Three Misconceptions About Orthodox Judaism

1)  According to the Torah the Universe is Only 5,778 Years Old.     

The current Jewish year is 5,778, but Judaism has never taught that the Jewish year is the age of the universe.  Rather, this is the number of years since the creation of the first human, Adam, as in Adam and Eve.  

So how old is the universe according to Judaism?  Since the sun was not created until the fourth day of creation, it is not possible for each of the six days of creation to be 24-hours in length.  Rather, each “day” of creation that the Torah described is understood by many (but not all) Traditional Jewish Bible commentators as an “epoch” of time. Therefore, a view within Judaism is that the age of the universe is six “days,” or epoch’s, plus 5,778 years.   

Although this explanation can stand on its own, there is more to it.  Thanks to the Theory of Relativity, the measurement of six days and 13.7 billion years can occur simultaneously because each number is a measurement from a different frame of reference – one frame of reference being modern geological time (which assumes that the current laws of physics have been constant from the beginning of creation), and the other from God’s frame of reference.  This is why the Torah describes creation taking six days.  For more on this see Gerald Schroeder’s highly popular Genesis and the Big Bang (1991).       

Furthermore, the Torah’s description of creation actually follows the same sequence as the Theory of Evolution, but where scientists posit randomness, Orthodox Jews see God.

In sum, there is no conflict between modern science and the Torah’s description of creation and the age of the universe – both are correct.    

2)  Orthodox Jews View Themselves as the Only “Good Jews.”    

People often assume that Orthodox Jews views themselves as better Jews than those who are less observant.  However, this is not true because according to Traditional Jewish theology every person is graded by God on their “individualized curve” based on their circumstances.  Thus, those who grew up in a non-Orthodox environment are actually judged according to an easier rubric than those who had a strong Jewish educational background -- and every Orthodox Jew knows this.  Thus, it is possible for a Jew who only periodically does a Mitzvah, and also does many sins, to be viewed more favorably by God than Jews who are completely observant.         

Never-the-less, ignorance of Judaism cannot be used as an excuse for one’s entire life for only doing a few Mitzvot and for repeating their favorite sins.  Every Jew is obligated to constantly study Judaism and to grow in their observance of Mitzvot.  

What ultimately makes a Jew a good Jew is not where he or she is in their level of observance, rather, a good Jew is one who is growing in both their knowledge and observance of Judaism. 

3)  Observing Jewish Law is a Burden and Not Fun 

To understand how this is a misconception, one needs to have clarity on the concepts of happiness, pleasure, and meaning which will be explained.

Happiness comes about from satisfying wants and is directly associated with how one feels.  For example, a person desires getting the latest iPhone (or any other material object or experience) and only reaches happiness upon obtaining the iPhone.  But this level of happiness subsides when a new model of the iPhone comes out, and it takes getting the latest iPhone to obtain the same level of happiness.  Happiness is not permanent.

Meaning, on the other hand, is about having a sense of purpose, especially making positive contributions to the lives of others, and entails evaluating one’s life as a whole. People who live a life of meaning have pleasure, rather than happiness. 

Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s most profound teaching is one in which he encapsulated that “Judaism is for our pleasure.”  This is because Mitzvot should not be viewed just as commandments, but as “opportunities” to connect with God, while at the same time provides the construct for leading a meaningful life. 

For example, for Jews who traditionally observe Shabbat, every Friday night the family has akin to a Thanksgiving dinner and parents and children actually engage in conversation with no one on a cell phone.  Another practice, Davenning (praying) three times per day helps foster a constant sense of appreciation and of the Imminence of God in one’s life.  Keeping Kosher reminds one of their uniqueness and of the sanctity of all life; and learning Torah everyday reminds one of their purpose as a Jew and how to fulfill it.  

Furthermore, each Jewish holiday and festival stresses a particular value for living a meaningful life—such as appreciation, forgiveness, overcoming obstacles--while at the same time celebrates its historical significance by engaging in fun activities such as eating delicious food, drinking wine, singing, camping in the back yard (on Sukkot), dancing in the streets (on Simchat Torah), dressing up in a costume (on Purim), lighting a bonfire (on Lag B’Omer), attending interesting lectures all night (on Shavuot), etc., all in a meaningful context with fellow Jews.     

As one can see, living a Jewish life that is full of Mitzvot fashions the living of a meaningful life that has an enormous amount of real pleasure, is spiritually fulfilling, and a lot of fun.