Sentient Being? Human? Jew? Shabbat Keeper?

This blog series is called “Musings of an Agnostic Rabbi.” Lately I’ve been musing about what it means to be a Jew these days. I know – that is a ridiculous question. Perhaps the question should be “what does it mean for me to be a Jew at this point in my life?” I find inspiration in many places, including Zen Buddhism, Mindfulness Meditation, Sufism (mainly poetry by Rumi), Secular Humanistic Judaism, the Middle Way Society, and Christianity. I just re-read Gilead by Marilynn Robinson and I still think this novel is profound, and thoroughly Christian.

There are several activities that keep me in the world of Jewish. We have a family Shabbat meal together every Friday night. We sing and light candles. I disconnect from media on Saturday and mainly read and walk and spend quality time with my husband. I’m a member of an online community called secularsynagogue.com and am especially inspired by those within the group who are Jews by choice.  I’m in a Torah study group with people with all sorts of points of view. I read a page of Talmud a day along with over 9000 other people. A page is called a daf and the practice is called Daf Yomi. We write our comments on Facebook. Much of what we read is irrelevant to my life. For example, lately we’ve been reading page after page about how long to sequester the priest before he goes into the Holy of Holies within the Temple on Yom Kippur. This Temple has not existed since 70 C.E.! Yesterday, someone asked about why God wants us to do what is being described in these dafs. From my own perspective, this was a strange question. Maybe the question should be “why do the sages think we should do this?” I find the discussion to be interesting historically and if I find any inspiration at all, it’s in the sages’ patience with argumentation and recognition that a final decision about whatever is being discussed is often not attainable. There are just too many variables to consider, though they consider quite a few! Maybe, to be a Jew is to be comfortable with not knowing.  Maybe, to be a Jew is to accept a middle way perspective, modeled even by our ancient sages!

Recently I re-read Irwin Kula’s book, Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. In the chapter on creativity he talked about the Israelites inability to see forward when they were in the desert after leaving Egypt. They looked back to their old ways and wanted a golden calf to worship as they had in Egypt. Maybe, for some of us, the ancient laws of Judaism are our golden calf. Maybe, we have to take in new ideas and embrace those old ones that still have some relevance to create a new way forward. The world is smaller than it was. We’ve been exposed to Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, secular humanism, so many points of view! We have learned to think critically and respect science. Because of the pandemic, we have never been more connected to everyone in the entire world than we are now. Where will we take this connection and knowledge? What will be our way forward? Will we work to save the planet? Will we respect each others’ differences? Will we shrink and build a golden calf by clinging to old beliefs? The sages were not afraid to argue about how to go about making decisions about what to do. Maybe, at the very least, we can use their example to recognize that the struggle is worth having, and that we may embrace the sacred messiness of it all. Maybe that’s what being a Jew is for me. Ask me next week.

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