said the friend sitting next to me at Christmas Eve dinner, with a vague look of disgust on her face, like I’d just admitted to enjoying self-flagellation. I was in the company of a number of people who had escaped Western religion (all some form of Christianity) and landed firmly in Eastern religion (all some form of Buddhism). With three beautiful dogs wandering about, Deva, Metta, and Gaia, this was a decidedly religious environment. And yet, there was no prayer before dinner, no implicit religion anywhere. There were buddha heads, mala, and yes, even crosses hung on the walls and displayed on shelves. But this was a place I felt at ease enough to say something atheistic enough to “out” me.
Later, another attendee told a story about a different dinner to which an atheist was inadvertently invited. One who waxed lyrical about the evils of religion and the stupidity of the people engaged in it. He was quieted with a “Yes, fundamentalism of all kinds is horrible,” and a glass of alcohol. This may or may not have been aimed at me, but was accompanied by shock that anyone could presume to know for sure what is or is not.
It is true, however, that my particular brand of atheism is less anti-Divine and more anti-Religion. As far as I am concerned, religion is objectively fucked up. But I believe that there is in all beings something special. Something worthy of awe, respect, love, acknowledgment, and equality. As a feminist, I can believe nothing else. I strive toward treating everyone with a namaste attitude. I feel filled with a sense of wonder when I walk in the forest, talk with good friends, or meditate. There is something out there, which name I give “the Divine”, that I cannot deny. Nor do I wish to.
And so I call myself an atheist to distinguish myself from any religionist who might make you uncomfortable by trying to convert you (or even just by talking too much about it). And while I have a great deal of respect for the hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, fundamentalist atheists, I also don’t consider myself one of them. DH calls himself a “humanist”, though I’m not certain how he defines this, in order to avoid the atheism label (although he is the only person I’ve ever met who grew up completely outside of any religious influence).
I’m a dualist, a pantheist, a pagan, a feminist (in the religious sense, though not a Dianic), a meditator, a yogini, a post-Christian, an ex-Catholic, a Jino (Jew in name only); a pray-er to Bastet, Au-Set, Gaia, & Luna; a talker-with-animal-spirits and to trees; a student of Fire, a daughter of Earth, a foe of Water, a student of Wind; and an atheist. I meditate, I cook, I swim, I do yoga, I ski. I pray to the deities that strike me at the time, be they Mary or Skadi, Ra or Thor. I pray to the animals whose flesh I consume. I cast spells to help and to harm. And I reject the effect of prayer (whether as meditation, as supplication, or as spell) on anyone or anything other than the one who prays. I’ve seen and touched things that cannot be explained and which I cannot deny. But having no desire to foist them upon you, or to congregate with others in an effort to gain favor with a being who we cannot hope to affect, I reject the labels of religion. I refuse to allow anyone’s religion into my government and hope for a secular society, where all practice whatever they believe in their homes; whether that means meditation or family dinners.
“Yes,” I should have said, “I really am an atheist. But that makes me just like you.”
This was cross-posted from my account at GoodReads, where I gave it two stars (of five). I would like to note that I did not read the whole book—I got through the fifth chapter before it was due at the library (and I couldn’t renew it because someone else had a hold on it). I do intend to read the rest of it, although I don’t have a pressing desire to do so since, from the tone of the first few chapters, it does not seem like a whole lot of additional information might be presented in what remains.
I have fixed the links in the post to link to Amazon (in case you haven’t a GoodReads account), but other than that, this is exactly how it looks at GoodReads:
Berlinski’s book is, from its title, a rebuttal to Richard Dawkins’ the God Delusion. It is, however, more often a rebuttal of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation specifically and broadly to all atheist works. Having read neither, I will take as a given that both Dawkins and Harris say what Berlinski says they say. However, given how inconsistent his own internal arguments are, I wonder.
