Wednesday, 8 April 2009


It's too bloody late at night to be doing this, but I'd sort of expected myself to do this before Passover, and that's tomorrow, and tonight is the last time I have internet access before it's over.

How to begin? Two or three weeks ago. Or was it four? No, I'll give you a general overview first.

I was born an Orthodox Jew. What sets us apart from other Jews is the fact that we wear a little piece of cloth on our heads. You may have heard of it. It signifies, essentially, our membership in the social club of cloth-wearers, though ostensibly (originally?) it's supposed to communicate that we accept the general body of Jewish religious law (aka "Halakha"), and generally speaking rabbinical authority over us.

I have long had issues with the social club aspect of it. I don't want to be set apart from other Jews. I don't want to be set apart from Gentiles. I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a convincing argument for how tribalism is not all bad in every aspect.

The revelation - of however many weeks ago - was that I don't actually like the rabbinical authority side of it either. It is difficult to explain how this would be news to someone either non-believing or believing. It is an issue you would usually have faced many times before. It's not that I haven't. My view had been that there exists a G-d (though I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep up this rather bizarre habit of not fully spelling out his denotation), and that it would make sense for there to be a spiritual discipline he'd like us to follow, and that from my personal experience religious Jewish life contains at least some of it.
What I discovered, to my considerable surprise, as it happens on the last Jewish holiday (we're on the eve of the next), was that rabbinical authority and traditional Jewish law have little to do with this. Some of the commandments of Judaism I keep because they seem or feel important, but I really, truthfully, sincerely couldn't give two shits what the rabbis think about it. It's not dependent on them. I'm not dependent on them. Haven't been for a good few years.

No, the reason keeping me wearing the piece of cloth on my head had all along been the first, more immediately stupid one. I wanted to feel I belonged, and maybe more significantly, I didn't think it was a problem for me to mislead my surroundings, because how is it any of their fucking business how I live my spiritual life?
Well, it isn't their business, but it's still a problem, for that reason I mentioned in my previous post - separation of inner and outer worlds. I could explain, but it would take a while. It's to do with the doctrine of Taoism, which I'll doubtless endlessly expound on if I ever get this thing going.

So I took my piece of cloth off, three-odd weeks ago. This is technically a dramatic, drastic move for someone of my religious/cultural/whatever background, but to my surprise it didn't have nearly as profound an effect on my life as I'd expected; I'd just started work with people who didn't previously know me as Orthodox, I am no longer in any real contact with Orthodox friends, and due to a general frankness between us nobody in my family really got excited, except for my dad who I'd previously sat down to try and explain this to (about as successfully as I'd just attempted to explain to you), and he was upset, but in any case did not react the way a religious father is "supposed" to, in terms of hysteria and antagonism. The only place where it might have caused some raised eyebrows was the religious community, as symbolized mainly by our synagogue - which I have generally shunned, seeing no reason to break this custom now. I guess I just don't know anybody sufficiently stupid for my removal of a piece of cloth to mean the shit-storm that it traditionally does.
When asked, or occasionally voluntarily when I felt the issue was coming up, I'd say that I haven't actually changed my religious outlook in any way - I'd just removed the kipa from my head (some call it a yarmulke; we call it a "kipa", which means a dome, for what it's worth).

The cause of this latest crisis, has been three days ago, when I realized this isn't actually true either. I am not partial right now to Judaism. I'm not even neutral. I'm not even indifferent.
Every time a Jewish religious issue has come up - especially when we were meant to consider it "binding" - I have been filled with a sense of acute latent ridiculousness. It has felt bizarre to even be expected to humour these notions. I'd hear people going on about Judaism and be completely bewildered. The unfailingly persistent sentiment has been "what have these people been smoking?"

Because, and this may not make sense to a non-believer, or someone who has never believed, the ultimate "proof" for religion has never been logical, but more a sort of atmosphere you'd inhale by participating in it. And no, I'm not talking about the feeling of belonging. That's there too, but there's also a legitimate spiritual feeling that is in the end stronger than any logical argument. I do still get this feeling - quite often in fact - but pretty much never from Judaism.

And the question I've been asking myself, is where has it gone? Where the fuck has it gone? If a spiritual feeling is a genuine, essential component of something, that is stronger than any logic, then how can I feel it there one period of my life and not the next? It's like it's jamming a wedge through my whole metaphysical pseudologic. And I need that! It may seem to you like I'm speaking spiritobabble, but I'm not usually inclined to leave my sharp, dry, proven analytical skills behind and go for esoteric ways of thinking. This makes sense to me. It's making sense of my life in a way I've never experienced before. When you actually, deeply feel something, that means it's there.

The obvious logical answer, is that it belongs to some of Judaism but not to the whole package. Orthodox Judaism is more packed with rituals and dogmas and precise pedantic rules than anyone not familiar with it could imagine. None of the other recognized religions come close. There are heated, in-depth discussions of subjects beyond your dullest imagination. It requires a fervent faith in the system to not stare gape-eyed at these proceedings and be boggled by how these people could for a moment consider these subjects remotely significant to anything at all. I wish I had some examples to give you but the hour is late. The bottom line is, I do not have this fervent faith. I no longer believe in "the system".
I may still be some form of religious Jew, but I have long been out of the Orthodox school and sect. It is time to come to grips with the fact that this is part of my identity - or more precisely, that Orthodox Judaism is no longer part of my identity. I need to stop hanging on to its festering remains as if they mean something. They don't. They mean that I don't walk the way I talk, or in this case that I don't talk the way I think.

