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More on Atheism...blah, blah, blah...

Yes, I'm still reeling, or rather, thinking, about this post from last week. Sorry to keep going on about this if you're here for garden stuff. Click here if that’s all you’re interested in!

So:  Growing up, my attitude towards Jewish observance was "live and let live." We do what we do, which is perfectly fine, and they do what they do... and as long as I don't impose my beliefs on them (ie, leave them alone), and they don't impose their weird customs (like Shabbos, or eating kosher) on me, then we'll all get along just fine.

I was thrilled to be part of the Conservative movement,
as I perceived it, which was presented to me as the perfect merger between Judaism's long intellectual tradition and the freedom of modernity. Not too much, not too little... it had a strong, warm, traditional feel, without being overly strict about what you could and could not do.

At my bat mitzvah, I had procrastinated for weeks about writing my speech. My mother kept telling me I'd need to say something, and I just never got around to writing it. (sound familiar?)

So... Shabbos morning rolls around, the day of the happy event, and I did the Torah-reading part just fine and lunch was served and there we were at the head table with my parents and grandparents and the rabbi, so it was time to write my speech. Turn to my mother: "can I have a pen to write my speech?"
"No." (I seem to remember she kind of whispered it, urgently and secretively)
"Um, why not?"
"Not in front of the rabbi."

It was the first I ever heard that you're not supposed to write on Shabbos.
Or at least, you're not supposed to write in front of the rabbi on Shabbos.

Because that's his thing; that was his turf. On his turf, of course you don't write on Shabbos.
In our home, in school, wherever... well, that was a different thing altogether.

If the rabbi had come into our home and told us not to write on Shabbos, I would have gotten mad, because then he'd have been breaching the unspoken contract - "don't mess with me, and I won't mess with you."

I don't believe Judaism works quite that way anymore.
I don't believe it's all relative.

I believe it's about you and what you are doing in your relationship with Judaism and with Hashem (God) - regardless of who's looking, who's around.
Like I said, I struggle with this: it's much easier to say brachas before and after a meal in a group of shul people at home than with non-Jewish friends at the park or parenting drop-in. It's easier to just wear a t-shirt on a hot day knowing I won't be in shul or around the rabbi or most of the shul people I know.

I used to believe it was enough to be a "good Jew" no matter what I was doing. You can be a good Jew even if you're not keeping kosher, driving on Shabbos, whatever... those are all different ways of being a good Jew, right?

I no longer believe that, though I do appreciate & learn from those who are "serious Jews" even if they're not observant in the same ways I am. More about that in a minute.

As Rabbi Skobac of Jews for Judaism explains all the time, not everything Jews happen to be doing is Jewish.

Jews have been behind so many prominent philosophical movements: ecology, communism, physics and other areas of science... and even atheism... as Dennis Prager says, "only a Jew can be a really frum atheist." (okay, maybe you had to have been there, but it's exactly right: the idea of a Jew, full of Jewish passion, fired up about - atheism. Sad, really. A waste.

That doesn't make those things Jewish.
And people who say they are a good Jew (some people use the phrase "good enough Jew") if they're actively embracing a philosophy or actions that run contrary to Judaism... well, I find that disturbing.

Don't get me wrong. I believe you can be a good, even great Jew and not be completely observant; everybody's on a path, everybody's striving. It's the striving that's the point, not necessarily the destination.

(an aside that should be noted:  a good friend once told me, if you're constantly not moving upwards - in terms of belief, purity, observance, the works - then you're inevitably slipping backwards. It's a depressing concept, one I don't like to think about... one they probably throw at you every ten minutes in Bais Yaakov, where this friend went to school, but probably, probably true.)

When I was talking to this person who said she’s an atheist, I wanted to say she didn't need to be completely observant; it doesn't matter why you think you're lighting Shabbos candles because at that one moment, your action is pure, you are doing the right thing.

Her Shabbos-candle lighting is as "authentic" as mine is. There is no hypocrisy even in a generally non-observant person performing one mitzvah. The mitzvah stands alone; I believe that.

I still believe that: even an atheist lighting Shabbos candles is not hypocrisy. Because in that moment, she's connecting with so many things... and it works even if you don't believe in it.

Like the Christians say, God believes in you even if you don't believe in Him. Or something.

Again, fuzzy, unfocused thoughts. There may be more later.
Baby whining in the background doesn't help.


  1. I would love to have further conversation with you about this. I don't know that many people who actually want to talk about this stuff!


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