May I introduce you to one of the most anti-Semitic songs in our popular culture? The lamentable lyrics can be heard in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye strides center stage, flings his arms wide, and to a bewitching beat, bellows the word “Tradition.”
I dislike that song because it offers a false explanation for religious ritual. Saying that we Jews observe many of the rituals that our grandparents did is true. Saying that we do those things because of our reverence for tradition is utterly misleading.
If tradition were everything in Judaism, it would raise the question of why Orthodox Jews should be allowed to travel by Cadillac or fly the Concord rather than confine their transport to wagons or even camels. I dislike this distortion of Judaism because it has helped to fuel mass defection from the community. Indeed, it is hard for me to see how I myself could embrace a rigorous regimen of religious observance strictly because my father did it before me and his father, in turn, before him. I am not a mindless automaton and I don’t care to ape ineffective activities of our ancestors just because they are ancient. No, I prefer my actions to have good reasons. One good reason might he that God commanded me to do them, which is quite different from saying I do them because of tradition.