Berlinski starts by assuaging the fear of his atheist readers. He is not a theist! He proclaims, he is rather, “a secular Jew”. From that description one might assume that he is of Jewish heritage and descent but does not believe in a (specifically Jewish) deity. However, this quickly is disproved as, through his arguments, Berlinski states that a deity must necessarily exist.
Contrary to most debates in internet fora, Berlinski’s arguments start with ad Hitlerum arguments, broken up briefly by ad hominem attacks. Beginning with calling Harris (and his ilk, by association) a terrorist, he continues by calling them anti-Semites.
The first chapter asserts that science is a god, like any other, whose adherents refuse to admit to the existence of other deities. As evidence for this, he sites the fact that Dawkins/Harris are scientists. If this is the case, it is surely news to Harris, a philosopher.
Continuing this argument into the second chapter, Berlinski asserts that science was the cause of the Holocaust. Once again, this must surely be news to many Germans and Historians alike. Citing the fact that the world is still a horrible place (and listing the number of deaths caused by wars in the 20th century), Berlinski concludes that a deity must exist. (The argument goes something like this: since atheism is wrong, &c.) One wonders just what kind of “secular Jew” it is who argues for but does not worship a deity—perhaps there is no hell for him to go to for his lack of faith. We heretics have no such luxury.
In the third chapter, he delves into physics, a subject about which I understand admittedly little, but about which he seems to understand even less. Somewhere in there is a flying horse, but I was left unsure whether its existence was proven or disproven by neutrinos with fingers.
He continues in such baffling manner, creating “atheistic” arguments for him to refute with both theology and physics. By the end, the reader is left wondering if Berlinski believes in anything at all, a failing he notes in atheistic arguments. It seems to me that Berlinski is, in fact, an atheist. He is simply not a militant atheist, an epithet he despises and wishes so much to distance himself from that he talks himself into a theistic/atheistic corner, wanting to have it both ways, and calling all atheists who speak up fundamentalists with no grasp of logic, history, or physics.
All in all, Berlinski comes across as someone I’d love to have to dinner and who really does have some wonderful arguments against the evils of fundamentalism—be it religious or atheistic. However, his disgust of atheistic fundamentalism manifests in bizarre and, yes, entertaining ways. The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a great book to hone an atheist’s analytical skills.
A fascinating discussion/speculation about the position of women on earth and how that mirrors their position in heaven. Includes speculation about what might have been the course of humanity if the Abrahamic God was a female.
*desperately trying to avoid typing “theoCRAZY!”*
I missed this discussion at school, but have been seeing flyers for a forum on asylum law that state:
HOW IMPORTANT IS YOUR
FREEDOM OF RELIGION?
Come hear [asylum professionals] discuss asylum law and practice. In particular, they will discuss the plight of Christian converts in Iran and their attempt to get asylum in the United States.
I have heard many times (but cannot currently find the citation) that Islam requires execution of converts-away-from-Islam. All nations should vocally oppose this and actively (and publicly—though not to the point of giving names, if that will cause danger) give asylum to anyone who falls under this religious law. All nations should also recognize the danger that theocracy poses by this example and actively take steps to avoid theocracy-in-fact or theocracy-in-effect in their own governments.
Religion’s obvious place in the current election cycle is depressing to a former religionist but should be demoralizing, even to current religionists. Reference to “Judeo-Christian values” by candidates or elected officials [via] are intended, on their surface, to remind us that we are a proud nation with glorious historical roots; intended to call to mind Battle Hymns and white men in whiter wigs. But I find that they often call to my mind the ongoing suppression [via] of any-religion-that’s-not-Christian-(with-occasional-hat-tips-to-Judaism). We can make excuses for our fore(white)fathers’ extermination of non-Christian religions with a “that was then, this is now” attitude, but we would still ignore the fact that the first pilgrims were seeking asylum, running from violent religious persecution, and should really have known better.
