Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jews and the Jesus Problem

In an essay in The Forward, Jay Michaelson writes about the Jesus issue in the Jewish community:

"One wonders when, if ever, we Jews will be able to heal from the trauma of Christian oppression and actually learn from, while still differentiating ourselves from, Christian teaching and tradition. Along my own spiritual path, I’ve been amazed at how much I learn from the teachings of other traditions — Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Sufism — yet how jittery I get when it comes to Christianity. Yes, like many Jews, I have an appreciation for the teachings of Jesus, and I even wrote my master’s thesis on Paul and the Talmud. But this isn’t enough. I want to understand Christ the way Christians do — not to become one of them, but in order to enrich my own religious life. I want to learn from them how to have a personal relationship with a personal, humanized, embodied God who cares, and who saves. I want to experience Jesus as a human being enlightened enough to see everyone as holy, even the impure, the leprous and the marginalized. And I want to follow his example, seeing all my fellow human beings and myself as sons and daughters of God."

I like this paragraph because it resonates with something I often say as I try to reconcile my Christian background with my Jewish impulses. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether or not one believes that Jesus is the son of God. Perhaps it is more important that we live a life like his, that we learn to see the value of loving our neighbor.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thou Shalt Argue With G-d

This week I've been reading a recent collection of Jewish fiction called Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction From the Edge. I've read most of the authors in the book, but some were new to me. Aimee Bender, Ellen Umansky, and Rachel Kadish are three writers who I'll likely return to--good stuff.

In Kadish's "The Argument,"a man named Kreutzer is sent to a nursing home to see if he can get the old dementia-stricken rabbi to reveal the whereabouts of the deed to the synagogue. Kreutzer, who had previously made it a weekly ritual of his to compose notes to the rabbi expressing his dissatisfaction with the sermons, finds the encounters to be awkward. Kreutzer can't get the rabbi to recall ever being in a synagogue, let alone the words of the sh'ma or any other prayers.

In one instance, Kreutzer recalls his own younger days, when he attended a cheder:

"Paired with another boy--for a Jew must study with a partner, a co-counsel in the court of the One True Judge--[he] was instructed in the skills of debate. When God's people debate His tradition, He knows they love Him. True faith, the rabbis taught, was an unresolved argument. Jews argued; in His heavens God laughed and was satisfied."

As someone who loves to argue with religion and tradition (and G-d), this resonates with me because I know that I do it out of love. And when I feel that I hate it, it is only because it feels, for a moment at least, that the argument that surrounds it--the dialogue--has come to a close. And there is nothing in that space. Nothing for me.

I'm also reminded of something that E. L. Doctorow has said
in a couple of different places: "True faith cannot answer the intellect with a patronizing smile." The unresolved questions and arguments that surround faith, religion, sacred texts, and G-d are the necessary realization of "true" faith.

I've decided that, yes, G-d is pleased when we argue His traditions. But somehow we are always left wanting more, never satisfied in the way that He must be. But perhaps that is as close to happiness or satisfaction that we can come in this world.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Kosher Adventures

Today was a long day, and not just because I have been sick for the past two weeks. The other day, I was invited to a seder (for tonight, the first night of Pesach) at the home of an Orthodox Jewish friend of mine. I was asked to bring the charoset, kosher wine, and some kind of kosher for Passover entree. No big deal, I thought to myself. This is Los Angeles, and I can wait until the last minute to collect these goods. Kosher food is everywhere in LA, right?

Not really.

Normally I would jump at the chance to make my own charoset and cook up some food for the seder. But I don't keep kosher, which means nothing I might cook could possibly be kosher for Passover. So I took a drive up Wilshire, but Whole Foods was sold out of the kosher for Passover potato latkes, and nobody knew what charoset was. They kept pointing me toward the matzo. I did, however, find a bottle of kosher for Passover wine.

I finally found one kosher glatt market on Santa Monica Boulevard, but the place was madness and mayhem, with lots of pushing and shoving and very little left on the shelves. They had neither charoset nor prepared kosher for Passover entrees.

So I traveled over to the Pico-Robertson area, where all the kosher restaurants and markets of LA can be found. But it was 4pm and they were all closed. "Why would you look for charoset now?" asked one very large and sweaty Iranian Jewish man who kept pushing back his yarmulke.

Great question. I never did find what I was looking for.