“My name is Reuven Spolter. I was born and raised as a religious jew in Maryland in an religious Orthodox Jewish household. I went to Jewish day school, parochial schools- both for elementary school and high school. Then, I continued my education, studying for two years in Israel... and then went to Yoshiba University in New York.”
What are the core beliefs of Judaism?
“The first thing we believe is there is one God. There is a God in the universe that is all powerful and all- knowing who has the ability to, all though he chooses not to, directly control what happens in our lives. Who wants a relationship to us, but it must be something that we initiate, and we see, and we develope. That God, broad, broad, broad strokes, eventually, redeemed the Jewish people. He took them to the desert, taught them the commandments, transformed them into a nation, and the responsibility of the nation is to bring the word of God into the world... Bring the message of monotheism, service of God, dedication to him.”
Why did you decide to pursue an active role in Judaism?
“I was raised with the thought that religion can bring the most meaning to a person’s life. I always found it very very meaningful. When it came time for me to pursue a profession... I enjoyed teaching very much, I enjoyed talking to people very much- so when it came time for me to choose a profession it only seemed natural that I would pursue this passion I have for my religion.”
What makes Judaism unique?
“Christianity and Islam are offshoots of Judaism. Buddhism and Hinduism... I haven’t studied them intensely, but from what I understand they’re very much about the power of spirituality and humanity there is also a level of the worship of powers. I believe that there is a creator- a higher power. It has been passed down to me through my religion that this higher power communicated with us and told us how he wants to be worshipped.”
How has Judaism changed during the 21st century?
“This is a dangerous thing to say, so I’ll say it very carefully. Judaism is a conservative religion, conservative with a small ‘c’ in the sense that it does not like change- it does not change a lot, but of course it adapts to the 21st century. Judaism talks about the rules of life- so we must apply the rules of life to things that happen in the 21st century. So, you use ancient values, ancient text, and try to transform them- try to translate them- to meaning in the 21st century. Without a doubt, it’s a subject of huge debate. To what degree does Judaism evolve and to what degree do we need to have allegiance to our core values? Every religion struggles with this- Christianity, Islam- every religion struggles with this issue of modernity. I side on the more careful side. I believe that God is an infinite God, all- knowing, and all- wise that the values that he gave us are eternal values. For example, if there is a modern value that comes up in western thought... Western thought is very much into individuality and personal freedoms- those are not Jewish values. I personally believe that my obligation is to follow the values of Judaism and give up the western values when they clash. If they don’t clash I try to merge and meld them to the best of my ability. I don’t have any problem with technological advances other than they raise challenges.”
Is Judaism practiced differently in Israel than it is practiced in America?
“In America, Judaism is a religion, even for orthodox people, even people who are supportive of Israel. In Israel, it’s not just a religion- it’s more than that... We have a nation, we have a language we have an army, we have a land, we have contiguous territory- all elements of any country. To me, our religion is an expression of that national identity. While it looks the same- if you walk into a synagogue we have the same prayers- to me, it is felt deeper in here.”
How are the youth being engaged in Judaism?
“The youth are very engaged. They are incredibly involved in school. They are very involved youth group and there are programs and events and they are very busy all the time. Youth here are much more engaged. In israel, there is this low level terrorism that has been going on for the past six months. Every two or three days some Arab will try to stab, or ram, or kill a jew or israeli soldier somewhere in the country. There was a war two years ago, there was a war five years ago... when they shoot rockets- in this room I’m in, it’s called a safe room and the whole family comes to the safe room. So, the idea of being personally threatened and personal sacrifice to live in Israel is something all kids understand. First of all, that creates a lot of psychological pressure on one hand. But if you are raised in a certain way you are raised to believe there is a reason you are here, so that will spur you to be much more passionate. Youth raised in the religious zionist community in Israel are very passionate, very involved, and very aware. When you finish high school in Israel, it is understood that you will spend two to three years in Israel. There is an expectation of service that changed your whole mentality and attitude.”
Is Judaism portrayed accurately in the media? If not, what are some misconceptions?
“Media is much more visual, but that doesn’t convey what Judaism is really about. It is really about family, community, and the meaning of ritual. Television is not about the day to day... T.V. is not good at portraying anything in a real way. It focuses on the visual and the exciting. The vast majority of Jews that I know are outstanding wonderful people but, you don’t hear about outstanding, wonderful people because that’s boring.”