The Muslim world may be more overt in its censure of wrong-religionists [via], but the Christian world is not without blame [via]. The more evidence of theocracy’s ugly head creeping into my country’s government, the more I become afraid. Afraid of being an atheist, afraid of having pagan-leanings, afraid of practicing yoga & meditation, afraid of not going to (the right) church of a Sunday. I’ve been listening to Atheists Talk on podcast and they often bring to my attention issues that I had not known about or hadn’t made the connection about. Growing up Catholic gives me blinders to a lot of pro-Christian (and anti-everythingelse) stuff that goes on. It makes me wish I had a job & money to donate and that California’s Atheists were as with-it as Minnesota’s.
During Obama’s recent visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, according to tradition, he wrote a prayer on a piece of paper and left it there. However, since he is under media scrutiny right now, it was stolen by a young seminary student (who should have known better!). While I disagree completely with its theft, the text gives me great insight into the person I want to vote for.
The fact that he did it at all shows his respect for religions not his own (and the content seems to prove that he believes God Is One); both things I profoundly respect. Having brought stones to Jewish graveyards myself, I can attest to the fact that acting in the traditions of others gives one insight toward ones own beliefs.
The text itself, which I do not encourage anyone to read who does not want to, as this is more than reading one’s mail, but reading one’s thought-to-be private letter to the Divine, reminds me of King Solomon’s prayer. (For wisdom, rather than riches.)
Again, it gives me profound respect for the man and for the politician. May his prayer be answered.
(Prayer and links below the fold, but no other info, so don’t go if you don’t feel right doing it.) Read more >>
After a long hiatus, I am starting the popular OC Pilgrimage series back up. In these posts, I reflect on my visits to religious meetings and spiritual sites in Southern California from my perspective as an atheist and someone who is genuinely curious about religion. In 2008, I am going to try to visit one locale each month.
Earlier this month, I had the singular honor of attending a young friend’s Bat Mitzvah at University Synagogue in Irvine. This young lady is a special Friend, as she and her parents move freely between the communities of the synagogue and the local meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (aka the Quakers). Quakers have a long history of shunning ritual, and so have little to mark the passage into adulthood. At this occasion, this girl became a Bat Mitzvah–literally, a “Daughter of the Law “and thereby taking the first big step into adulthood and full membership into the Jewish community.
I had attended a morning Shabbat service once before, so I had some idea of what to expect: a worship program led by a rabbi and a cantor, filled with Hebrew song, chanting and prayer, our attention focused on the Torah scrolls and the ark containing them. Many of the externals would be comfortable to those who have attended mainline Protestant services: religious services in a repurposed business structure (the University Synagogue was once a hockey rink), rows of seats with prayer books underneath in an elegant but spare space facing a central podium, a piano and drum set off to the side. A genial man in a conservative suit conducts the service and an energetic woman leads the music.
Much of the difference that I experienced was in the details. The program opened from left to right; men and women wore yarmulkes and colorful prayer shawls; the Hebrew chanting was beautiful but incomprehensible. To ease the strangeness for visitors like me, Rabbi Rachlis graciously explained the meaning of behind the rituals and the words. The program book was filled with additional background information and translations.
Some moments stood out from the others, and most of these involved the scrolls of the Torah. The scrolls were treated with extreme reverence–they were even capped, like roaylty, with silver crowns. After they were taken out of the ark, they were literally paraded around the worship hall and most of the congregation joined in the joyful procession, clapping and singing. After the Torah scrolls made it back to the podium, Rabbi Rachlis invited everyone in the audience to come up and take a closer look at the scrolls and the careful handwritten script.
Even the secularist in me was convinced that the scroll was worthy of respect and reverence. This one was saved from a small Czech town after the Shoah. The Rabbi described the careful process of creating the scrolls (each letter is scripted by hand, and the entire process takes a year or longer). He quizzed us on bits of trivia, asking us how many vowels were in the Torah (answer = 0) and how many punctuation marks (answer also = none).
