[hat tip: e-kvetcher at Search for Emes]
That’s a good question and I guess some basic interest goes far back into my childhood. I remember talking about Judaism in class (we also did other religions, but I don’t remember those). Particularly I remember tasting the different food items for the Pesach seder in elementary school and I remember acting as the bride (or bride mother?) in a Jewish wedding*. I also remember reading all the holocaust-related books in the local library, and I remember a workshop on Yiddish songs together with children of some other nationality, maybe Polish.
But apart from these bits and pieces, I grew up sort of protestant. My parents are not religious at all and never went to church. My grandmother went and I used to go with her a few times, especially during the year when I was confirmed. Me and my siblings spent a week or two each summer at a children’s retreat organized by the church. I really liked that, so after I grew too old to participate, I became a counselor. Eventually, I took on a weekly girls’ group. But I wasn’t too much into the religious part of it, it was more about the people and the music.
I started to read more about (Christian) theology and actual beliefs around the age of 16, I don’t really know what triggered it. And the more I read, the more doubts I had. Jesus, virgin birth, original sin, all these miracles, all the contradictions between what the text said and what people actually believed? Coincidentally we got internet at the same time, and soon I was wildly browsing throught the internet in search of religious stuff. As I said, I was researching Christian Lutheran-protestant theology.
And by chance somehow I ended up in a Jewish chatroom. There were all these people talking about odd stuff. And I was hooked. I don’t remember what exactly they discussed. I think it must have been about Shabat. And I think the fascination of Hebrew played a big role. But I returned to this chatroom every day from then on and started to learn about Judaism.
* Now, as an adult, and on my way to becoming a Jew, I am unsure what to think about this method of teaching. Is it appropriate and respectful to stage ceremonies of a different religion? I don’t know, but it certainly made a big impression on my 10-year-old self.
Not a lot of time, but I thought I’d share these thoughts from the Jewish Atheist on religion and science (also old, from 2005 this time).
I think that when religion is confronted by truth that conflicts with their most basic beliefs, it goes through the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
(Jewish Atheist: Religion, Truth, and the Five Stages of Grief )
When a scientific theory* is young enough that not everybody has accepted it, or maybe even the scientific establishment is sceptical, you can get by with ignoring or denying it. Next comes the stage where you cannot ignore it anymore. Lines have to be drawn, correct beliefs defines, heretics outlawed. A classic example of the third phase is Chabad defending its geocentrical worldview with relativity theory. This stage may be absurd, really convincing or really confusing, depending on how articulate and intelligent the person making the argument is. When bargaining doesn’t help anymore and depression sets it, people go OTD, become buddhists or start to write blogs. And lastly, finally, we arrive at the end, where the science can be acceppted as just one more fact of life that is not life-shattering.
These phases do not only apply to religion and science, often the general public or even the established scientific community reacts the same way to a new, revolutionary theory*. Take climate change. First it was largely ignored by many. I’d say now we are between anger (the people who will shout at you for just using the word) and bargaining (the people who say climate has always been changing and it’s a natural process during the earth’s lifecycle – it may look like it changes, but it’s not our fault). I’m not sure what depression is going to look like, but I hope acceptance starts before it’s too late for this earth.
* "A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation." (Wikipedia: Scientific theory)
One of the best parodies of creationists I have ever read, written by Gail Davis in December 1996 (yes, it’s old, but I’m young, so I hadn’t seen it before): Godless Linguistics!
Clearly, we can see the very structure of our civilization crumbling around our ears. Sexual perversion runs rampant as our once-proud moral culture slides ever closer to the gaping maw of oblivion. One need only turn on the TV to witness ample evidence of the degradation of our current Godless society, slipping closer to destruction with the wanton disregard for proper diction, and the torrid abomination of corrupted grammar!
