So a little while back, I finished watching this incredible discussion between Miri Mogilevsky and Chana Messinger about being Jewish Atheists. I am so angry with myself for missing this discussion when it was live. It’s a brilliant discussion and has prompted me to write this piece about why I still proudly call myself Jewish, and all that means, including my honest hatred of religion. It’s a tough task, but a lot of fun, as well. This will be interesting.
Note: Originally, when I wrote this post, it included a whole section about Israel… how I feel about the country, including my very strong emotional connection to it, as well as my own opinion on the politics of Israel and the crisis in the Middle East. I have decided to remove that entire section of this post and not discuss Israel at all.
Confusion. I grew up inside an entirely pro-Israel bubble. But recently, for the very first time in my life, I’ve actually been hearing and listening to the other side of the issue, and as of now I simply don’t have coherent-enough thoughts to broach the subject. I am avoiding it deliberately here and I must ask that any commenters do so, as well. I am not comfortable engaging with that topic (Israel and Palestine) at this time.
I titled this post the way I did deliberately, because I really do honestly hate religion. I don’t use the word “hate” lightly or as hyperbole. I really do mean it.
While I don’t subscribe to the ideas that religion is “the root of all evil” and faith is a “virus”, I legitimately believe that our world would be much better off without religion. The end of religion wouldn’t even come close to solving all the world’s problems, especially since religion is not even close to being the source of all the world’s problems. But religion is perhaps the most-used convenient excuse for so much atrocity, such as Africa and the crisis in the Middle East, as well as a shield behind which the absolute worst of bigots can hide (such as the Westboro Baptist Church). It will be a long time, I think, before such people can find another excuse if religion is taken away from them.
So I do honestly believe that religion is the biggest, easiest, and main excuse for a lot of evil in this world.
Further, I find many of the rituals and traditions… silly at best.
Since this is a discussion about Judaism, I’ll stick with Judaism for this post.
The biggest thing I find utterly worthless and rather… quaint, I guess?… is Kashrut. It seems pretty clear to me that these were health laws and, frankly, even if they weren’t, they are still useless today. I find it patently absurd that any higher power would actually care what we eat. Add on to it the seeming arbitrariness of how, when, and where Kashrut is applied… I find the whole thing a pointless exercise. There are a lot of post-hoc rationalizations for Kashrut, as well, but they betray, to me, anyways, the absurdity of the whole thing.
But Kashrut only highlights an issue I have with Yahweh: micromanaging. Part of what makes the Biblical deity so patently absurd to me is that he (that inandof itself is a whole other topic) cares about what seems to me like the most ridiculously absurd little things. Forget who we get married to or when, where, and with whom we have sex. God’s also interested in when, where, and what we eat?
But the point of this post isn’t to rail against Judaism, because the truth is… I love it.
I’m quite proud to call myself Jewish, and I’m happy to continue doing so. Judaism is a part of my heritage and a part of my history. And Judaism, contrary to popular belief, is not a religion. Judaism is a culture. A culture I do identify with, even if I don’t keep Kosher or keep the Sabbath and such. And there are so many beautiful aspects of the culture I love so much. I love Tallit, I love that which is considered Jewish cuisine, and despite my reservations over the story, Passover is my favorite holiday, with Hanukkah coming in a close second.
I also absolutely love to hear the blowing of the Shofar. Rosh Hashanah is a fun holiday, while Yom Kippur I find largely dark and sad (and no, I don’t fast), though the Break the Fasts can be really fun if you go to a good one. But the blowing of a shofar is an experience you really have to hear to understand.
It really is incredible. Sadly, that video doesn’t do it justice. You really have to visit a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah to really hear a good Shofar service. It’s definitely an amazing experience.
Basically, I’m quite happy with my Jewish heritage and love it dearly, and love to identify with it.
I’ll never forget my בַּר מִצְוָה (read right to left: Bar Mitzvah), when I was 13 (of course). Mine was a Saturday Night, or הַבְדָלָה (Havdalah). At your Bar/Bat Mitzvah, you read for the first time from the Torah. My portion was תְצַוֶה (Tetsaveh), which means “you command”, in the book of Exodus, chapter 28, lines 10-12:
(9: And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel:)
10: six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the six that remain on the other stone, according to their birth.
11: With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones, according to the names of the children of Israel; thou shalt make them to be enclosed in settings of gold.
12: And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, to be stones of memorial for the children of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for a memorial.
In Hebrew, that looks like this:
(ט וְלָקַחְתָּ, אֶת-שְׁתֵּי אַבְנֵי-שֹׁהַם; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עֲלֵיהֶם, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.)
י שִׁשָּׁה, מִשְּׁמֹתָם, עַל, הָאֶבֶן הָאֶחָת; וְאֶת-שְׁמוֹת הַשִּׁשָּׁה הַנּוֹתָרִים, עַל-הָאֶבֶן הַשֵּׁנִית–כְּתוֹלְדֹ.
יא מַעֲשֵׂה חָרַשׁ, אֶבֶן–פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם תְּפַתַּח אֶת-שְׁתֵּי הָאֲבָנִים, עַל-שְׁמֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; מֻסַבֹּת מִשְׁבְּצוֹת זָהָב, תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם.
יב וְשַׂמְתָּ אֶת-שְׁתֵּי הָאֲבָנִים, עַל כִּתְפֹת הָאֵפֹד, אַבְנֵי זִכָּרֹן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת-שְׁמוֹתָם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁתֵּי כְתֵפָיו–לְזִכָּרֹן.
(Don’t worry… you don’t have to read it. Maybe I’ll do a basic Learn to Read Hebrew blog post at some time in the future, especially since I’m both learning Hebrew at FAU and teaching Hebrew at Bnai Torah…)
My party was a karaoke party. Usually Bar Mitzvah parties have a DJ or a live band.
Not me, no.
My family, being musical, decided upon karaoke… and it was awesome. One of the few times I wasn’t anxious or utterly crippled by my social phobia was that party. I had just the few kids I was actually friends with there, along with family and family friends. And it was an incredible time.
To this day I love reading Torah. Granted, there are passages I refuse to read (mostly the ones promoting misogyny and other bigotry, and the entire story of Noah), and I’m not doing it very much at all since I work on Saturday nights, now, at my other job (shift coordinator at Burger King). But for the most part, reading Torah represents a great challenge and it something I very much enjoy.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that being an atheist and an antitheist does not erase my Judaism, and my Judaism does not require any kind of faith or religious respect. I can be a Jewish Antitheist, because Judaism is not a religion.
It’s a culture.
And it’s a culture I’m very proud to be a part of… no matter how much I hate religion and find theism to be weird and out of place in the 21st century.