After we filed back to our seats, our young lady friend read and chanted from the scrolls in her skullcap and prayer shawl, leading this part of the service. Finally this thirteen-year-old woman gave us her commentary on the selected passage from Exodus (6:2-14), speaking with authority and confidence. After explaining the story (God commands Moses to approach Pharaoh to free the Israelites) and its personal meaning to her (she said it was about trying), she then confronted the teachings of the venerable scroll in front of her: why couldn’t God have softened instead of hardening Pharaoh’s heart? She acknowledged that the Bible contains a mix of history, legend and myth and then asked why the writer chose to share the story in the way they did. She closed by suggesting that God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart, but that Pharaoh himself resisted the “God impulse.”
This short sermon, to me, was a distillation of Reconstructionist Judaism. As Rabbi Rachlis explained, it was their challenge to take what is handed down and then to “reconstruct it–to make it relevant to the present and the future.” It is no slave to the past, but uses tradition to serve its own purposes, both outward focused, such social activism (Tikkun Olam) and inward, including the strengthening of community identity. It has abandoned the rigid patriarchies of the past for gender egalitarianism (this was witnessed in the service not only by the Bat Mitvah and the female cantor, but also by gender neutral language used to refer to God and the inclusion of the Matriarchs along side the Patriarchs. It rejects supernaturalism, using God as a powerful metaphor. One of Reconstructionist Judaism’s principle founders, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, had this to say about the relationship between Judaism and the natural world:
Judaism is the result of natural human development. There is no such thing as divine intervention; Judaism is an evolving religious civilization…The Torah was not inspired by God; it only comes from the social and historical development of Jewish people; The classical view of God is rejected. God is redefined as the sum of natural powers or processes that allows mankind to gain self-fulfillment and moral improvement;
As an atheist and a secularist with one foot in the religious world, I realize that there are some things that religions are very good at. Religion serves many purposes, but one is to make each individual feel that they are part of a something transcendent, something greater than themselves. In this Bat Mitvah Shabbat service, I had the great honor to watch as one young Jewish girl inserted herself into an ancient, ever-evolving community and into a grand narrative and that spans from Exodus to the Shoah and into the future.
I don’t really feel that I’ve been pulling my feminist weight around here recently (and that big long post about American Gladiators really rose from my husband’s comment; I expanded it because I wasn’t certain all our dear readers knew what AG was). And that really also means I’ve not been pulling my blogging weight around here, either. Part of that is busyness and part of that is intimidation. John has all these grand schemes for the future of MoF and keeps posting these great posts…I’m feeling a little out of my league.
So, instead of coming up with my own words, I’d like to give y’all a round up of my favorite recent feminist posts, in no real order, with a few religion posts thrown in for good measure and well-roundedness.
I’m starting off with Penelope Trunk, a favorite source for business (and, sometimes, feminism). She tackles Five Things People Say About Christmas That Drive [Her] Nuts in a very accessible (as always) manner. She also brings up some great come backs that atheists and agnostics can use (she is Jewish) against rabid Christmasers.
California NOW, which I keep giving another chance to get their blog off the ground, floats a little higher with a very brief discussion of the importance of words in framing a debate. In this case, the use of pronouns when we talk about the next president, and how being able to imagine it as a role for a person (without specifying a gender) is, in itself, progress. The post could be longer, more in depth, and less like a Twitter thought, but it’s still a good thought.
A blog I’ve never heard of before but was linked to by someone gives us an update on the state of women’s hockey gear. As a woman who just went shopping for her favorite sport-gear and found her choices to be lacking, I sympathize. Do I want gender-neutral clothing? Yes. Do I also want color choices? Yes. I picked out a lovely teal-and-ivory set that I hope conveys Snow Goddess to all who gaze upon me and then was given 160s and hideous red poles by the rental lady. I shall bring my own (black, just like the ones she gave my husband) poles next time. Do I think polka dots will build confidence? No. But I also believe that, as my sister once said about a football team whose name never mattered to me enough to remember, “If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good.” So here’s to playing good: whether you’re male or female; and to looking good doing it. Preferably without polka dots or purple, two crimes against vision.
