Feb 11, 2012 1
May 19, 2011 3
I’ll speak for myself here. My idea of ‘religiousness’ has certainly been questioned for years. However, in Israel, while my eyes have opened and connections in my mind have been made concerning the teachings of the Jewish religion, my feelings about religious fundamentalism have been affirmed.
Why would one follow a ritual? What would the significance of this ritual-following mean? Would it matter if the ritual was not performed in the way your ancestors did? What if those ancestors had misintepreted the meaning or the instructions? What if you forgot a few times – would you be punished? If so, by who? The list of questions could go on, and on. But really, for what reason do these people follow these rules?
During my childhood, our prayer services were long, dry, repetitive, mostly unengaging, and meaningless. This is not an exxageration. The high holiday services, especially, were long and we were forced to sit through them. Again I am speaking for my own religious education specifically, but we were almost never taught why we did what we did in the synagogue. Words like “day of atonement” along with some dry summary of the holiday were given, at best, but what stayed with me the most were the painfully long services, and the prayer service, in Hebrew.
But aren’t the teachings and the rituals supposed to influence us, and to affect how we live our every day lives in a way that is deeper than having some sounds come from our mouths, wearing special fibers, and avoiding certain foods? What really is going on and what would be the reason for doing this? Again I will say in my own experience Judaisim was nothing, absolutely nothing but blind following of ritual, along with xenophobia and Jewish guilt.
I really thought for some reason that this might have just been my particular feeling, and that conservative Judaism in a city near Boston had become disconnected from the meanings of the teachings. Conversely I imagined that the ultra-orthodox Jews, especially those in Israel who followed the rituals and teachings even more strictly, were pious, devout, kind, and thoughtful people. I should probably note also that I do not think that assumptions, especially those dealing with large groups of people, are ever fully correct, but I will continue to make some. It seems to me that these deeply religious people from what I have seen, are not examining the texts to ask how they can improve and enrich their lives and the lives of others. Instead it is just more ritual-following. Better not pick up the phone on the sabbath, but I’ll buy a machine to answer automatically after 3 rings. Better not press a button on the elevator on the sabbath… I’ll just have it stop on every floor so I don’t have to use my body to operate the machine. What?! I’m not kidding. There are rabbis out there who interpret the ancient texts to say what is and is not acceptable, and people find loopholes all the time. I can leave the lights on all night long, but I can’t use my body to flip a switch. I could use a timer, though. What?!
I saw something in Jerusalem that sealed the deal for me. We pulled up to a stop light, and to our right was an ultra-orthodox man driving a utility van. He had the kippah, the headcovering, atop his balding head, and long curling locks twisted, hanging long beside his face. A curly pointed beard emanated from his chin. I watched him as he removed the plastic packaging from his cigarette box and proceeded to throw it out the window, into the street.
A friend told me another wonderful story. He took his son to the western wall, at the child’s request. The boy had heard about it all his life, so his father obliged. Holding hands they walked towards the wall – the retaining wall that used to hold up a temple that no longer exists. Someone in a rush to pray came running from behind them, apparently not looking or not caring, and crashed into them, separating them, the boy being thrown to one side, scraping his knee, brought to tears. Was it that important that the fellow make it to the wall at that moment? My friend who told the story has amazing patience and follows a Jewish tradition to give the benefit of the doubt in situations like this – perhaps the man had a relative with a terminal illness and his desire to pray was so strong that he could not cast aside his feelings for another human. Did you read that last part? Another human. Where is the humanity in religion?
How far have things come? Has the Jewish religion, amongst others, just been maladapted to a new world in a context far from the one in which its roots were developed, such that people have completely forgotten the meaning behind the teachings?
The question of what defines a Jew is complex and gray. If one is to measure their level of ‘Jewishness’ by comparing themselves to the level of rituals they abide by, I would not be Jewish at all, and some orthodox people would in fact say that I am not, even though my ancestry is fully Jewish. A sentiment that has always resonated strongly with me is that ultimately there is no ‘final judgement’. No all powerful god is out there who is watching my actions, keeping tabs on them, judging what is good and bad. This imagined god will not be there when I die to determine some imagined future in heaven or hell. So assuming that I am not blindly following rituals in fear of some imagined god, what can I take from the Jewish teachings? After being able to say that ritual does not have value to me as a means to some happy ending, what is the essense of Judaism that I can take with me and make positive use of? What can I take that will improve my life experience and bring light and positivity to others? These are questions I ask of any teaching in my life.
For so many years as of late I have refuted Judaism, but in Israel I was exposed to some thoughts and teachings that seem in fact to resonate with me, in a similar way to many other ancient teachings. So why not examine my heritage and see what there is to discover? Michael, our tour guide shone a light on many topics, lifting a veil from my eyes, and specifically left us with the idea that there is no level of being Jewish – you just are Jewish (assming you are). One of the major themes he shared that I took with me had to do with being a human being. It was tremendously refreshing to hear this. Michael summed up Judaism with a quote from Rashi, I believe:
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
Apr 30, 2011 2
I am changing.
I? am changing?
Could I not change if I tried?
Who is changing anyway?
Vipassana meditation retreat. Breathing. Breathing. Monk?
Do I eat to satisfy my tongue/nose/hunger/eyes/mind?
Do I eat to bring nourishment to this body?
What matters? Isn’t what matters subjective anyhow?
Can’t I forget about a mission and listen to what I want, to what feels good?
Will it satisfy me? Where is satisfaction?
The dance of ever-longing continues. Long here, for there. When there becomes here, I am longing yet again.
What do I want?
This, too, shall pass. Ink?
Be aware and let it be.
Perception is all.
Like clouds drifting by.
Acceptance is the way.