Jewish Mysteries-Our Connection and The New Year

I wrote this for the Jewish Connection but thought that as part of my end of the year recap it merited another look.

I am an independent in many ways including both politics and religion. Every now and then someone decides to take a swipe at me because they think that I pick and choose.

For example, I don’t keep Kosher, but I would never drink a glass of milk with meat. There are other examples, but I don’t want to make this post about me but about the mysteries of Judaism.

That is the term that I used when speaking with a friend about his kollel and their outreach program to unaffiliated Jews/Jews who are unhappy with their shul. But it really is most applicable to Jews who do not have a real strong Jewish education and their approach to Judaism.

What I mean by this is that Judaism is highly sophisticated and filled with layers and layers of ritual and for a lack of a better term obligations/responsibilities that we usually refer to as the 613 mitzvot.

Add to that the minhagim (customs) that have been acquired over the centuries and many people do not know whether the things that they do are based upon minhag or halacha and even if they do they often do not know why they are being asked to do them.

Consequently there are many mitzvot that are not followed because people do not feel/see the connection and or reason for them to do it. You cannot tell someone who does not know if they believe in G-d that this being/person/creature has commanded them to do anything and expect that they are just going to do it. And you especially cannot expect a thinking adult to engage without provding them with substance and reason for why they should do whatever it is you are asking them to do.

So what you end up with is a group of people who look at the mitzvot/commandments and see them as being optional. Earlier this week Mirty wrote about her feelings when she accidentally ate something that was treif. I thought that it was interesting because my heart tells me that I should be keeping Kosher but my brain says why.

My head wants to know what is the reason. What does it do? I already know that lightning will not come out of the sky and strike me down if I do not. I know that if I drive on Shabbos I am not going to be stoned. I know that if I commit an aveirah I am probably, more than likely going to be ok.

And what this means is that I have to search harder for a reason to stop my behavior and change. I need more than just because. I need something that speaks to me and thus far I haven’t found it and I am someone who searches for answers.

Take me out of the equation and go back to the person who has little to no background. Now stick them in shul and watch how many of them squirm because they do not understand what is going on, why we bow at some times and not at others. They stumble through mechayei meytim without any idea about the hours of thought and discussion that those words created, they do not understand what they do but go because of guilt.

I watch and listen because even though I can say that I received a solid Jewish education it has some holes in it and there are places that are more like gaps. I watch because this time of year is a huge struggle for me. It makes me crazy, I go meshugah because I feel like my heart and head are in two different places. My heart says to just go with the feeling, follow the passion and daven because it will take me to where I need to be and my head scoffs at this.

My head laughs at superstition and takes a simple position of trying to be a good person. Be a good person, teach your children, give back to your community and do what you can to be a mensch and everything will work out.

I’ll go to shul and I’ll wrestle with being there. I’ll think about the streets of Yerushalayim and the hike I took in Yosemite. I’ll go to the bathroom and be distracted by beautiful women, by watching the young children look up in awe at their parents and by the sound of people davening. I’ll sit down and consider the mysteries of Judaism and ask myself how much I really know and realize that my depth of knowledge is good, but never enough. I’ll shake my head and feel like I’ll never be satisfied and then I’ll sigh.

And in between and throughout all of it I’ll come here and write a post that started out with a serious nature and just became a stream of consciousness and wonder if I really said anything or made sense to anyone.

The New Year is coming and I feel unsettled.

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  1. Jack's Shack January 5, 2006 at 6:30 am


    It is a cerebral faith, there is a dichotomy there.

  2. MC Aryeh January 4, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Not sure what you were doing in a women’s bathroom, but this was an excellent post – deep and thoughtful. I guess we all mark our lines where comfort meets belief.

  3. Jack's Shack December 29, 2005 at 1:52 am

    It seems to me that issues of faith more often than not come back to gut feelings.

  4. Stephen (aka Q) December 28, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Obviously I can’t comment on issues that don’t pertain to me. But it’s a fascinating post, comments included.

