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

Loading comments...