All Oranges, No Apples

The juicy fruit is a metaphor for Judaism, bitter peel and all.

Judaism is like an orange. The outside peel isn’t good to eat; it’s  sour and bitter. Peeling an orange takes time. Watch out for the juice spurting in your eye.

Biting into an orange is not as simple as biting into an apple, where you just wash and eat. With an orange, there are so many more steps. The peel is tough and you spend a good few minutes getting all of it off. It takes effort to enjoy the juiciness of an orange. But once you peel yourself a slice, take a bite and feel the sweet juice spreading through your mouth, it is worth your efforts.

Just like the bumpy peel of an orange, Judaism doesn’t look so inviting. The thick, raw orange peel is hard to dig your fingernail into, hard to get a grip on it. The sudden juice that squirts out of it; how unexpected and unpleasant. Thinking of all this makes an orange seem a lot less appealing than an apple.

There are many laws and restrictions that make Judaism different from other religions. We can’t eat the same foods or drive to our friends’ houses on Saturdays — those awkward moments explaining to non-Jewish friends why you can’t get into a car on what is called, Shabbos. Most people don’t want to have to go through all of that.

Having to fast at least once a year is a pain. Even when the rabbi stresses how important it is to, “be like the angels in heaven who don’t need food and water and praise God because blah blah blah…” doesn’t seem enough of a reason to be craving food and water for 24 hours.

Keeping kosher. Another topic that begs questions from everyone who doesn’t really understand. It’s been a question forever for me. What does pig taste like anyway? Staring at non-Jews who seem to be enjoying what they eat — there’s the peel of the orange again, one of those unexpected squirts, holding us back from the juiciness of other beliefs we think we’re missing. The bitter peel glued to the soft skin inside. It makes eating an apple seem easy, and tempting.

I agree that at a glance Judaism doesn’t look too enticing, but you have to look under all those restrictions. You have to gradually and determinedly stick your fingers in and peel the bitterness away and realize that Judaism is a tempting, mouth-watering religion. Under the peel lies a soft sack filled with juicy ideas that are tempting to the mind and not at all bitter.

All those halachot (Jewish laws) have a purpose — they’re supposed to make you a better person. Halachot are similar to a peel — they keep the real nourishment protected and make sure that if you’re motivated you’ll be more than ready to understand, and appreciate, the juices underneath.

Judaism is complex, and there’s more hidden under the surface. You have one day off a week when you don’t have to go to work or deal with the weekday stress. Isn’t that more of a gift than a raw restriction? Not being able to eat some foods is not the end of the world. There are sweeter, more nourishing foods out there.

Judaism gives you the chance to have faith in something and to feel secure with yourself when you remember how the sweet, orange goodness tastes after you've torn the peel away. You have the power to make the right choices by understanding what you can and cannot do thanks to our laws and mitzvot. They seem like the thickest of peels, but are really there to protect the orange and keep us nourished.

And just like the sweetness of the orange itself — looking beneath those laws is a sustenance that will last a lifetime. You’ll move on from the effort it took to rip away the peel and will smile because the real juices of the world lie right beneath it.

author's bio: 
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Zakaim is an incoming sophomore at Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J. She is a student at Bergen County High School of Jewish Students (BCHSJS) in Hackensack, N.J.