It is about authenticity, to neatly sum things up. It is important for reasons that seem readily apparent to most people but haven't to me until recently (and which I may yet go into in the future), that what you do and say represent who you are - what you want, believe, and feel. It is important that who you are in your interactions with people is not removed from who you are in how you perceive the world.
You do what you do because you want to do it; not because it is expected of you and it seems prudent and "beneficial" to play along. That's bullshit. I cannot stress enough how much that is bullshit.

And the major Jewish holiday of the year is coming up. It is important that I don't pretend to care more than I do about that. I'll know by next week how well I've handled that task.


  1. Way-hey-hey!!

    I'm liking this blog...and this last post! You are still the excellent writer I remember you by, and it's a pleasure dropping by.

    So, my heretic friend, how's it like embracing doubt and a little anarchy? Far be it for me to tell ya what to do...but congrats. I wouldn't wish a better introspection than this on anyone.

  2. Interesting read. Regarding orthodox Judaism being "packed with rituals and dogmas and precise pedantic rules", it, and other religions sound like OCD gone crazy - the importance of the number of times you do something, having to do it a certain way, precisely, because if you don't the world will come to an end...

  3. Tell me, in what ways do you consider yourself Jewish? (The question comes from curiosity moreso than antagonism.) I mean, you're suggesting that though you're not an Orthodox Jew you still have some connection to the Jewish religion. So I'm wondering what that connection is. There are other monotheistic religions, with fewer traditions.

  4. Mory:

    By "Orthodox" I mean mainly the acceptance of Halakha and the related subsequent rabbinical reasoning as the ultimate authority. This is no longer true for me.

    However, it still doesn't feel right to throw the whole of the Jewish religious discipline out the window. Why this is is a good question. The secular would probably say it's because of psychogical reasons - peer pressure, basically. Possibly, but what I think it is right now is that a whole lot of "Jewish" behaviour has convinced me of its usefulness, basically through experience. Today I do what makes sense to me on a logical or spiritual level. It's still, to be honest, the vast majority of Judaism, but I don't think you can call yourself Orthodox if you're not willing to accept the whole thing, and I can no longer say that I do.

    I'd like to point out there are also very many other sects within Judaism apart from Orthodox. I think Reform is the largest denomination. Technically speaking, we're considered quite extremist.

    It's a good question though. I'm not entirely sure what keeps me Jewish, and I'm not entirely sure that it will continue to. The main thing I know right now is that I'm not Orthodox and that it would be bad for me to keep on pretending that I am.

    Also, welcome! I thought I did tell you about this, but I've been known to speak a little softly and noncommittally.

  5. No, I'm quite sure you didn't. What you told me was that you used to keep a journal.

  6. hmmm, hav been meaning to read ur blog for ages but life as it does seems to hav got in the way. anywho,just read this first entry (and will shortly catch up) but uve kinda got me freaked a bit cos this is exactly the way i would have expressed my religo-philosophical beliefs a year and a half ago(if not rather less eloquently given my meager writing skills). Im really interested to see where youve ended up/what direction you believe you're heading in because for me that was the most difficult stage: the moment of awakening -following the years of vague doubt- to the fact that you'd made your decision ages ago as to what you hold to be true but just havnt yet come to embrace them or act upon them(or as i like to think of it: The Epiphany of the Known). From what i gather, your still in the stage of struggling with the difficulty of leaving an aspect of your life behind which at one time so much defined your thinking (and for me nostalgia for the culture played a huge part). It was a year after i ate non-kosher till i took my kippah off(tho that year was spent in yeshivah in israel), another 3 months till i broke shabbat(which was the defining point of no return and made not fasting on yom kippur a non-concern) and another 6 months till i successfully broke out into the community as a "non-believer”.
    What I found was that as soon as I realised that I didn’t believe in the divinity of the system (or in the metaphysical world at all) I went from happy self-delusion to scoffing while doing amidah. whats more, I tried rather hard to fight it and considered staying religious for the social/cultural benefits alone.
    see, that’s the weird part….now ive reached the point where im completely secular while most my friends are religious and though Im certain ive managed to grasp a chunk of objective truth, I feel this nagging weight on my chest as if ive had a terrible loss of something vital and central to my life. It’s the red pill Vs. the blue pill only we’re never given the choice. Our minds walk a path, our curiosity innocently follows while our hearts dawdle fickly in their wake like a small child behind its parents – taking in the wonders of these new-found sights. Yet as the surroundings grow bland and depthless and we come to question the wisdom of our guides along with the direction of the path, we become unsettled and turning round are relieved to see the soft glow of our origins only to discover that there’s no returning, that the chance for re-direction was long ago. It reminds me of a line in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (hmmmm, should really read that book) which goes along the lines of when one returns home after a long period of time, everything seems different and after a moment you realize that home is the same…its you who changed.

  7. Bloody hell that's an impressive reply. Besides taking it in, I wanted to say that Benjamin Button (so I'm told) is actually a short story rather than a book so you probably don't really have an excuse to hold that off, and also that that thing about coming home again rings very true - I actually experienced this very potently after the 3 years in Melbourne. "Home" was very fucking far from home. Took me so long to realize that's a good thing.

    So is that what's happening? I'm having trouble making adjustments to my new home? I mean if I was completely convinced that was true I could start seriously trying to deal with it. As it stands now I'm still not sure I'm not kidding myself about this whole breaking away thing. So much of it feels so important. I guess it does anyway, even to the most fervently secular breakers. Meh. We'll see.