    I practice my faith like you do, Jack, insofar as I mostly follow my head. For me, this means I spend a lot of time studying the scholars and working out which Christian history seems reasonable and which doesn’t.

    But Christmas is tough. I don’t believe in the virgin birth or in Jesus as God incarnate. But my heart tells me just to go with it – it’s a beautiful story and it says so much about the love of God and God’s determination to redeem fallen humankind.

    I yield to my non-rational side to a certain extent, but ultimately I want to see the historical evidence. So even when I yield to my heart, I’m always holding back more than a little.

  5. Mirty December 28, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    My stepkids had fun staying at my parent’s apartment for Shabbat. The toilet-paper was pre-torn for the them and when the family played Scrabble, they used bookmarks in books to keep score instead of writing down numbers. Mostly, they liked the food – kugel, chicken, chicken soup. Grandma’s cooking.

  6. ~ Stacy ~ December 28, 2005 at 8:01 am

    Um? Could someone please explain the tearing of toilet paper comments to me? Seriously, I’m quite the curious person here.

    Thanks so much,

    ~ Stacy ~
    (not to be confused with Stacey)

  7. Jack's Shack December 28, 2005 at 6:23 am

    that he is not comfortable in who he is and what he does.

    Actually I am quite comfortable with myself and would say that I probably know myself better than most people do.

    But I strongly believe in personal growth and I find much of Judaism to be exceptionally attractive.

    Life is a journey and I may take on more mitzvot but it is not something that is going to happen over night, it is a process and it may not take me any further than I already stand now.


    I can’t pick one or the other, a combination of the two is the way I work.

  8. RJK December 27, 2005 at 11:53 pm

    Which do you think is the better source of well guided motivation, head or heart? In other words, if you had to choose (in a vaccum) which one to guide you, which would it be?

  9. Stacey December 27, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    Anonymous, my comments were not in reference to Jack’s post, they were in reference to Barbara’s comment (she is the one who mentioned tomatoes and she seemed reluctant to describe her observance further, lest she be judged).

    I have no problem with Jack or anyone else seeking what is missing in their life.

    I am well aware of the toilet paper issue. I have discussed it with frum friends and rabbis. And I think, personally, that it is over-the-top. But I have no problem with anyone living that way if it works for them. We all need to find the path that is right for us. My above comment was about myself. I am comfortable with the Jewish life I live. And it is not up to anyone else to judge it.

  10. Anonymous December 27, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    Your comments trouble me and sadden me. I wonder if you missed the point of Jack’s post.

    “I am not real interested in being such”, “I am comfortable with who I am and how I live” – I think that Jack is saying the opposite – that he is not comfortable in who he is and what he does. He realizes that to fill the the gap from head to heart is through knowledge and understanding.

    Judaism is rich, deep and mysterious. It demands investigation . Have you seriously and honestly researched into why tearing toilet paper is a problem? Why the hostility? If your attitude is let people throw tomatoes makes me think that you want them to. Have you really met someone who threw a tomatoe?

  11. Stacey December 27, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    Actually, I prefer mustard.

    P.S. I still like you, even though you are a ketchup-eating peasant.

  12. Jack's Shack December 27, 2005 at 9:55 pm


    We all have to find our level of observance, it is not one size fits all.


    You love ketchup, admit it, peasant.

  13. Stacey December 27, 2005 at 9:45 pm

    Barbara, your level seems very close to my own. If being Shomer Shabbos means not tearing toilet paper, then frankly, I am not real interested in being such.

    I will not pretend I’m something I’m not. Jack’s readers can throw all the tomatoes at me they want. I am comfortable with who I am and how I live.

  14. BarbaraFromCalifornia December 27, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Excellent post.

    You are spot on when you talk about the layers and layers of ritual open to everyone, if he/she chooses to embrace them.

    You would cringe if you heard about my habits. I do not keep kosher either. I will never eat pork. I light Shabbath candles, but am not shomer Shabbos. I could go on, but I do not want your readers to throw tomatoes at me.

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