Why, just listen to the “music” of the young people these days. Such trash! The words slur together (when they can be understood at all) into a putrid mush of incomplete sentences and split infinitives. It’s awful. And it has been PROVEN to induce young people to commit acts of violence, theft, and unwed pregnancy. And surely, it is no mere coincidence that this dire threat to the fabric of our very civilization coincides exactly with the indoctrination of our young people with Godless LINGUISTICS in the public schools.
Our public schools have turned away from the source of Truth, to teach our children that our sacred English language has descended from other languages. The poor impressionable youngsters are taught AS A FACT that English words have certain “root words”, even though this is only a theory. The FACT is, God Almighty created all languages complete when he confused mankind’s original language as punishment for our transgression at the tower of Babel. But the athiest/lingusts don’t want this mentioned in public settings, because it goes against their FAITH, and forces them to face their own accountability. So they have BANNED the teaching of Babelism, because they are afraid that it might expose the weakness of their own linguistic ideas. Is this fair? I don’t think so. It goes against all that America stands for.
Therefore, join me in the campaign to have a balanced and fair treatment in public education. All english teachers should be required to include Babelism as a valid alternate theory to Linguisticism, whenever the origins of the English language is discussed.
Oh, of course we can expect opposition from the entrenched vested interests. They will point to certain similarities (i.e. “mother”, “madre” “mater”) as evidence of the relatedness of various languages. But this is a complete misinterpretation of the evidence. Clearly it is more economical for God to use similar phonic structures to designate similar meanings. Therefore, the existence of such similarities PROOVES that the various languages must have had the same author.
Second, a language is a complex thing. The odds that some first speaker could randomly string together a complex series of sounds, and then multiply this by the odds that someone else would UNDERSTAND him, and the probablity could be calculated to be less than 1 in 10^500. That’s a one with five hundred zero’s. A statistical impossibility. Obviously, the first language must have a designer: God.
Third, there is NO evidence that transitional languages ever existed. What use is half a language? A noun without verbs conveys no meaning! Sure, there is middle and old-English. But these are ENGLISH! A complete nontransitional language. We do not deny that micro-lingustics can happen, but this process can create only DIALECTS. There is NO EVIDENCE that a series of random micro-lingustic events can create a WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE. I’ll beleive in Macro-linguistics when I see a video tape of a child growing up in an Eskimo village suddenly become fluent in Armenian! It takes A LOT MORE FAITH to beleive in athieistic linguisticism than the truth of Babelism.
So join me in the crusade: Babelism must be included in the public school English curriculum.
There are only two theories which explain the origin of our language: Babelism and Linguisticism. Shouldn’t they BOTH be given a fair hearing?
Somebody told me the following story: Shabat morning service at a festival, a crowd of people who usually pray in different (orthodox) settings, in a small room with a mechitza. The Torah is brought out, passed among the men, and is read. During the reading of the women asks whether the Torah can be passed around the women as well when it is brought back. One of the rabbis says yes. One of the rabbis says no. In the end, it’s not done.
I don’t want to talk about the halachic aspects here. Some say that it’s perfectly fine halachically that women kiss the Torah. Some say it shames G-d. I don’t know. Let’s assume the second rabbi sincerely thought it would be a big shame for G-d and it completely forbidden. But what not passing it to the women certainly does is shame people. The women who want to express their love of Torah and are deprived of an opportunity to do so. And not after a private discussion, but they are rejected in public, during the service.
And there are other examples of similar behaviours that in the end come down to following (that person’s very strict interpretation of) G-d’s law and shaming other people, or doing something that shames G-d (by disobeying his commandments). Refusing to sit next to a woman in a plane. Refusing to shake a woman’s hand. Insulting women who wear the wrong clothing or soldiers. Refusing to eat kosher meat because it doesn’t have the right hechsher or doesn’t follow some chumra.
So, what is more important? That shame is not brought to G-d or to other people? The Talmud talks about the severity of shaming others: "He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood" (Talmud, Bava metzia 58b)? Isn’t it as much required by Torah to prevent shame for your fellows as following the ritual laws? For all the mitzvot you do, don’t forget to be a mentch!