Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Meeting with the Rabbi

I had my meeting with the Rabbi today.  This time, I wasn't so very prepared.  I didn't feel like I'd been book-studying as much as I felt I should.  He asked me why, and I told him.  I've been enjoying my summer and going hiking and camping.  I told him about my Shabbat/havdallah set and how I always bring it with me on trips.  I told him that I've come to really appreciate Shabbat.  There have been a couple of times when I didn't light my candles for some reason, and the day just didn't feel right.  I talked about how, as I've integrated the rules for Shabbat into my practice, how the day has become such a pleasure.

I told him that I've been reading the book he lent me, and that it's really helping me to understand not only the meaning behind the words of the liturgy, but also how to let them inspire me.  The words themselves are something of a blank slate in terms of emotion, and the worshipper is free to use them to express his gratitude, fear, sadness, or even anger.  He can also use them to bring himself to a calm state.

Since I'm also working on reading another book, I told him about that one, too.  This was one of the ecology books that I'd found.  I told him who wrote it, and the group she is affiliated with.  He knew exactly who I was talking about, and was glad that I'd found it.  It was definitely a relief compared to the last conversation we had.  I talked about one of the essays I had read, about wandering and how it brings out something primal in people.  Since I've been watching a lot of The Dog Whisperer, I remembered that Cesar Millan had made a comment about what happens to dogs when they walk behind a pack leader, and how some of the points in the essay were somewhat similar to the ideas that Millan had talked about.
Naturally, this sparked some debate.  He asked me if I really believed that the Jews were following G-d around like a pack of dogs, and if that implied that we didn't really have a choice.  Of course not.  That's what makes us different from dogs.  The point was more that, in the wandering, we were forced to share a tight space, to learn how to work together for a common goal, and to accept our place in the group.  He kept poking holes in my analogy, which was fine.  It was never meant to be a perfect picture, just a way to understand a part of the story in a practical way.

We got in to talking about disagreements, and how religion can actually be a stumbling block to society.  This was at least partly because the Rabbi had been at a discussion group last night where they talked about a book that said, at least in part, that atheism might be an important key to world peace.  Which I do agree with.  I told him so, too.  I talked about how that's mentioned in the song "Imagine" more than once (Imagine there's no heaven...no hell below us...nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too).  Which, of course, leaves us....where?  What role (do I think) religion should have in society?
We talked about that for a while, actually.  I think he wanted to hear me talk about religion in a general sense, so as to figure out how much of my understanding is based on Christianity, and how much on Judaism.  I talked about how religion, when done correctly, should encourage people to live ethically, and the spirituality should be a pleasant side effect, and I did talk about how I found that in Judaism.  He talked about how this might not necessarily be true of Orthodox Judaism.  I had an answer for that one: I wasn't sitting in an Orthodox shul.  I had chosen Reform for a reason.

It was a good conversation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


A friend recently asked my why I choose to convert.  What follows was my answer to him.

I converted for a number of little tiny reasons, really.  I abandoned Christianity for a few big ones, though.  What it came down to was that I felt that the Christian community had become so fundamentalist and closed-minded that I could no longer agree with many of their teachings, and because of that disagreement, I could never fit in with that herd.  When I started studying on my own, I was drawn toward the beginning of the Bible, because I realized that I didn't actually know that much about the Jewish origins.  Most of it had been taught to me as a child, so I got a very cursory once-over of the major stories, and then the Old Testament was infrequently revisited only when necessary to prove a point.  These points were almost always exclusionary or an attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.  
On my own, I learned that there was a lot of richness and wisdom that I'd never really known before.  I also discovered that Jesus hadn't really fulfilled all the prophesies.  With that, I was no longer afraid to abandon Christianity.  As far as I'm concerned, the Messiah must fulfill all the prophesies.  If a candidate does not, then he is no messiah.  Maybe Jesus was the son of God and all that, and maybe he is going to come back.  Maybe he'll be the Messiah then, when he finishes the job.  I don't know.  What I do believe is that the God of Judaism is similar to the God of Christianity.  I think that sometimes Jesus gets in the way of God.  I don't really know if I think of Jesus as a second god, a facet of God, or an idol.  I haven't figured that out yet.
What I do know is that I started noticing more references to Judaism within things that I liked.  I was interested in Biblical Archaeology, and the parts that I was really interested in were Hebrew Bible stories.  My favorite TV show happened to have a Jewish host.  A song that I liked was inspired by a Jewish story.  Eventually, I contacted a Rabbi and started studying with him, because there was only so much that I could teach myself.