Paul Rudd completely misses, is that Judaism is something that can and should permeate into all aspects of one’s life. It is not like the kippah that one puts on when walking into synagogue for services or sitting down for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. It is something that has something to say about everything and should be a guiding force in all one does. When I think about what foods I should buy in the store to eat, Jewish values are at play. When I go to the gym, I am taking care of the body God gave me to help the world. When I am learning in classes, I am becoming the person I need to be in this world. So my response to Paul Rudd is that you are a practicing Jew because we all are and no one can ever be truly perfect. We always have something more to learn and grow.