Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why Judaism?

It should be fairly obvious that my Gratetful Dead post was a parody of Godol Hador's post, The Science of Judaism. While I had fun writing the parody (it was actually divinely inspired while listening to the Dead,) I would like now to address some points in a more serious manner.

The essential question I have in my mind now is why practice Judaism. This is a very important question to me at this point. I've already come to the conclusion that Orthodox Judaism is not the answer for me. But the question still remains for me is there anything in Judaism that would add value to my life? Or should I just forget about it and focus my energies elsewhere. This is the main reason why I started the blog, but I have not really formulated an answer to the question yet.

GH thinks he has come up with a good answer, but his answer doesn't work for me. The obvious reason is because he is trying to show that the source of the Jewish people and Judaism is supernatural. While I, as you know from reading my blog, do not believe in a supernatural deity or miracles. So obviously his approach will not work for me.

But in addition to that, GH seems to think that in order to really appreciate Judaism you must believe that it is superior to all other religions. I, on the other hand hesitate to make such pronouncements. For one reason, I do appreciate the spiritual insights of other religions, such as Buddhism, Yoga, and Christianity. And there are problems I see in Judaism itself which makes me not so sure that it is superior to all other religions. And just like we give the benefit of the doubt to Judaism by using approaches such as Myth/Moshel, we should give other religions the same benefit of the doubt. It's the only fair and honest thing to do.

But more importantly, I don't think it's necessary to believe that your religion is superior to all others for you to appreciate it. You can value your religion for yourself and still appreciate and learn from the other religions as well. This is a better approach because it leads to harmony and less discord. And we all know that the ways of the Torah are supposed to be darchei shalom (ways of peace).

In addition, I don't think there is any real way to judge objectively between traditions. What works for some might not work for others.

I believe that Judaism does contain truth, but so do other philosophies and religions. The question is why should I favor Judaism over the others? The answer may be because I feel I identify with the Jewish people and by extension, Judaism. So it is only natural that I should work within the spiritual tradition of the Jewish people as opposed to a foreign tradition. Would I feel as comfortable calling myself a Buddhist? Probably not. Would I feel comfortable calling myself a Christian? Certainly not. There is too much historic baggage to deal with.

Choosing a new religious tradition would just lead to more internal distractions with myself and it would cause strife between me and my family. The very last thing I need from religion is more discord. That would defeat the whole purpose. So that would rule out for me adopting any other religion.

So that just leaves me with the option of just living with my own personnel philosophy, or with adopting one of the non-supernatural branches of Judaism, such as Reconstructionist. Religion is a primarily a social institution. I, by nature, am a rather individualistic person. On the one hand, I crave intellectual independence. On the other hand, I would like to be a part of a larger conversation with others. This is what pulls me in both directions.

It would be nice to view Judaism in a very broad way where people of different philosophical views who have been influenced by the Jewish heritage come together in one open dialog. So Judaism would contain people searching for truth from the extreme range of Observant to the other extreme of Non Observant and every thing in between. Where all these people can come together in respect and learn from each other. And no one particular ideology would have ownership of the title authentic Judaism.

But even this I'm not sure of, because we are so used to thinking of Judaism with ideology that it's hard to get away from it.

So in the end, I'm still left with more questions than answers. How very Jewish of me! :)


Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

>where people of different philosophical views who have been influenced by the Jewish heritage come together in one open dialog.

If only that could happen, everyone would benefit. If you can make it happen, please invite me.

9:38 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

it's happening right now. But unfortunately it's only happeing online.

9:52 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

What about moving to Israel? The need to affiliate with some branch of Judaism is a very Galut type of phenomenon. Because here, if you don't go to some kind of shul, you don't have a Jewish identity. In Israel, you can just be Jewish and do your own thing or join wherever without any pressure.

11:07 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...


Israel doesn't really appeal to me. I was there for a few years in Yeshivah but I never had a strong desire to move there for good.

I really am ok with not joining any specific branch. I don't really see myself fitting in and I can't see my self going to shul. It would be too weird for me. If I was married with children maybe I would feel different.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...


Have you tried the other branches? I've been to Conservative and Reconstructionist. I found the Conservative to be as unmeaningful to me as Orthodox (but less warm and more formal) and the Reconstructionist was too small (about 10-15 people) to make a call on.

The one community I've experienced that I really like so far is a Reform/Conservative one. They seem to be very open-minded and warm as a community. Congregants range from shomer shabbos and kashrut (to an extent) to non-Jewish spouses. The non-Jewish spouses are even called to the Torah along with their Jewish spouses. Some of the parents have gay children and they are the "best" parents of gays that I've ever met. It's one of those deals where it's the only Jewish community around, so they sort of have to be both close-knit and tolerant. It's very nice. I still wouldn't attend services except for a simcha, though.

11:49 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...


No, I have never tried any other branches. Thanks for the report.

I don't see my self as dues paying member kind of guy. The whole thing seems kind of corny to me.

You know what might be interesting? If we can get a group of guys/gals together to have a regular study session. I think that would be cool. you know, take this conversation off line and meet to discuss religion/philosophy in a serious and positive way.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

I have to second JA. There are Jewish communities that can offer you a lot of what this post says you'relooking for.

And as for dues-paying being corny, I think you'll looking at it too closely. dues paying can be a simple transaction with little spiritual import. For example, I currently pay dues to a shul I actively dislike, but I don't begrudge them the money at all. After all, I use their services, and the electrical bills don't pay themselves. I think it would be worth your time to look past the ickiness of dues.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Orthoprax said...


"If we can get a group of guys/gals together to have a regular study session. I think that would be cool."

I'd second that.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

"If we can get a group of guys/gals together to have a regular study session. I think that would be cool."

Not all of us live in New York city, you know. :)

12:02 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>Not all of us live in New York city, you know. :)

That's your problem, sucka :)

12:05 PM  
Blogger Seeker1967 said...

You might want to read the book "Jewish With Feeling" by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, whose life has taken him from Nazi Europe to an exploration of many religions and spiritual practices all over the world. He even addresses the question, "Why be Jewish?" head on. I've met this guy and he's the real deal, spiritually speaking. The book is great, too, and it encouraged me to join a non-denominational Jewish congregation.

9:51 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

Thanks, seeker. I'll look into it

12:10 AM  

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