Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Driving A Car Without Wheels

Imagine going shopping for a car and getting a great on one.  In fact, the dealer sold you a new model with all the extras but in order to meet your budget he had to leave one accessory out: the wheels.
Yes, the car looks great sitting in your driveway.  The stereo system makes you feel like you're hearing the music live in concert.  The air conditioning soothes the feeling of the sun burning down on your head.  How jealous your neighbours are!
Until you actually have to use the car for the purpose it was intended and drive it somewhere.
Judaism without God is like a car without wheels.  It might look great, give one a basic sense of fulfillment and fill in a hole in one's sense of needing to have some kind of ethnic belonging but when it comes to serving the purpose it was created for, it takes its adherent nowhere.
Consider this article from, of all places, San Francisco:
For Sally Ann Berk, it feels like coming out of the closet.
No, not that closet. Berk is an atheist.
The Oakland resident is a married mother of a 13-year-old son who attends Oakland Hebrew Day School. But her worldview, while grounded in Jewish culture and ritual, does not include a deity. To state that publicly, she says, is “something people don’t really talk about, like it’s like something shameful.”
She feels no shame, and she is not alone. With its core principle of peoplehood and ancient embrace of “wrestling with God,” Judaism has long boasted a skeptical strain, just like Berk’s.
“A lot of people have doubts and questions,” she says. “That’s the nature of being Jewish. I get my spiritual fulfillment when I’m out in the woods.”
Like many times before, this article shows that such people have a completely fundamental ignorance of what Judaism is.  Something inside them, the famous pintele Yid perhaps, demands of their conscience that they forge a connection to the Jewish nation but their conscious mind, unwilling to consider that there may be something out there they don't know about and might have to learn and accept, remolds Judaism into their own image.  All the image, none of the substance.
Well, some of the image.  When it comes to the things Jews have done for millenia such as prayer and other attempts to rise above the self and connect to God, these folks don't seem to have an interest:
“I think a lot of people stop praying with a congregation because they can’t make the words mean anything in their lives,” says Cantor Ellen Dreskin of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua, N.Y., who says she interprets the words in the prayerbook “metaphorically and poetically,” not literally.

In the Humanistic Judaism movement, prayers have been scrapped altogether. That movement, founded by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine, adopts many of the rituals of traditional Judaism but deletes the references to God.
Alana Shindler serves as head of the rituals and celebrations committee for Kol Hadash, a Humanistic congregation in the East Bay.
She and fellow congregants celebrate the Jewish holidays and Shabbat. All are welcome at their gatherings in the Albany Community Center — God being the possible exception.
“We take the prayer out of it and look at the meaning of the holiday,” Shindler says. “Most have a humanistic component. In Yom Kippur, the notion of repentance to those you have wronged, trying to be better than the year before, those are very humanistic. They have nothing to do with praying to some God writing something down in some book.”
Again, if you don't need God, what do you need any of the time-honoured holidays and rituals for?  After all, these only exist in Jewish culture because He commanded them in the first place.  The mention of Yom Kuppir is very telling.  Yom Kippur is not merely about salvaging relationships with your fellow.  You can do that any day of the year.  Can a humanist seriously think of telling someone he's wronged: "Hey I'd apologize to you today but can you wait until next Tuesday?  It's Yom Kippur."?
Some of this is the fault of the Orthodox community.  In our zeal to force chumros down people's throats we have changed God from a loving, universal father interested in our spiritual growth into the distant, menacing CEO who sees no one from lower down in the company ranks and is only interested in punishing the faithful despite their best efforts.  Is it any wonder that people choose not to believe in such an awful figure?
One of the burders of Orthodoxy is to move away from a punitive model based on fear and conformance.  If people see yirei Shamayim who worship out of love, not concern about what the neighbours will think, perhaps some will be convinced that there is truly a God in Heaven who cares about us.  But the seachange necessary for that kind of approach is not a simple thing to achieve.

2 comments:

Michael Sedley said...

I disagree,

I think that Jewish culture and tradition is very powerful and an important part of one's identity, even for someone who does not belive in G-d.

I also think that it is wonderful that people who have problems with faith still want to maintain their ties to Jewish History and practice.

I have relatives in Cleavlenad who belong to a Humanistic Congregation (not sure what they call it) and don't believe in G-d. I actually find their approach to Judaism easier to understand and more logical than some of the Heterodox movements that claim to believe in G-d, but reject aspects of His Torah.

Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Humanism runs deep in my blood, but I don't think I'll ever be able to read about it without shaking my head ever so slightly. "Jewish culture and tradition" is an empty shell if you remove everything that has to do with God. Bagels and lox, anyone?
My cousin had a secular "bnei Mitzvah" several years ago and I have literally NO CLUE what they did there. They also have a big sign out on Bathurst offering Yom Kippur services every year - I believe they hold it on the Sunday closest, but I could be mistaken.
Anyway, WHICH Jewish culture are you preserving as a "powerful and important" part of your identity? Sephardic? Ashkenazi? I doubt anybody would wear a streimel as part of their "proudly secular Jewish identity." (even if their God-fearing ancestors did so)
Sea change? Perhaps... but in the meantime, punitive seems to work better with human nature. It's just the way He made us. :-)