The New Year Arrives!

A Good 5775 to All of You!

Yes, 5775 years from Creation according to the Hebrew Bible. A short time, indeed, for the Grand Canyon, dinosaurs, the carving of the Great Lakes, etc!

Tough one to swallow in this day and age? You’re not just whistlin’ Dixie, buddy.

And get ready, ’cause for the next 10 days, you’re really gonna have that semitic noodle of yours twisted in a Gordian knot.

Why? Because we are,

once again, at

 the most difficult time of the year.

That season when we Members of the Tribe are stuck in synagogues all over the world, wondering 1) when the cantor will finish and 2) just what in tarnation it means to be  “One of the Chosen.”


A confession: I do not have faith. I find that not only can I not believe the information in the first paragraph of this post, there are a whole host of other things that are tougher to swallow than unrefrigerated gefilte fish.

Among those other  things I do not believe:

1) That a Deity gave to Moses a law on Mt. Sinai,

2) That He also  gave Moses both a Written Law and an Oral Law, and that the Oral Law was later codified in the Mishnah and the Gemara.

3) That the aforesaid Deity said “Don’t cook a kid in it’s mother’s milk” so that we had to eat off of different sets dishes for cheese and for chicken livers.

This time of year gets to be a pretty rough row to hoe, sometimes, especially since I have no intention of giving up being Jewish.


I have no problem co-existing with so-called People of Faith, at least when they are not passing discriminatory or theocratic laws, engaging in mass destruction, cutting off heads, waging jihad or or going on Crusades. All in all, I’d also rather they leave the nativity scenes off of public property, but in those cases no one is dying or even getting bruises, so I do my best just to look the other way and remember that in a few weeks all that red and green annoyance is going to be in garbage cans awaiting removal, and the United States will start getting ready for Presidents’ Day sales. Apparently, Big Religion is not going away, so I will have to console myself by the thought that a lot of the time POFs can be the world’s greatest neighbors. As I am unwilling to renounce my Judaism, either as culture, history, or as my personal choice of mysticism,  I still voluntarily place myself in the midst of my coreligionists.   Hell, my best friend, zichrono livrakha, became a POF in the last decade or so of his life, and he was truly a mensch. (He was a mensch, though, before his tshuva.)

However, when POFs want me to believe, I think that they fundamentally misunderstand their own faith. Say you’re dating someone, and then on the 3rd or 30th date, she says, “I love you.” You might think, OK, hmmm, what does that mean? Or you might think, Oh, I’m so happy! You may even blurt out, I love you, too! It’s possible though that  you may instead think, Uh-oh, this is not going to end well. Imagine, in addition to that that the person making that confession adds on the imperative, “Love me! Love me like I love you!” Now you are really starting to get upset. Because while it is nice to be loved, being loved does not make you love. You can’t make yourself love someone. Neither can Bonnie Raitt.

Faith is the same thing. You can put hold a knife against someone’s throat, a gun to his head, his feet to the fire, but you can’t make him believe. You can make him say he believes, but it’s like that couple: you know you’re lying, she knows you’re lying, you know she knows, but for some reason–because it makes life easier at the moment–you just go ahead and say it. People who don’t believe are not going to believe no matter how many times they say it. The deed does not shape the heart. There are people who could go to church, synagogue, mosque, whatever for the rest of their lives, and no amount of prayer or observance is going to change the fact that they will not believe. They’re just not made that way.

So believe this, People of Faith, you do not want People Who Don’t Believe to say that they are believers. You do not want to consign them the 8th circle of Inferno. You do not want to require faith. Fortunately, we Jews have long tolerated the skeptics among us, and excommunicated heretics like Spinoza are paradoxically admired. I can dwell with the Believers, and we accept each other.

(Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.I am large,  I contain multitudes.)

PS: I am still hoping that G-d strikes Eric Cantor with the inability to speak.





Rabbi Victor Urecki Responds To My Previous Post On My Jewish Problem(s)

Rabbi Urecki, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Charleston, WV, responded to my post via Facebook. I have copied it below.

rabbi urecki

“I tend to feel that the problem with our Sunday/Hebrew school education is that it is based on the mistaken notion that religion is passed on by a third party. It isn’t. It is absorbed through experience. Real passionate and regular experience. And like exercise, it is a life long endeavor. Read the David Brooks piece in This weekend’s New York Times. Religion is about doing. And doing AND doing. Most families have other priorities and Sunday school, therefore, becomes two hours of learning about meaningless rituals that have no purpose.

“We educators can explain WHY we do the things we do but only if the home is positively acting on those practices. And making it a cornerstone of their life experiences. Sunday school is boring because we try to get our students to do things their parents are unable or unwilling to experience or practice. Or at least try to understand and practice themselves. Kinda like trying to teach kids the value of good nutrition and yet, their parents take them to McDonald’s or Wendy’s every day. Not sure why I would like to eat healthy either. And then imagine parents eating at those places but telling their kids they can only eat salad for the next couple of years . “Why?” “Because it is good for you. I had to do it when I was your age” “But you don’t now! ” “When you are my age, you can eat whatever you want but for now, eat as your told”. Yep, that oughta work.

“Your piece deserves much more, but  this is the best I can do on the stationary bike this morning! Hope all is well with you and your family!

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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