Monday, January 31, 2005

This is a tough post to write, because as I just noted in the previous post below, I don't have a lot of time. I also should warn you that I don't really have a "point" here; I'm just letting you know what's going on in the Chayyei of Sarah.

In response to many of the discussions going on lately in the blogosphere and the "real" world, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what do I really believe, religiously. Thinking, and writing on my computer. And more thinking, and more writing. A writing instructor once told me that "writing is a process through which you discover what you believe," and it's really true. Maybe some of the writing will eventually appear on this blog.

The thinking part I've done all the time. One of the reasons I'm as religiously "strong" as I am (to the extent that I am, which is sometimes stronger and sometimes less) is that I'm constantly "checking in" with myself, and often go through "re-evaluation" stages. Only once, when I was 20, did a "re-evaluation" lead to a major crisis and what was, to me, a big change in outlook. Usually it's little microscopic steps, in different directions.

So I've been writing (privately) lately about all sorts of questions running in my head:

Do I judge Judaism by its own merits, or by the Jews? (The answer that is emerging for me: It's own merits, mostly.)

Who were the major influences, throughout my life, on my religious thought?

Besides my school, youth movements, parents, etc, what other forces have informed my world outlook? How much of the way I perceive Judaism is more about my character, my personality, the extent to which I see the world as a glass half full or half empty?

How did I come to believe what I now believe?

How much, or how often, do I really believe it?

And do I believe it because I really do, or because believing it makes me happy? Does it matter to me?

How did I come to not believe the things I don't believe?

Why is it that there seems to be an ever-decreasing circle of people who believe roughly as I do, who see Judaism the way I do?

Deep and troubling question because of the nature of its practical implications: All other things being attractive and wonderful, how similar to me, in religious thought and deed, does a man have to be in order for me to be willing to raise children with him? Or, put another way, how much of what I believe do I believe so strongly that I'd rather not date someone - and, not being 21 any more, risk not having children at all - than raise them in the absence of that belief? How much of what I do not believe do I not believe so strongly that I couldn't be happy raising children with someone who does believe it?

Who are my religious role models right now, and who do I consider to be "my" rabbis, and why did I choose them?

What would happen to my beliefs if one of those role models turned out to be engaging in behavior that is morally repugnant or grossly hypocritical or just not nice? Back to the first question then: Judaism on its own merits? Or based on the Jews?

It's a lot. Very intense, to be thinking so much about these things, while the blogs I read, meanwhile, are roiling with Modern Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, previously-Orthodox-and-now-not-so-sure, and never-were-Orthodox-and-never-want-to-be-and-here's-why Jews are hashing it out with each other over book bannings, materialism, the Silence of the Lamms, the halachic process, close-mindedness, vacuousness, "authenticity," women in Orthodoxy, the Taliban, mixed swimming, gedolim, the Israeli Rabbinate . . .

I need some quiet, so I can think.

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