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Author Blog: On Ritual and Justice

Earlier, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote about taxation in America and Hurricane Sandy, FEMA, and the Need for Big Government. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


The great French Jewish philosopher and Talmudist Emmanuel Levinas, in his “Difficult Freedom” (pp. 176-177), taught about the power of Jewish ritual to inform and inspire our work to make the world more just, which is of paramount importance. He wrote: “The Justice rendered to the Other, my neighbor, gives me an unsurpassable proximity to God… The pious person is the just person…. For love itself demands justice and my relation with my neighbor cannot remain outside the lines which this neighbor maintains with various third parties. The third party is also my neighbor.” Thus, when we pursue justice in a Jewish way, we come closer to God. This is because “[t]he ritual law constitutes the austere law that strives to achieve justice. Only this law can recognize the face of the Other which has managed to impose an austere role on its true nature…”

This discipline found in religious life through ritual is needed in our daily lives: “The way that leads to God therefore leads … to humankind; and the way that leads to humankind draws us back to ritual discipline and self-education. Its greatness lies in daily regularity…” One cannot rely on an occasional, passive religious service, but on daily ritual. To Levinas, ritual tames man and calms the spirit: “The law is effort. The daily fidelity to the ritual gesture demands a courage that is calmer, nobler and greater than that of the warrior…. The law of the Jew is never a yoke. It carries its own joy…” Far from religion as dour, drudge-like labor, ritual is joyful labor.

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Author Blog: On Ritual and Justice

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