17 Iyyar 5774
I have been preached at quite a bit in my time. Just in the last two days I’ve had a response from an Orthodox convert on a board for Jews by choice, insisting that only the Orthodox conversion process is “real” and that there are no “movements” of the Torah – and by extension saying that any conversion that isn’t Orthodox is invalid and not Jewish; and another response from my Christian correspondent (on the board I am part of for people with personality disordered parents, friends, coworkers, and other associates), asking me questions that, while not as preachy as those of the Orthodox person, still make me almost as annoyed.
It should be obvious why I’m annoyed with the Orthodox person. People who say, “my way is the only right way” are people that I do my best to find a legitimate way to flunk if they’re my students. I don’t put up with absolutism. About the other, I’m annoyed because I’m not sure what the Christian correspondent wants, but all my past experiences say “she’s trying to make you turn away from this path that you have chosen.” Several codewords in what she writes jump out at me as “evangelical” and thus more than a little bit pushy. As an example, the word “Biblical” seems to be one of her favorite words. I don’t know of any other group that over-uses the word the way that evangelicals do. So that, already, has me a bit on edge.
As a result, I’m hesitant to go into too much detail with her about this process. Instead, I’ll put most of that here. I’ve also told the Orthodox person on the convert board that I will not be responding to them further, but I do want to address some of the things they said here as well.
See, here’s the thing. This is my process, and mine alone. I have to justify it to my Rabbi, and to my beit din. I don’t have to justify it to some random Orthodox person who has apparently decided, like so many fundamentalists, to try to put G-d in a box. Nor do I have to justify it to someone who is trying to put G-d into the evangelical Christian box. I will give an example of each, so that you’re all on the same page with me.
Here’s a quote from the Orthodox person:
your conversion studies are conveniently leaving out that G-d is eternal and does not change and the Torah likewise is eternal.
Notice the box? Right there: “G-d is eternal and does not change.” Really now? Where exactly is that written? Certainly we say in the Shema, “G-d is One,” but that does not necessarily mean unchanging. The eternal part, I will buy. The unchanging part? Not so much. Last I checked, anything that doesn’t change, dies. And that bit about the Torah not changing – no, but it’s open to interpretation, or we would not have the Talmud.
In reading more of the Orthodox person’s response to me, I find a lot of concern for the rules, and hardly any concern for human beings. That rigidity is a huge turnoff for me. And like many Orthodox, this person equates Orthodox with observant, which means there’s no talking to them. I doubt that the rabbi that I choose to help me through my conversion process will have a problem with me saying “I’m not interested in dealing with that question.”
And regardless of what Mr. or Ms. Orthodox thinks, I will still be a Jew at the end of my process, whether they like it or not. Their argument comes across like an Amish person telling a Mennonite that they’re a heretic. While the Amish may believe that, the Mennonite does not have to take it seriously.
On the other hand, here’s a quote from the Christian person, after I sent her Rabbi Bardin’s explanation of why Eve ate the apple, which goes like this:
“Imagine,” Bardin taught, “that a young woman marries a young man whose father is president of a large company. After the marriage, the father makes the son a vice-president and gives him a large salary, but because he has no work experience, the father gives him no responsibilities. Every week, the young man draws a large check, but he has nothing to do. His wife soon realizes that she is not married to a man but to a boy, and that as long as her husband stays in his father’s firm, he will always be a boy. So she forces him to quit his job, give up his security, go to another city, and start out on his own. That,” Bardin concluded, “is the reason Eve ate from the tree.”
My Christian correspondent objected: “in this analogy, Eve ends up being wiser than G-d.” (When I shared this with my Jewish best friend, she said wryly, “No, just wiser than Adam.”)
My correspondent then goes on to say that by using this analogy, I am putting G-d in a box – the box of “why bother following him or worshiping him if Eve is smarter than G-d?” Never mind that the point I was trying to make is that most Jews don’t really see the story of Adam and Eve in the garden as all that serious, while for Christians it’s the origin of the Fall and original sin and all the attendant bad effects.
