Shabbat was mostly good. I finished reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy. It was very detailed (it’s much longer than the other books I have in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series even though Ruth is a very short book), perhaps a little too detailed, but it was very thorough and gave me a new appreciation for the literary and theological depth of a book that I had perhaps dismissed in the past as merely a pleasant story and a bit of an “origin story” for the Davidic monarchy.

I couldn’t sleep at night and read a lot of the graphic novel Final Crisis. I found it fairly incomprehensible. I knew that was likely to happen, as it’s a “crisis” story where Detective Comics put all their superheroes together against a massive foe. As Batman, to a much lesser extent, Superman, are the only superheroes I know well, I was expecting to be faced with many characters I didn’t know well or even at all. However, no characters seemed to stick around for more than a page or two to get to know them, except for a long interlude of Superman with parallel universe Supermen in a weird limbo universe. I didn’t really understand what was going on or why an equation can drive the entire population of Earth to despair and servitude of a super-powerful alien being (Darkseid). I’m reading it as it’s part of Grant Morrison’s wider Batman story arc, but it doesn’t seem to be as good as the other, Batman-only, stories in the arc. Or maybe I’m still too much of a Detective Comics novice to appreciate it. I think Morrison isn’t such a great plot author and tends to rely on spectacle and innovation and reimagining existing characters to pull the reader along.

I told PIMOJ I would get up at 10am today. I’m trying to see if I can get up earlier if I make myself responsible to her. I didn’t manage it, but I did get up at 10.37 instead, which was reasonably good. Unfortunately I napped for two hours after lunch; not good, I won’t sleep tonight (hence it’s gone 12.30am and I’m still writing).

I had a headache after Shabbat. I hope I’m not getting back in the habit of getting a headache every week.

My parents and I watched a Zoom talk this evening. Someone from my shul (synagogue) was speaking about his life story, from birth into a non-Jewish Austrian family in the 1920s to conscription into the Hitler Youth and later the SS, to being captured by the Americans and being a prisoner of war in England and eventually converting to Orthodox Judaism quite late in life. It was interesting and he really had enough material to speak for two evenings.

After that I spoke to PIMOJ for a while and then did some Torah study that I hadn’t managed earlier because of my headache.

***

I had some thoughts about organised religion, based on the comments to my previous post. A number of people spoke about believing in God, or at least being open to God, but getting turned off by organised religion. I guess that’s something I can’t always understand emotionally, although I can see why some religious institutions would annoy people. Maybe it’s partially because Judaism doesn’t have the kind of structure that the Catholic and Anglican Churches have, the sense of a vast institution with wealth and power and a religious hierarchy.

When people say “organised religion” to me in a Jewish context I think of stuff like having a community with some kind of funding to own or lease a building for regular prayers, to ensure the lights and the heating there stay on, and having some kind of administrative set-up to ensure that the money is overseen safely, with no fraud, and that poorer people in the community can be supported from communal tzedaka (charity) funds and so on. Maybe also paying a rabbi to provide pastoral support. That’s not really anything that upsets or annoys me, or turns me off in other ways.

On the other hand, I do get annoyed by, and feel rebellious when confronted with various things. I don’t particularly care about being told what to eat or when to pray or who I can marry; I take that as coming with the territory of being an Orthodox Jew. However, I do react strongly if I feel people are telling me what I can read or are dismissing my beliefs, even if I know they’re minority views in the Orthodox community and more ‘modern’ than Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Also if I feel people are saying I can’t watch Doctor Who, which is an obsessive autistic special interest for me and looms larger in my life than it probably should; I feel I couldn’t cope without it.

I don’t really associate this with “organised religion” though. To me it seems more of a sociological thing, maybe because it’s enforced by peer pressure rather than by overt means. I mean, when I joined my shul (synagogue), no one asked if I take the Genesis Creation story literally or whether I think non-Jewish religions are religiously valid for their adherents. But then I hear people (including) rabbis taking a different line on these things to me and I feel out of place and worried of being “found out.” I doubt they would (or could) throw me out of the shul if they did find out, but it would probably change how some people interacted with me.

I feel a lot of it comes from the nature of my community, with some very Haredi congregants and certainly Haredi rabbis, but other congregants who are more ‘modern’ like me. I used to go to my parents’ shul, which is definitely more modern, but I felt that people at my current shul took prayer and Torah study more seriously. Plus my current shul is much smaller; I felt overwhelmed by the number of people at my parents’ shul even on ordinary Shabbats, let alone festivals. I have an identity in my own right in my shul too, rather than just being an adjunct of my parents. So I stick with my current shul even though doctrinally it’s not a perfect fit.

This may sound strange to Christians in particular, but doctrine or dogma isn’t such a big thing in Judaism. Jews tend to focus more on what you do than what you believe. If you dress in an acceptable way, don’t publicly violate Shabbat or Yom Tov (festivals), are polite to people, and attend prayer services and shiurim (religious classes) regularly, people will probably accept you, at least on a basic level, without asking what you actually believe.

12 thoughts on “Shabbat and “Organised Religion”

  1. When I think of my own issues with organized religion, it’s not the community aspect. If anything, I see that as one of the strengths. My biggest issue with Christianity, and certainly with Catholicism, is the dogmatic aspect and the discouragement of critical thinking. That can then lead to group behaviours that aren’t even consistent with the basic tenets of the religion.

