What Religion Teaches Us

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



Its Meaning, Its Effect, Its Consequences


The American Heritage Dictionary states that religion is a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power regarded as creator and governor of the universe.  There are many forms of religious practice.  We will only here briefly touch on some of the customs of our faith, lest we write a new set of laws (Schulchon Orach).

          We will here mainly speak of our Jewish religion, which is many faceted and gives us a number of choices.  There are the Reform Jews, who have abbreviated their practice and allow themselves much leeway in their expression of their adherence.  There are the Conservatives, who are the “middle of the roaders,” and last, there are the Orthodox, who attempt to fulfill as many of the prescribed commands that are in the Torah and commands that are laid down in “the good book”.  To be an Orthodox Jew one must keep the Sabbath holy – it is a day of rest, no work can be done, all meal preparations must be done the previous day before the sun sets. There will be no driving; no strenuous expenditures; synagogue attendance is required and there is adherence to other strictures. Only kosher meat can be eaten; meat and milk cannot be eaten together, and a number of hours must be waited before dairy food can be consumed after imbibing in “fleischig” (meat) dishes. Prayer is very important and men and women, when attending synagogue services, must sit separately, so that they can worship without thoughts of human frailties, i.e. yearnings of the flesh.  There is a Mechitza (curtain) dividing the two genders and in some older, more traditional schuls (synagogues), separate stairs for women and men.  The females can look down but the men are not to look up to take them away from their prayers.  There are innumerably more tenets that must be followed in order to fulfill orthodoxy in its strictest sense.

          There are of course other interpretations of religion, as we as Jews and as humans practice our belief systems.  The ten commandments are accepted intellectually by all who consider themselves having scruples, or a religion.

          There is the belief in one G’d for all  (Like an atheist was to have said:  “Thank G’d I’m an atheist”). There is the concept of kindness, of the good heart (“the gute neschome “– the kindly soul).  The person who treats his brother or his neighbor with understanding, love and kindness.  The person who does not gossip or denigrate his fellow man; the one who gives charity, feeds the hungry and the poor; the one who who loves his “brother”, the one who has “Rachmones”, pity on people, and attempts to alleviate their pain as much as he is capable, in his humanness. To overlook another's flaws and foibles, to not “correct”  these attributes with hostility; to be able to actively identify with the other human, to not speak loschon horah (evil tongue). (When our late President Lincoln heard a word mispronounced by someone, who addressed him, Lincoln also mispronounced the word in order not to embarrass the speaker).   There is much, much more! The truly religious person is kind, respectful and does not express haughtiness nor do evil deeds!

As long as religion is not used as a weapon to aggrandize one's self, to act superior or hurtful, but to enhance the good in the self and other humans, to enhance the lives of those who need it, to be humble and respectful of our fellow beings, then religion is a positive practice.  If, however, we utilize religion as a way to prove our superiority or to spurn, hate or punish, then it is a perversion of  the Word!

         There is so much more to religion than we can here state. Religion includes sharing, caring and feeling for all of fellow humanity and expressing these qualities with deeds!



Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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