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Jews for Krishna

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroOctober 05, 2011

The fall issue of Reform Judaism magazine contains a passionate, even angry, attack on Jesus, Krishna, and John Lennon’s song “Imagine” by Dr. Ze’ev Maghen of Bar-Ilan University. The essay is adapted from his book John Lennon and the Jews. I looked up the book on Amazon and it’s supposed to be an emotionalist appeal to Jews to love Judaism. I didn’t feel the love.

In the essay, Dr. Maghen writes about meeting Israeli Hare Krishnas at Los Angeles Airport (LAX). After a few moments comparing notes about life in Israel, he wants to know why these Jews have dropped Torah for Gita. They explain that their new religion is better than their own religion, which drives Dr. Maghen crazy. The Krishnas reply in kind, and yet another opportunity for real meeting and dialogue is lost in the haze of emotionalism. Somehow this leads him to John Lennon.

Dr. Maghen doesn’t want to imagine there’s no heaven … no hell … nothing to kill or die for … no countries … no religion… you get the idea. Me, I am more Lennon than Lubavitch. In fact I’m more Lennon than Lennon—I don’t have to imagine there’s no heaven or hell, I know there’s no heaven or hell; I think religion and politics are human inventions, and heaven and hell are just carrot and stick used to keep people in the fold. While I would be willing to die to save lives, and can imagine myself killing someone to protect lives, killing and dying for abstractions like religion doesn’t appeal to me at all.

True, I find the idea of “living for today” shallow, preferring to live in the moment rather thanfor the moment. But all in all, I like Lennon’s song. Anyway, Hare Krishnas don’t agree with Lennon either, so what’s the fuss all about?

My real problem with Dr. Maghen: He writes, “I passionately believe we ought to subordinate head to heart and rationality to emotionalism” (p. 213); “So far from being a function of logical or pragmatic thinking, Jewishness today is both a product and a producer of passion” (p. 248); and “love is a better motivation than truth” (p.261). I believe just the opposite, and prefer head to heart, reason to emotion, logic to passion, and truth to love. People who don’t often scare the crap out of me.

Here’s my advice to Dr. Maghen: The next time you meet Jews who have left Judaism, talk with them—don’t yell at them. Ask them why they left? Ask them what they found in their new faith that they couldn’t find in their old faith? Share in a passionate but nonjudgmental way why Judaism works for you. We can learn much from those who leave the faith.

And here’s my advice to Jewish Hare Krishna’s: stay away from LAX.


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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