But here my Christian correspondent is also putting G-d in a box: this box is one where G-d is perfect and infinite, one that we finite, fallible humans might not understand or accept.
This correspondent has been really concerned, throughout our entire conversation, that I get the “facts” about G-d. A lot of times this ends with a reference to “Biblical” reasoning. Whenever I tell her that I’m not interested in Christianity because of [insert reason here], for response is invariably, “Well, that reason is not really Biblical.”
The problem is, I don’t care if it’s Biblical. It is still a valid reason for me to say I’m not a Christian and never will be.
As another example, my Christian correspondent asks:
How do you determine what to incorporate into your idea of G-d? … what measuring stick do you use to determine which of your feelings about G-d are valid? Where do the Hebrew Scriptures fit in, since you don’t see them as all literally true?
Neither of my correspondents seem to understand my position on G-d; the Orthodox because they’ve decided that their position is the only correct position, and the Christian because she seems to think I’m still trying to understand G-d. Neither of them is correct.
What I have discovered is that I don’t need to understand G-d. I just need to know that G-d is there. My concept of G-d is that he’s there. Period. Full stop. If I had to do anything boxlike, I would say that the way G-d is represented in the Hebrew scriptures fits with my intuitive understanding of what he is, which is why I feel called to Judaism. I shy away from a point-by-point list because I don’t want to put G-d in a box.
Personally, I believe that both my correspondents are incorrect in their views, but mainly because both of them like to have G-d in a box. I’ve given up my need to put him in a box. I don’t need to know the specifics.
Both of them seem to think that that’s the important thing: getting the specifics. But all the mystery of G-d is destroyed if we try to get at them.
I tried that for years, but I’m over it now.
3 responses to “Siyachot (Conversations) #1: Putting G-d in a box”
Several things come up for me here. First, with respect to the Orthodox person’s comment on the legitimacy of anything other than an Orthodox conversion, I ran into the same sort of comments (and worse) during my conversion process. One person said, “I understand the Reforms will even convert a goat.” My reply to all of them was, “Only HaShem may truly judge whether I am a Jew – men making that judgment is what sent so many of us to the gas chambers.’ (yes, a low blow – but no lower than the “goat” comment.) Secondly, I have to say that people who are so eager to put G-d in a box -to use your metaphor – have lost, or perhaps have yet to gain, an understanding of the difference between religion, which is all about rules, and faith, which is about belief in something greater than oneself. I’ve always said that Christianity goes off the rails when it attempts to know the unknowable and explain the unexplainable – which is where things like “Original Sin” and Limbo come from – perhaps that is true of all fundamentalism. Finally, with respect to “understanding” G-d, I hold onto what I learned in 12 Steps – that I can turn myself over to the care of a loving G-d “as [I] understood Him]. My understanding may not be the same as yours, or hers, or his, but that doesn’t make it wrong, nor does it mean my understanding must be perfect to be valid. Finally, I do believe there is one – and ONLY one – unchanging thing about
G-d, and that is His love for all of His creations.
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Ok so this shabbat that just ended, coincided with the confirmation class graduation at my shul, and 13; 16 year olds all spoke about their belief and feelings on God. These are kids who have all been bnai mitzvahed, are “legal jewish adults” and they all posed questions to us, the congregation, that made everyone including the rabbi’s question what each one believed God was/is. God isn’t the same for each person at the same moment, for one person he/she may be a healer, to another he/she may be a sounding board for one to recognize a problem, and to another they may be a father or mother or comforter. God is to everyone what they need at each moment. Even on the conversion journey God may change what you think he/ she is, or what he/she needs to be. As to the orthodox person telling you that your conversion won’t be valid, remind them that according to the state of Israel you will be a Jew, orthodoxy isn’t for everyone and sometimes a reform or reconstructionist conversion is what one needs and one can still do all the mitzvot that are commanded by Hashem just as well as a chasid with out being orthodox.
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Don’t let those people get you off track of what your heart and mind know you want.
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