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November 16, 2014 1:30 pm

What Does it Mean to be ‘Religious’?

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Man applying tefillin. Photo: wiki commons.

My pet peeve as a proudly involved and committed Jew has to do with the word “religious.” Some synonyms for the word include devout, pious, reverent, godly, faithful, devoted, and committed.

Someone who has a beard and a yarmulke is not necessarily “religious.”  He may be “Orthodox,” but he is not necessarily “religious.” One could pray three times a day as required, don a yarmulke, tefillin and tzitzit – yet those acts exclusively wouldn’t qualify someone to be called a religious Jew.

Judaism has many different commandments and rules. Half of the primary Ten Commandments dictate deeds and acts from one person to another, not merely those involving a presumed relationship with G-d. Ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, and other Jews aren’t necessarily religious merely because they dress a certain way, attend synagogue, or study Torah regularly.

Do they practice what the Torah teaches? There are many ways to answer that question. My children attend Orthodox day schools, and I am a member of a few Orthodox synagogues; there are some religious people there, and some non-religious people there. I’d venture there’s also some very religious Jews who do not pray three times a day – yet have intense love, commitment, and focus for the Jewish people and our religion.

Judaism is about the religion, philosophy, and way of life. Don’t just come around and talk about “religious” people unless you know them – and you cannot know them from their clothes alone.

As CEO of a public relations firm, I know that words matter – and how one uses them does too.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur and author – with pet peeves about words.

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  • Al Catraz

    RELIGIOUS is one who follows a certain RELIGION!
    The more details and finer-points one follows the more RELIGIOUS they are!

    If you follow all rules except one – eat pork on Saturday meal, ie – are you religious JEW then?

    I would say NO! Just for that sin!

    But then, I would call ISIS Moslems RELIGIOUS too..

    This a far more complex question!
    And you can be the nicest SOB in the neighborhood – but you ain’t a religious JEW!

  • Yeshayahu Goldfeld

    Regretfully to be religious in Israel means to impose by law your rituals and irrational beliefs on your fellow inhabitants and be a pain in the neck .

    • Julian Clovelley

      That is the most sensible post I have read in Algemeiner for quite a while Yeshayahu


    • Al Catraz

      “..impose by law your rituals and irrational beliefs on your fellow inhabitants and be a pain in the neck..”

      You just described SOCIALISM or any LEFT-LEANING -and yes, ALL LEFT-LEANING DOCTRINES are a a RELIGION!

  • oag

    A person who conducts himself with care and compassion towards his fellow human and other creatures is the real religious person-prayers , religious symbolic gadgets are not required

  • Sam Harris

    Thanks Ronn; I learned more about my people in shul than I ever cared to know! Now I just keep my nose in my siddur.And yes, my best friends just don’t go.