Q. My grandparents are orthodox Jews. Do I have to follow my grandparents’ religious views in order to be a good grandchild?
A. Ahad HaAm argued in his essay, “Slavery to Freedom”, that he did not need to subscribe to the opinions of his father and grandfather if he wanted to be a good son or grandson. What he thought he needed was to strengthen his family as a means of continuity, facing the challenges of the new age in a contemporary way.
He was addressing more than the personal aspect of honouring his forebears but how to maintain his Jewish identity. His father and grandfather could have decided to be believing and practising Jews but he should be able to make up his own mind without slavish adherence to their opinions. His preference was for a secular cultural Jewish identity regardless of what his ancestors might have chosen.
His is the dilemma of the secularist Jew in our age a century later. His problem is how to find a Jewish ideology and position that will be sufficiently passionate and poetic to satisfy his descendants. Breaking with the God-talk and halachic pattern of the past may empty Jewish identity of its quality.
Does this mean that a grandson must force himself to live a lie, to “worship” a God he does not believe in and to “practise” commandments which do not appeal to him?
Not at all. Living a life of Jewish observance can be done whatever one’s present motivation. One can say it is a source of poetry in one’s life, that its symbolic content enriches one’s ethics, that it is a mark of Jewish belonging. And often it grows on you and you are able to say, “This religion business is beginning to make sense”…