Feministe has an awesome list of questions for prolifers, you know, the ones who claim that conception is the start of life (which makes me wonder if I’m 9 months older than I think I am). She takes their arguments to their logical conclusions (not even extremes, although some of them are) to point out their absurdity. She brings up the point that doctors count a pregnancy not from its fertilization but from its implantation, since you can’t measure the former and many fertilized eggs get expelled. Which is sorta true, since it’s been my (limited) experience that doctors track it from the last time a woman was not pregnant (her period), since they don’t actually know when it was implanted. But I digress. Go, read it. And read the comments, they continue the discussion.
Ah, Feministing, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…first off, you continue my discussion of looking good and feeling good with a recommendation to read Trappings, which I shall now have to do. Another good one for comments. Leave your own, or leave it here (or both): what makes you feel powerful? (Men, too, are invited to join the discussion about clothes.)
And then you continue with a story again about men owning their daughters. Makes me glad again that my husband did not ask permission: and also that my father, though a (wing)nut, is not a psychopath.
Another blog I’ve never heard of has an awesome list of Republican candidates and which Buffy villain they most represent. SciFiPolitics, a new genre!
Pandagon has a book review about how bizarre it is to treat virginity as anything other than something made up to keep women in line: “even in the moment of ‘giving’ a man your virginity, you’re more technically presenting him with an opportunity to destroy something that doesn’t exist except as a cultural concept that’s not easily defined”. Hear, hear.
Finally, an awesome religion-feminism post from our own dear Jana over at Sunstone: a visit to a Bat Mitzvah. John told me that they had been invited to a Bat Mitzvah, but this was the first I’d heard of that actually involved a shawl & reading from the Torah. I think I’d've cried, too.
That’s all for now, folks, but I’m back in the game. Go read those great stories while I cook up some of my own.
Here’s a feel good story for today: a skinny Muslim student from Bangladesh intervened as a gang yelling anti-Semitic slogans was pummeling three Jews. His involvement cost him two black eyes, stitches and what I’m sure must have been considerable pain, but it gained one of the other victims enough time to call the police. Askari said of his act:
I felt I could not just stand there and watch these people being beaten up without doing anything to help.
I believe we are all members of one family, and my religion teaches me always to come to the aid of my fellow man in distress.
At first I thought it ironic that New Yorkers and the press were calling Askari a “Good Samaritan,” but after some thought, it makes a lot of sense. What many people don’t realize in the original parable is that Samaritans were throughly reviled by the religious orthodox in the Palestine of Jesus’ day. Yet it was the symbols of righteousness and religious authority–the priest and the Levite–who crossed the road and hurried past the wounded man.
In our so-called Christian nation, it was the Muslim immigrant from South Asia who stepped in to help when dozens of others deliberately ignored the commotion. This was someone who might get a lot of extra attention from airport security staff, thinking more of his duty to help those in need and of his concern for his Jewish brothers than for his own safety.
It makes for a wonderful story and a refreshing antidote to the constant barrage of headlines that encourage fear of Muslims and that highlight the hate-rhetoric exchanged between Christians, Jews and Muslims. And it’s these kinds of stories that keep this atheist from holding to the wholesale condemnations of religion typified by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. If you accept that religion motivates a lot of evil in the world, you cannot dismiss the good that it inspires as well.
The three major monotheistic religions all have holy books that date to a minimum of 1400 years ago. This makes the relevance of these supposed Divine rules somewhat suspect.
A Jewish cartoon that I enjoy reading has an interesting take on Jewish bioethics, including links under the cartoon to discussions of same. Among some of the articles that I find problematic is the discussion of genetic material from non-kosher animals being kosher (in the sense that the products from these genetic unions could be considered kosher). Sounds like obeying the letter of the divine law, rather than the intent.
The means of making divine laws relevant to today seem to fall into two categories: God spoke in terms people at the time would understand, so we need to update certain things based on what we know they knew; and God’s law is eternal, so whatever He said then still applies, we just need to figure out how.
Incidentally, I ran across this a while ago: an answer to the question how do Muslims in space pray? Hypothetical at the time it was written, it may soon need to be put to practical application.
