Saturday, April 12, 2014

Avadim Hayinu - At first we were slaves... to Judaism

My take on "freedom" going into Erev Pesach:

Once you really internalize that there's no Overlord scrutinizing our every move, that Torah/Judaism is solely a product of the human mind, that's the ticket to freedom. Because now the whole system turns on its head. No longer are we slaves to Judaism. No, it's Judaism that has to work for us.

When it does its job well, meaning it adds to our lives positively - provides meaning, joy, growth, etc. - then great. But when it starts to be a drag, makes us neurotic, strikes us as immoral, etc., then it's not doing its job, and either that part of Judaism has to shape up - the way we decide it should - or it gets the ax. And each of us as individuals gets to make that call. We created Judaism, and that means we can keep it or reject it - or even change it* - as we see fit.

(*Some of us may undertake such change slowly, others overnight. Some may use Halacha as the process for introducing/vetting change, others their own conscience. Some may tinker with this or that, and others may need to revamp entire areas of Judaism. Whatever your preference, there's probably a Jewish denomination or community that's a good fit for you - or at least good enough. And if not, you can be sure there are many more kindred spirits out there with whom you can form a community. You just have to find them.)

Now, that doesn't mean we act like slave drivers. That which is within our employ deserves our respect, and it also requires great effort - care and attention - on our part. For Judaism to work for us, we also need to work for it. That's how I understand statements like, "More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews." Only by expending effort on Shabbat do we derive benefit from it. It's not a metaphysical idea - it's a general principle in life.

So, freedom "from" Judaism, if that's what an individual needs - yes. Freedom "within" Judaism, as something we do out of choice - yes. But no more slavery - that's over. At least it is for me.


  1. U know achad haam who was not religious coined the phrase More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews
    Also I want to join your stream of Judaism what yishuv should I move to?

    1. Didn't know that about the origin of the Jews/Shabbat quote - interesting!

      A yishuv... Yes, it would be nice to live in a place where I could feel both religiously and intellectually "at home". For now though, I'd be happy if more kindred spirits could at least find one another and start to develop friendships, chaburas, etc. - offline as well as online.

  2. Do not Chazal state that liberation from the 'outside' world requires putting on the yoke of Torah?

    Getting past the irony of such a statement, the sentiment reflects tremendous insight: our identities are inseparable from context (i.e., identities reflect associations and beliefs) established by language and ideas.

    So Chazal want us to stay connected to /immersed to a Torah-related context:

    - Reinforce ideas and language through Limud Torah and lashon hakodesh
    - They decry the translation to Greek (context)
    - They know that the more connection you have, the more likely you are to stay connected, i.e. Mitzvah gorer mitzva
    - If you have to be deviant, at least be discrete but stay connected to the community so that you stay connected to a the Torah context.

    When we take Judaism seriously but not too seriously, we allow the package of associations to work for us, to be a source of chaim(!) It enlivens. It enriches. And we also gain a capacity to see how other contexts serve others. (or not)

    1. seriously but not too seriously

      To add to that:
      - Commitment... but not slavery.
      - Connection and intimacy... but not seclusion and dependency.
      - Focus and context... but not losing perspective on reality.