Despite the fact that I am very religious, it can be easy for me to get despondent about Judaism. My OCD focuses on my religious practices and my depression has introduced doubts about whether God loves me, whether I am worthy of His love and my whole experience of mental illness has made me question God’s existence and benevolence at times. I spend a lot of time thinking that I’m a bad Jew. So I thought I would note down the reasons why I rejoice in being Jewish!
I was going to explain the more obscure ones, but I don’t have time. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!
So, in no particular order:
- Jews are encouraged to ask question and are even allowed to argue with God.
- The feeling of continuity with my ancestors over a period of 3,000 years.
- Judaism’s concern with the dignity of all human beings.
- Judaism was perhaps the first civilization to encourage people to speak truth to power.
- The structure Judaism gives to my days, weeks and year.
- Halakhah (Jewish law) takes abstract concepts about ethics and theology and turns them into concrete actions.
- The focus on personal growth and the practical strategies for achieving it.
- Shabbat (the Sabbath). Everything about it, from the tunes to challah bread, to the rest from work and from electronic devices to time with family to the feeling of peace and “having a second soul” that descends eighteen minutes before sunset on Friday.
- Enjoyable marital sex is a mitzvah (commandment). In particular, a man has an obligation in the ketubah (marriage agreement) to satisfy his wife and it’s grounds for divorce if he doesn’t. This has been the case for thousands of years!
- Judaism teaches that everyone has access to God without an intermediary.
- Teshuva (repentance): no matter what you’ve done, there is always a way back.
- My religious heroes: Yitzchak (Isaac), Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), Iyov (Job), Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Kotzker Rebbe, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rav Kook… the list goes on!
- The thoughtfulness and complexity of Jewish thought and especially halakhic thought and the way they refuse to accept easy answers, instead following thoughts to their conclusion.
- The Jewish sense of humour, present even in religious texts.
- Finding God in the mundane.
- The fact that Judaism has helped the Jews survive millenia of persecution.
- The emphasis on relationships, joy and love.
- The fact that embarrassing others and spreading gossip, even if true, are seen as some of the most serious sins (unlike wider Western culture, where gossip and embarrassment are used to sell newspapers and win ratings wars).
- The down-to-earth practicality of Judaism.
- Chessed (kindness) and the striving for what Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein termed “social beatitude.”
- The bond between all Jews, left and right, religious and secular, Orthodox and Progressive: if one suffers, we all feel it.
- The lack of dogma and acceptance of multiple opinions.
- The concept of argument for the sake of Heaven.
- The multiple ways of looking at the world: halakhic and aggadic, rationalist, mystical and existentialist.
- The depth, complexity and beauty of our holy texts from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) through Midrash and Talmud to Hasidic tales and philosophical tracts – even law codes are examined stylistically.
- This is a list about religion, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the Jewish influence on science, the humanities and the arts, from Kafka to Chagall to Wiesel to Simon and Garfunkel to Freud to Einstein to Disraeli to Marx (I mean Groucho) to all those Nobel Prize winners who are Children of Israel… not to mention the co-creators of Superman, Batman and Doctor Who. And William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (that one’s for you, Alex!).
- I’m going to say it… Pesach is stressful and sets off my OCD like crazy, but deep down, I think it’s still my favourite Yom Tov (festival): the weirdness of covering the house in tin foil and plastic, the novelty of crockery used for only eight days a year, the special foods (ritual and cultural), the seder service where we spend an evening eating symbolic foods and discussing religious texts and thinking about what it really means to be free… underneath the stress and the OCD, I think I still love it!