Contrary to popular belief that religion ‘gives you the answers’ I have found the opposite to be more true; the more you believe in, the more you have to question.

I’ve been going through a period of existential and philosophical angst.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, someone I adore and admire. She gets up for morning minyan, helped start a shul, always greets everyone with a smile, teaches bat mitvah classes, always dresses tzinua, studies the texts, and is still totally involved in the secular world but always true to herself and her very Jewish beliefs. Frum to the core and a bastion of religious security.

I was complaining about my issues with religion and halacha, saying how so much of it was created in response to Christian Europe and we act as though it’s the very word of God and since the reformation movement orthodox rabbis have been so afraid of change and why should I live my life in Israel as if I’m still living in Polish shtetl of two hundred years ago?

well…yeah, she says

What she said surprised me.

“sweetie, I’m probably a lot more liberal in my Jewish thinking than you realize”

this is essential what she proceeded to tell me:

Do I believe every halacha was somehow given at Sinai? no. Do I think that rabbi’s are human and therefore err? Of course. Do I think that Judaism is ‘it,’ that we’re the one true way to God? honestly? I’m not so sure.

But I know this; I am a person who wants to get close to God, whoever or whatever he or she is. In this lifetime, I was born Jewish, so I want to get as much out of that opportunity as possible, I want to completely explore this heritage I’m given and confront every part of it. The only way to do that is to be a fully committed Jew because you’re only gonna get as much out of it as you put into it.

I want an honest relationship with God and with myself, and for me, Judaism is the framework through which I can struggle with my personal issues of why am I here, the problem of evil etc. This whole history, the literature and responsa, and the talmud and halacha and even shtetl life is where we come from and therefore a very real part of who we are. We each need to work to find the place that we are being the most truthful within our own heritage, and fight to grow from there.

I really don’t have the answers, but thats why I’m a Jewish Studies major and why I have so many chevrutas and go to shiurim and get up to daven– not because I’m ‘so frum’, but because I’m always trying to figure it out and grow and the best way to do it is by doing it. Religion, Jewish or not, is about commitment.

It’s about getting close to God. And you know what? If I had been born Muslim, I’d probably be the same kind of Muslim as I am a Jew.

I never thought I’d hear such things coming from her.

That last comment reminded me of a time I was sitting with a kabbalistic rabbi in the Old City, talking about the concept of prayer and he stopped, realized what time it was and excitedly ran with me up to his rooftop just in time to hear the Muslim muezzin’s call to prayer begin. Lifting his arms and smiling with satisfaction he said “see, that’s another way to pray.”

Could it be that Judaism is beginning to move in a more pluralistic direction? To an understanding that, as Heschel said, “the problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions”? Is this a sign of a higher ‘age of Aquarius” consciousness and a sign of Moshiach? Or do I just hang out with really f-ing cool people?

About the author

Laya Millman


  • I take offense to your title. None of those posts were about boobies per se. Why must you focus on that aspect and completely ignore the very important underlying messages?

  • Didn’t we tackle some of the issues your friend raised here?

    I have a good friend who is very spiritual and a very devout Jew. When we were growing up, he was a secular Jew but always exploring other religions and learning as much about them as possible. Ironically, it was a connection with the Kabbalah Center that brought him back to Judaism. I sometimes feel that he would have ended up a devout __________ if he had been born to that religion.

    I understand what your friend says, but I don’t get it. If you know that many of the laws are man-made and have nothing to do with the Torah at Sinai, then why live by those rules without finding the space within those rules that fits your comfort level?

  • I totally agree with this girl!
    She is VERY open minded!

    (I’m not messianic or lubavitch, and not that I’m proselytizing in any way shape or form that people should agree with me; but I believe this is the kind of thinking that’ll ultimately bring mashiach.)

  • TM- her point, i believe, was that she wants to confront Judasim head on, and use every thing it offers as a spring board to get close to God. For her, at least, this means living it fully and experiencing it from the inside. Just because something was not given at Sinai does not mean it is not wise and deserves to be listened to.

    She also said to me she is not nearly as interested in WHAT the rabbi’s said as much as trying to understand WHY they said it. It’s in the Why’s that we find the wisdom.

    If we only followed what was given at Sinai, we would be a highly outdated religion. The fact that it can grow and evolve allows it to stay relevant.

    Also, there are times in life when it is neccessary to let our comfort levels expand.

  • I too was a little concerned with all of the flesh being depicted on some of the more recent posts Laya. And, ck, we’re not going to let you rationalize and dismiss our reactions so easily.

    I would tend to disagree with you however, that “religion gives you the answers.” In many ways, religion does, I admit, give them to you, but every person (and we’re actually talking about Jews here) has to decide how to apply it in their own lives. There are all kinds of ways, as you’ve seen (especially living in Israel) that people utilize the Torah as their guidebook. And, of course, you have to have a guide.

    I’ve frequently had to direct people to guides (i.e., their rabbis, teachers, books — such as the Guide to the Perplexed), so that they can live their best lives. Not just as Jews, but as human beings. It’s a challenge we Jews were given, and it’s not solved just by having lots of sex.

  • Janice,
    But every answer leads to countless other questions. If you simply accept answers blindly it not being honest to the religion or yourself.

    Good guidence is precious as winter sunlight, and just as hard to find.

  • As to the comments above…
    I believe you never achieve full comprehension of anything because then you are comparing yourself to Gร‚ยดd.

    The best one can achieve is knowing that there is knowledge, which is more than most people.

  • Despite the lack of nudity, I loooved this post. Granted, I have the benefit of knowing who laya was chatting with but still… let me just say that I was completely impressed with this woman’s perspective.

    It seems very enlightened – almost a blueprint for living a faith based life while excercising real tolerance towards others.

    Seriously. I often think I know it all – I am very arrogant that way. I thought I had laya’s friend pegged, I didn’t give it a thought practically. I was clearly wrong. She totally has far more depth than I ever gave her credit for – I judged her based on appearances and I had no right to do that – not only that, I was wrooong. Furthermore – I never considered a perspective as interesting as the one she presented. I don’t know that I am ready to neccessarily totally reevaluate my perception of Judaism as the total shiznit and all other religions as cute merely tolerated entities (its ok silly goy, believe what you like, as long as you’re a good person…) but laya’s friend has definitely given me pause to think. I always say I’m not so smart – today I TOTALLY believe that.

  • Appearances can be deceiving…but more importantly, yay for living with the very cool girl who said this!

  • This was awesome. I was just discussing Rivkin’s The Unity Principle with the rabbi the other day and we were discussing the idea of pluralism in Judaism. Thanks for keeping all these posts and comments so important/relevant.

  • Why would anyone want to stop the G-strings and boobies? Surely they are preferrable to existential angst (which, by the way, I think the French want back) and watching Muezzin call Muslims to prayer. And why does everyone get away with dragging philosophy’s good name through the muck by associating a real working project on the nature of the matter, mind, knowledge and meaning with personal worries and neuroses regarding the decency of religion and whether or not we should dress with a modicum of tznius? Say what you want about G-strings and boobies, at least people who purvey them don’t masquerade themselves as doing philosophy…

    Sorry about bitching.

  • At Griffin University in Queensland, Australia, you’d be wrong. See this fun posting that implies a course in the philosophy of bump and grind – basically boobies and g-strings.

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