What are other science fictional (hopefully someday science factional) problems various religions might face? A Jain encounters non-carbon-based life (how do you know if it’s alive in order to avoid killing it)? The Ender’s Game series tackled how to preach Jesus to non-Earthlings (he died for all, just happened to be human). Shinto managed to roll with the obvious humanity of the emperor. Clearly, religious faith is strong enough to withstand space travel (or measly moon colonies). But, speculation is fun!
I’m in the middle of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. It’s a sordid read, full of the worst violences that humans can inflict on each other, but it’s compelling because: a) the author, Mark Juergensmeyer, interviews terrorists, those who follow them, and the religious leaders who provide theological justifications for seemingly unjustifiable actions; and b) the book is essentially about trying to understand the rationale and the worldview of the terrorist mind.
Juergensmeyer’s main argument seems to be that religiously motivated terrorists see themselves engaged in cosmic spiritual warfare in which the standard rules don’t apply, and violence against their enemies has a symbolic significance that is much deeper than the the act of violence itself. In general, the perpetrators (and those who support their acts) are not necessarily sick or crazed–they merely have a different way of looking at the world.
I think I buy Juergensmeyer’s argument. Let’s say that you deeply and sincerely felt that aborting the fetus was the same thing as killing a newborn child. Wouldn’t you grieve for the millions of abortions performed regularly in this nation? Abortion clinics would be like mini-Auschwitzes. You might feel morally obligated to do all that you could to destroy the structures and kill the death delivering doctors. The Rev. Michael Bray felt this way and burned seven abortion clinics in the DC area. The Rev. Paul Hill helt this way and shot and killed Dr. John Britton and his safety escort. Neither felt any remorse–nor did they need to, from their perspective.
I’m trivializing the difference in mindset that separates the peaceful religious adherent from the zealous religious killer because I think that it is something that we should all be on guard against. Whenever I read about criminal behavior in the news, my reaction is less, “what kind of sick and twisted mind could have produced that?” and more, “what would it take for me or those around me to cross that line?” It is why I am always on guard about any religious or pseudo-religious justifications for violence. It’s why I reject Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis and Nephi’s slaying of the unconscious Laban in the Book of Mormon.
I’m going to close with one quote from Terror in the Mind of God that highlights how some are empowered by being in a state of war. It has a relevance far beyond religious terrorism which is applicable to all sorts of warfare, conventional, spiritual, physical and verbal:
One of the first rules of conflict resolution is willingness to accept the notion that there are flaws on one’s own side as well as on the opponent’s side. this is the sensible stand if one’s goal is to get along with others and avoid violence.
But what if that is not one’s goal?…A warring attitude implies that its holder no longer thinks compromise is possible, or–just as likely–did not want an accomodating solution to the conflict in the first place. In fact, if one’s goal is not harmony but the empowerment that comes from using violence, it is in one’s interest to be in a state of war.
Station #05 on the OC Pilgrimage was the Temple Israel Long Beach.
“Waitaminute,” you say, “Long Beach isn’t in Orange County!” And you’re absolutely right. Long Beach really should be its own county. I can’t afford to not write about my first experience with a Jewish service. My OC Pilgrimage just put on a few pounds–I’m appending Los Angeles and San Diego Counties and if I go to China, I’ll do some pilgrimaging there, too. I’ll have to think of another name for this�
With this visit, I really began to step out of my native tradition. If you’re Jewish maybe you can help keep me honest, or at least enlighten me on the fuzzy parts.
(Apologies in advance for the poor quality cellphone camera images. I may see if I can go back and take a few decent pictures of both inside and outside of the Temple.)
Jana and The Boy and The Girl joined me on this visit. We were invited by a friend of ours who is a Jew, a cantor and just an all around cool guy. He was a guest cantor for this service, and several of his music students were playing as part of the service (The Boy is privileged to receive his tutelage in the cello).
