The Difference Between a Merely ‘Religious’ Jew and a Principled One
Hearts & Minds: An Original Look at Each Parsha in the Torah by Pini Dunner; Otzrot Books, 2021.
Many Jews believe that being religious is the same thing as being pious. But there’s a vast difference between the two.
Think of all the Orthodox Jews who follow the letter of the law, but mistreat those who they view as beneath them, or participate in unethical business dealings. Think of all the rabbis who flouted COVID-19 restrictions and encouraged their followers to the same (thus violating perhaps the most important commandment — “thou shalt not kill”).
This is true in all religions, of course. But that doesn’t make it right. I wonder if some people’s negative views of religion are rooted in the fact that many “religious” people they see don’t always adhere to the true values of their faiths.
Rabbi Pini Dunner is no such person. An Orthodox Jew and a practitioner of the true tenets of his religion, he has written a new book entitled “Hearts & Minds,” which demonstrates that unless you treat fellow human beings with respect and kindness — regardless of who they are — you’re not really religious at all.
As the Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner, I have read Rabbi Dunner’s columns for years; many of them hit on this very theme. Of course, it’s easy to pay lip service to these words. But as Pini and I became friends, I learned that he meant what he said.
A personal pet peeve is when people don’t respond to emails. It’s become very easy to ignore people these days, but it’s also become a true sign of character. When you choose not to respond — even with a “no” or “Sorry, I’m too busy to help” — you are stripping the sender of their dignity and self-worth.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but think of how many times you’ve been hurt by someone failing to take even 10 seconds to acknowledge your existence with a reply — or the modern phenomenon of “ghosting.” The message sent is this: “you’re not even worth a few seconds of my time to respond.”
When I send Pini an email, there’s always a response (even if there isn’t much he can do to help).
Part of the breakdown in our society today originates in the lack of empathy, compassion, and kindness for others that the Torah demands of us. And it’s here that Rabbi’s Dunner book will inspire you — just as its contents have inspired me almost every week while reading his columns, many of which are found in this book.
I’ve sent many of his articles to friends who aren’t religious, or even Jewish. His writing has lifted me up when my dreams felt hopeless; sometimes it seemed that Rabbi Dunner had written these columns exclusively for me.
Although I am not strictly religious, I grew up believing in the power of Judaism. The reason was my grandfather: Manfred Gruenspecht. He was a religious Jew who embodied its principles of love, kindness, compassion, and tolerance. He went out of his way — over and over, throughout his whole life — to put others first. Not just his family, but even strangers or colleagues at work.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with him once, sitting in a synagogue pew. I asked him why he had donated to the synagogue anonymously; everyone else had put their names down. He told me: “Because this way, I know that I’m truly doing it for the right reasons — not to be noticed or recognized.”
I could write a book of my own about my grandfather; but the highest compliment I can give Pini Dunner is that when I read his writings, I very often think of my grandfather.
The world today could use a lot more Manfred Gruenspechts — and a lot more Pini Dunners.
David Meyers is the Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner.