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In Theory: How important is having fun?

April 30, 2014

A young Italian nun with a powerful singing voice and engaging stage presence has been capturing the attention of millions of television viewers on "The Voice of Italy." Her performance of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" knocked another female contestant off the Italian talent show on April 16. The 25-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia said after winning accolades, "I'm excited, really thrilled. The fundamental thing is to have fun."

Q: Tell us what you believe the role of fun can play in a spiritually fulfilling life.

I believe that having fun within the context of a wholesome, religious lifestyle is perfectly acceptable. People need to feel good about life and experience joy, including its spiritual dimension. Fun that leads to a sense of fulfillment and happiness should be encouraged.

Judaism has an interesting take on happiness: Although there is no Biblical commandment to be happy, happiness is a key to proper, positive adherence to all of the commandments. Conversely, there is no Biblical injunction against being depressed, but a person suffering from depression cannot function properly and find lasting religious fulfillment; therefore, a person with emotional troubles should seek proper assistance — medical or otherwise — to regain their balance.

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It is true that fun can sometimes get out of hand, and a reckless pursuit of excitement can come at the expense of other essential elements of life. We need to be cognizant of the difference between healthy fun and hedonism that can lead to immoral acts. Often the line between the two can be thin.

As a rule, clergy and lay leaders should feel a responsibility to imbue the religious experience with a sense of fun and happiness. This is often the key to ensuring that people come to our houses of worship, participate fully, and find proper guidance. This is especially true for young people, who are being pulled in so many directions toward activities — both positive and negative — that seem exciting and fun. To keep our youth engaged with religious practice, we need to maintain a positive, uplifting atmosphere that offers a sense of joy and excitement.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
Glendale 

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