I don’t believe in a god. But I believe in heritage, and connection. I like knowing that I am a part of something that reaches back a few thousand years. I also like the stories in the Torah. I like that my ancestors tried to make sense of the world by imposing a moral order, and rules of ethics among other things. I love the songs, and I used to take great comfort in the rituals.
When I was a child, I believed absolutely in God as He was described in the Torah and the Talmud. I believed that my parents were making a dire mistake by not keeping Kosher, by not keeping Shabbat as a holy day of prayer and rest. (Don’t even get me started about my religious outrage over their divorce!) I believed that peace and harmony in the home could be accomplished by following the laws, by making one’s best effort to fulfill the 613 Mitzvot. I wanted to be a Rabbi … until I found out that the Orthodoxy didn’t allow for women to be rabbis.
Once I left the Orthodox school which I was, for some reason, attending, I became pretty cynical about God and religion. I didn’t practice it, but I didn’t think much about it either. The world just didn’t match up with what the rabbis had taught me. So, I let it go.
After my tumultuous teens and young adulthood, I came back to Judaism — not because I believed again, but because I could connect to Reconstructionist Judaism. I could have my rituals back and I could make sense of them. A decade later, though, I gave it up again.
It’s not that it’s difficult to follow the laws or go through the rituals. I really enjoyed them. It’s that I realized the prayers I was singing were absolutely false. I didn’t believe that there was a deity that cared whether or not I was thankful or found the creation something praiseworthy. I didn’t — and don’t — believe I should have to kiss the ass of a supreme being in order to please that being. I mean, how much praise does one supernatural creator need, anyway?
So, I stopped going to services. I stopped doing the Shabbat candles and wine. I stopped trying to make a decent challah.
My husband was already a tremendous cynic. He stopped believing in a god a long time ago. I’m pretty sure it was around the time of our daughter’s diagnosis.
Now, however, I see this Judaism and belief system as a kind of birthright. Sure, I don’t believe. But maybe my daughter could. Maybe it would be best for her to have that assured moral compass and ethical guide. After all, I don’t know how she will come to understand this business of right and wrong without religion. She’s not exactly one for expressing deep thoughts.
She’s nine years old now, and shockingly, I am absolutely sure — rock solid positive — that I want her to have a Bat Mitzvah.
My husband — not so much. He believes this would be a waste. She doesn’t have a concept of God. She won’t be able to truly take on the religious responsibilities a Bat Mitzvah implies. And we don’t practice religion at home.
I am arguing with him. I think she can be made ready. She can learn. And, if that’s what it takes, we can practice more Judaism at home. Reluctantly, my husband is willing to let us try to get this religion thing going again. But he’s pretty stubborn. He says he won’t even discuss a Bat Mitzvah for another three years. In the meanwhile, Phoebe and I have a lot of work to do.
So, tomorrow: Phoebe Ruth starts Hebrew School. Wish us luck. Or, you know, pray for us?