My sister was here for Shabbat, without her husband. He’s in the USA for a family wedding, but her pregnancy is too advanced for her to fly, so she came to spend Shabbat with us instead of spending it alone. I worry that I kept staring at her bump; part of my mind doesn’t accept that it’s real and half-expects her to pull a football out from under her jumper. Shabbat was strangely like a Shabbat of years ago, with just the four of us (parents, sister, me). We had a very long dinner which mostly consisted of my Mum and my sister telling us about the very difficult days they had that day. It was fun, though, and I didn’t get too drained.

I ended up doing nearly an hour of Torah study afterwards, which I didn’t intend. I’m currently studying Sefer HaMadah, the first volume of the Mishnah Torah, the Jewish law code of Rambam (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, generally known to the Western world as Maimonides). I’m studying it largely because I got it free from a pile of books that were going to be buried which I plundered (with permission) at volunteering. The book deals with the metaphysical foundations of the Torah, the laws of improving character, Torah study, idol worship and repentance.

I’m currently on the idol worship treatise and I’m wondering if it was a mistake as it’s triggering some religious OCD thoughts about idolatry. I think I worry more about idolatry, and am simply a lot more conscious of it, than most Orthodox Jews seem to be. Even in a post-Christian culture that hasn’t been pagan for a thousand years, there is idolatry in lots of places, from Beatles songs to Asterix books to all kinds of segulah nonsense in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, let alone more metaphorical idolatry (technically, putting any value ahead of God is idolatry, so the ultra-nationalism of parts of the Religious Zionist world or the “gadolatry” (veneration of elderly scholars) in the Haredi world could count).

It’s more literal idolatry that triggers the OCD, but I get interested in non-Jewish religion sometimes and want to learn about it, mainly as part of my interest in history, but I guess also from my tendency to want to ‘test’ my Jewish beliefs. I go to the British Museum a lot. Possibly I am a strange, conflicted person (browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community I just joined makes me think that this is probably true, and some things E has said, although she put it more politely). However, I don’t like leaving books half-read, and I only have a few more pages of this section, so I will probably stick with it.

I went to bed rather late because of this. I woke up about 7.20am, got up to go to the toilet, said the Shema prayer (as I guessed, correctly, I would sleep through the time to say it) and went back to bed. I probably should have stayed up, but I wanted more than six hours sleep after a stressful week with several early starts.

After lunch I managed to stay awake and did some Talmud study, doing it more seriously than I have for a while, looking up Aramaic words I don’t know in the dictionary and quotations from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the original source rather than relying on the translation and commentary. I did get quite tired after that, and haven’t done a lot else with the day except read A Wrinkle in Time and browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community after Shabbat.

***

The FB group has inspired some thoughts in me, some of which probably are a bit OCD. I’ll need to watch that and check it doesn’t get out of control. I’m not sure that I made the right decision joining that FB group and am already wondering if I should leave. Now I’m inside the group and can read posts, I think it’s going to be triggering. I assumed it would be roughly equal numbers of frum and ex-frum people, but perhaps inevitably it’s most ex-frum. Most are polite, but I feel I don’t have to scroll far down the page for people being unnecessarily snarky about Judaism and assuming everyone has the beliefs and attitudes of the most Haredi (which presumably is what they grew up with).

I also find it strange reading people’s accounts of their doubts with Judaism growing as they researched various areas, leading ultimately to disbelief and leaving the community (or sometimes being stuck in it because of family ties). This prompts strange feelings in me, as I feel I had all those doubts at times, and sometimes still do have them, but that I was never convinced enough by them to leave. To borrow a phrase from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl, I sometimes feel that I am a “lapsed atheist.” So many of my character traits, interests, experiences, friends, thoughts would seem to push me to atheism, but ultimately I still believe and live as a Jew, and think I have good reason to do so, and I think, peering through the alexithymia, on some level I find believing and living Jewishly to be true and meaningful for me. (I don’t know how to ‘sell’ this belief to others though.)

***

Speaking of the FB group, there was some discussion there about frum people often only having friends within the frum community and who cut off ties to friends or family who stop being religious. I find I’m the reverse: I seem to find it easier to make friends outside the frum community (including people who aren’t Jewish at all). I don’t know why this is the case, although I can think of several reasons:

Although as an autistic, I’m always ‘masking,’ I mask less with non-frum people because I’m not worried about being judged as ‘not frum enough.’

I find it easier to connect with people with a shared interest like Doctor Who, literature and writing or mental health blogging. Judaism could be a shared interest, but, again, I get scared to speak about it from impostor syndrome (or whatever you want to call it).

I have few friends, but that makes me value them more despite any differences of opinion.

I don’t try to force my beliefs down other people’s throats, so non-frum/non-Jewish people don’t feel threatened/bored/annoyed by me.

Living with less-frum family members has meant I had to learn how to navigate differences of practice from a young age (although my family tend to believe the same things I do. If anything, they’re probably more ‘fundamentalist’ as I have a fairly rationalistic approach to issues like Torah/science conflicts, Midrash, miracles, kabbalah and so on these days that they don’t necessarily share).

***

I have a lot to do tomorrow, getting ready for Sukkot (Jewish festival starting in the evening), so I should probably get to bed soon, although I don’t feel particularly tired.

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4 thoughts on “Family, Friends and Idols

  1. Very amused to read that you sometimes feel like a lapsed atheist. Because I certainly often feel I am a lapsed agnostic! At the worst of times, I’m very much a Pascal’s Wager type of believer; but at the best of times, I am able to put aside the restrictions of my troubling, limiting and very inadequate intellect, and recognise, albeit dimly and certainly intuitively, the light that shines in the darkness – and which the darkness can never fully comprehend or extinguish (John 1:5). I often meditate upon this light and in a metaphorical sense can testify to it being the most real and solid gift I have been given, without which I do not know how I’d ever manage to get out of bed and get through another day. One of my favourite texts is the 14th century “Cloud of Unknowing” – which posits that God can only be really known and received by love, not by the intellect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Lapsed agnostic” is probably a better descriptor for me than lapsed atheist, actually.

      I don’t actually have such a strong sense of the presence God as you describe. My belief is more abstract, I suppose. I would like to write more about this, and why I feel myself to be a lapsed atheist/agnostic, but I don’t have the time at the moment.

      The idea of God being beyond the intellect is present in Judaism, but tends to be downplayed, although it’s more present in kabbalah (mysticism).

      Like

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