Naama Shafir, the Orthodox woman’s basketball superstar, says, “If you have a dream, it’s not a question of ‘either-or.’ You can do both. You can be religious and fulfill your dreams.” What is the Jewish view on this? Is it true that a person can always fulfill his/her dream and be in line with Torah values?
While the sentiment expressed by Ms. Shafir is certainly inspiring, there are at least three terms in her quote andthe continuation of the question that require “unpacking” in order to be able to properly evaluate the veracity of what is being proposed. 1) Are any and all personal “dreams” attainable by a “religious” person? 2) Is there a difference between “Torah values” and “Torah observance”?
It is possible that a deeply religious person will only allow him/herself to entertain dreams that are appropriate for and complimentary to a wide-reaching religious lifestyle and outlook. R. Gamliel states in the Ethics of the Fathers (2:4): “Make His Will like your will in order that He will Make your will like His Will.” In my view, the issue raised by this question is a reflection of a “chicken-and-egg” situation, i.e., where do one’s priorities lie—with fulfilling personal ambitions and goals or engaging in devoted and consistent worship of the Divine. Should a person try to make religion conform to his/her aspirations, or are the goals to be realized clearly defined from the start by a religious outlook and lifestyle? Furthermore, if the standard by which dreams are measured is “Torah values”, suggesting some general, amorphous themes that can be derived from Jewish tradition and primary sources, accommodations become much easier thanif strict and comprehensive adherence to Jewish law and observance is the given. Are “Torah values” sufficient for leading a religious life, or is something more required?
In the specific case of an athlete, particularly a professional, even if in certain contexts the individual is able to adhere to the letter of the law, it is unclear if the law’s spirit can also be maintained. How exquisitely gifted must one be in order to be able to constantly dictate when and where one practices and plays, if your teammates are not afforded such flexibility? Were the person to be relegated to minor leagues or a minor role on the team in a major league in order that his religious requirements be met, would this constitute a true fulfillment of the “dream”? Is earning wages for Shabbat and Yom Tov competition, assuming that no Melachot are violated, a religious thing to do?
Therefore, it seems to me, that while today, so many more doors have been opened for Orthodox Jews in terms of education, professions, political activity and places of residence, to exaggerate available options to the point where it is claimed that any and all dreams can be completely melded into an authentic Jewish traditional lifestyle, is at the very least premature, if not simply incorrect.
One of the fundamental elements of Judaism is the concept of kedushah (holiness). We are told in the book of Leviticus "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus ) The essential definition of this idea in Judaism is the act of separation - though we live in and interact with the world Jewish practice and belief asks its adherents to distinguish themselves through mitzvot commandments related to everyday life. These rules and obligations challenge us to guide every aspect of our life from the mundane to the sanctified with these guidelines from what we eat to how we use our time to the rituals surrounding life cycles, the Torah and the Rabbis outline certain guidelines for how we are to live our lives. There are times where this creates limitations on what we are able to do, say, eat - in other words, how we live.
However, I do think Na'ama is right in many ways the greatness of the Torah as blueprint for our lives is its' ability to be stretched, adapted and developed throughout the ages. During each generation Jewish law has been thrown new and interesting challenges. From using electricity on the Sabbath to women in leadership roles as times change the tradition enables us to live rich and fulfilling lives in the world at large while addressing head on these new challenges. It is possible to maintain a high level of Kedushah holy commitment to Torah while still fulfilling your dreams. Sometimes this will require her to have some give and take between her dream and her Torah it will likely require some compromise on her part. However, I do believe in the end if she holds true to the values of her tradition and the truth of her dreams she will be able to fulfill both albeit perhaps not in a strictly traditional sense.
“If you will it, it is no dream,” Theodore Herzl famously wrote in his utopian novel and de facto Zionist manifesto Old New Land.The catch is that he was not writing of dreams in general but of his particular dream of a Jewish homeland built by human hands, which, interestingly, also presented and continues to present difficulties for some traditional Jews.The answer to your question, of course, is “it depends”—depends on the dream, depends on what you mean by “Torah values,” and depends on the person you are asking.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but if fulfillment of your dream requires manifestly illegal and/or immoral actions or elements, you will very likely find yourself at an impasse with Torah values.(Even here, however, it is not so simple; consider the Freedom Riders, now celebrating the 50th anniversary of their brave and illegal action, which succeeded in changing an immoral law; or the situation of same-sex couples today, who live in defiance of some laws and others’ morals, but whom some of us passionately support in their dream to live and build a family with the person they love.)
If by “Torah values” you mean traditional Torah values, then there will be dreams that, while neither illegal nor immoral are in direct violation of halakhah.For example, if it were your dream to eat a ham & cheese sandwich on Yom Kippur while remaining true to traditional Torah values, you might find yourself at a bit of a dead end.(I can already hear the arguments: “but if you were dying of hunger on Yom Kippur, and a ham sandwich were the only sustenance available….” Still, it would be forbidden to pursue or orchestrate such circumstances.)
And it depends on whom you ask.As Rabbi Zeev Smason pointed out in his answer to a similar question on this site, Naama Shafir reportedly received “special dispensation” to play basketball on Shabbat, while another Jewishly observant and exceptionally talented basketball player, Tamir Goodman, turned down an offer to play for the University of Maryland when they were unable to honor his requirement that he not play on Shabbat.Different rabbis and different Jews differ in their interpretations of Torah values, even within a single stream of Judaism.In the end, Goodman received an offer from another Division I school, so he was able to fulfill his dream while adhering to his stricter interpretation of Shabbat law.Perhaps one lesson of all this is that you’ll never know what’s possible to accomplish within the realm of traditional Jewish observance until you try.
From a Reform perspective, the answer to your question is that every Jew must answer this question for her- or himself, and that in order to answer this question, each one of us must be very clear about what “Torah values” means to us.Our answers to such questions may change over the course of our lives as we and our circumstances change.How can we remain true to Torah and true to ourselves throughout so much fluctuation and uncertainty?Only through a lifelong engagement with Jewish study and a lifelong pursuit of our own truth, which, depending on one's theology, is also God’s truth.
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