We arrived a bit early, not entirely sure what to expect. The building was old–I think it was built in the twenties (which is old for someone who lives and worships in a thirty-something planned community). The woods and hallways were dark. The squarish worship hall was well lit, with some of the light coming through stained-glass windows depicting Moses and David. I knew these guys. I felt the comfort of the familiar.
In fact, much of the experience for me was the familiar spiced with the exotic. There were pews, and there were longer ones in the center and shorter ones on the sides, much like many LDS and Protestant churches, but carved on the sides were Stars of David. There was a pulpit and behind it was the main symbols of worship, but instead of the sacristy and crucifix, there was an ark (a special cabinet) with glass doors, with four elegantly adorned scrolls of the Torah on display (our friend informed us that this continual display was somewhat controversial, that generally the scrolls remain hidden behind opaque doors). There were prayer books and bibles in front of us; opening these, we found that there was Hebrew on every page, and you read through the pages from right to left (as someone who reads Japanese, this wasn’t so strange).
I wish I could adequately describe the service–it was a carefully choreographed weaving of English and Hebrew, of prayer and scripture, of words spoken and chanted, of music and silence, of standing and sitting. The rabbi and the cantor led the service, with the congregation responding to the appropriate cues, and the strings and the organ seamlessly inserting themselves at certain points.
Here’s one (English) excerpt from the service:
The soul that You have given me, O God, is pure! You created and formed it, breathed it into me, and within me You sustain it. So long as I have breath, therefore, I will give thanks to you my God and the God of all ages, source of all being, loving Guide of every human spirit.
There were two highlights: One was hearing our friend’s chanting and singing bass voice resonate through the temple. I wonder if I’m spoiled now–I’m sure that not all cantors measure up (down?). The other was the removal of the Torah scroll and its subsequent procession about the hall. Certainly there is nothing quite like this in Mormonism, and perhaps not in Protestant Christianity. After lavishing praises on the Lord and adoring his Word, the doors were opened and the Rabbi held the Torah high and paraded the scroll up and down the aisles of the Temple. He is joined by a small entourage. The scroll was adorned like a king or queen, with silver crowns and breastplates and ornaments tinkling. The congregation quickly repositioned themselves so that they could touch their prayer books to the scroll (many then kissed these books).
Jana wasn’t quite sure what to do when the rabbi presented the scroll to her. She just smiled big and the rabbi looked at her quizzically before moving on (I escaped embarrassment by standing deeper in the pew than Jana, who was on the end).
There was much more that I should describe, such as the kaddish for those who are bereaved and mourning, the reading from the Torah, the yarmulke and prayer shawls, but unfamiliarity makes it hard for me to recollect and to accurately describe much of what happened (I became so absorbed in parts that I neglected my note taking). I feel the need to learn some Hebrew, to expose myself to more of Jewish ritual and prayer.
In one part of the service, we in the congregation chanted, “Let the stranger in your midst be to you as the native, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” As a Gentile among the Jews, I appreciated the sentiment and felt comforted. Certainly the rabbi made us feel welcome as he greeted us warmly after the service, and our friend the cantor, too, as he patiently answered our many questions. Maybe with each exposure like this, with each each personal and respectful association, I can become a little less of a stranger.
I’m generally quiet about our charitable giving, but the more I think about it, the more I think we should talk about the organizations we support with our voluntary offerings. We transmit all kinds of information via word of mouth: good movies and books, gossip, jokes, stories–what could be more important to pass on than information which has the potential to alleviate the suffering of our sisters and brothers in this world?
The cause we chose to support last month was the American Jewish World Service to support humanitarian aid to refugees of the Darfur genocide, and also to support education efforts:
Recognizing that humanitarian aid is crucial but will not stop the genocide, AJWS is engaged in a simultaneous education and advocacy campaign to put pressure on United States and world leaders to end the crisis.
If you’re unfamiliar with the human catastrophe in Sudan, please follow the link above and find out more. If you are familiar with other worthy groups that are contributing to this cause, please comment below. Spread the word!