    While various religious scriptures don’t necessarily encourage Othering in a sociological sense, organized religion seems to foster that, because that’s what people do, we identify the in-group and out-groups. Division fuelled by a sense of religious superiority causes a whole lot of violence, that comes not from the religion itself but the social institution.

    Judaism seems different, whether that be the decentralized aspect, the spirited debating over Torah, or just that your people seem a lot less hell-bent on killing other people. What baffles me about orthodox Judaism is how prescriptive and proscriptive it is. The extent to which things rabbis have said over the ages gets into the minutiae of people’s daily lives is totally foreign to my own way of approaching the world.

    Anyway, that’s my ramble about religion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with Ashleyleia. It’s the dogma and the lack of thinking that goes on in some of those religious communities. Lately, it’s the brainwashing and adherence to ideas, ethics and principles that do NOT reflect their religion at all. And I love this: Jews tend to focus more on what you do than what you believe.
    Absolutely the way it ought to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So hard in a few lines to comment on matters so deep and so complex. So, for what it’s worth here are a few thoughts on the debate – and apologies in advance for not being more concise.
    1. Fundamentalism – I don’t think this is an either/or but a matter of degree. In Christianity this may range from the literalism of 7-day young earth creationists right through to the Sea of Faith movement that denies the supernatural entirely (e.g. miracles, the resurrection) which leaves very little point to the faith. Fundamentalism is also too often conflated with evangelicalism.
    2. What you do versus what you believe – I think more essential than either of these two is who you really are. As the Bible says, even the devil believes in God and trembles. Belief does not really mean much on its own. True faith is more to do with a heart devotion and heart love for God and for his people, and also to the process of seeking him. And of course, one’s words and actions can display this. You can have a heart devotion to God and not have all your theology correct, and you may also have doubts.
    3. Religion and a lack of critical thinking (Ashley’s point) – I don’t think this is confined to religion – and besides there is a huge amount of critical thinking and debate among Christian thinkers – just consider some of the well-known Christian philosophers and apologists from Blaise Pascal and CS Lewis through to John Lennox and Alvin Plantinga today. Expect it is the same in Judaism. Sure, there may be an extreme intolerant, fanatical and dogmatic segment. But you find this in the secular world too – and perhaps worse there. Atheism and humanist creeds can be dogmatic, intolerant, inflexible, prescriptive and judgmental too.

    My church at the moment is focussing on the teaching of 2 Peter. The warning to us that the biggest threat to the Christian church comes not from the world which rejects the faith but from false teachers within it. It does sadden me that people look at those huge edifices – the Catholic church and the Church of England – with all their wealth and hierarchies and think that this is the Christian faith. Real faith is personal first of all – and for the Christian it involves repentance and being put right with God through the Cross of Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this.

      1) Definitely, yes. I realise I’m less fundamentalist than some people, but much more than others.

      2) Interesting, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Perhaps in Orthodox Judaism there’s a tendency to blur “what you do” into “who you are,” at least some of the time.

      3) Agreed. Although in the Orthodox community there’s a tendency to think very carefully and critically about the legal content of faith (the parameters of the dos and don’ts) and to think at a much more simplistic level about the theological underpinnings.

      Like

  4. It is a useful exercise to think about what specifically you reject or rebel against in a religion. For me, there are things that I agree with on a philosophical level, but find a struggle to observe on a practical level (eg. Shabbat), things that I had no trouble observing practically, but took issue with on a philosophical level (eg. mikvah), and community grievances (eg. the way the community treats singles/child-free/childless people). It is useful to separate these out rather than grouping everything together.

    On a humorous note, I recall a Rabbi guest speaker who said something to the effect of “whenever someone tells me that they don’t like organized religion, I tell them to try Judaism, because Judaism is a disorganized religion”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I definitely have more of a problem with community grievances like the ones you mentioned than anything more philosophical or practical.

      I was actually going to start the post with a joke along the same lines as your rabbi, but I decided it was too late (I was writing after midnight) and I just wanted to post and get on with things.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It strikes me that “organized religion” is more about relationship with other humans and building a group identity or community than it is about relationship with God. And that’s OK if it’s presented as understood as such — but my impression is that it is usually not.

    Something I’ve always appreciated about Judaism is that it’s not actively seeking new recruits! I’ve never had a Jewish person knock on my door or give me a pamphlet or bother me at work — or in any way make me feel that I was in spiritual danger because I don’t follow their religion. I find that people who follow the Jewish faith are very generous about sharing the various details of their religion in an impartial and rational way (I enjoying reading about it on this blog.) If I wanted to convert to Judaism myself, I know there would be considerable work and study involved on my part. I doubt anyone joins the Jewish faith on a casual whim after a conversation with a charismatic stranger on the street.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting about organised religion being about building relationships with people rather than God. I guess in Judaism we don’t really make that distinction. I mean, on a theoretical level we say there are commandments between a person and God and other commandments between a person and other people, but in practice synagogues and communities tend to blur the lines between what is done for God and what is done for other people.

      Yes, Judaism isn’t a missionary religion, we believe you don’t have to be Jewish to be a good person and go to Heaven.

      Liked by 1 person

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