My Jewish Problems, Vol 3c


Ok, it’s not really volume 3c, it’s volume 1, but these things are becoming more of a problem because my son is going to be bar-mitzvahed next year. Fortunately, he has started to ask questions, and they are intelligent questions to which he has given some rather provocative thought. But let’s face it, not only my son and daughter, but the vast majority of Jewish children sent to Hebrew schools have found the experience boring and stultifying. We remember with either humor or horror the teachers we had, we are proud of the misdeeds we performed, and whatever we may feel about our kids going, we are thrilled to have that part of our education long buried in the past.

Our cat was dying last week (she was euthanized on 3-7-13) and from my son there were questions about prayer and souls. S. asked whether or not I pray, and I said that I did not. This is a tough one, because so much of Hebrew school these days is devoted to ritual. Truth be told, ritual is boring for the majority of kids. (And adults, for that matter, otherwise we’d be bursting at the seams on Saturday morning.) In the olden days, that is, when I went to Hebrew school, we had two days a week plus Sunday mornings. The Tuesday and Thursday sessions were devoted to learning Hebrew, so that it wasn’t that hard to learn the ritual. We actually reached 13 years old with a reasonable level of foreign language skills. Not that we appreciated it.  Who wants to go to school after school? And the subject matter? Could anything be better designed to alienate most kids?  I said that the lack of prayer in my life did not mean that there was a lack of hope, but that I didn’t have anywhere to address that hope. A life without hope is a tough thing, I said. (My father didn’t go. His father was the son of a shokhet, a kosher butcher, and he wanted as little to do with Judaism as possible, at least as far as I could tell. My father inherited what I perceive as an indifference, but family history is another story.)

He also asked if I believed in the existence of a soul. In spite of my general rationalist science views on things, I do believe that we have souls. Whether or not they are superintended or live on beyond us is another matter entirely. Could they have a guardian, a judge, a creator that watched over them? I don’t think so.

So why am I sending my kids to Hebrew school? Because I went (that’s a stupid reason)? Because we need a history and identity ( so we can be better tribalists)? Because community is important (it is, but why this one, of all communities)? Because I think that there’s value in the ritual (mostly no, but a little bit of yes)? Because I think it can foster some concern for others (yes, but I’m not sure we need to foster belief in a deity, especially one I don’t believe in myself)?

Feel free to jump in, anyone.

(By the way, I have no problem with circumcision performed on infants, either myself, my own kids, or anybody else’s for that matter. Just in case you were wondering.)

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