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More learning about Judaism

I am now the proud owner of a massive pile of books:

Most were from lists both our local Rabbi and the one we met in Philadelphia who will officiate our wedding gave us. I also picked up the pocket Book of Psalms translated and published by the Jewish Publication Society to take along on my travels this month. I read the King James Christian Bible version years ago, but it’ll be interesting to read them again in these direct from Hebrew translations.

The history and studying geek in me is having a field day with all this. I am a secular humanist (which defaults me to atheist) and I discuss the reason for this study here in a post from April and now I’m quite in the depths of it. I mentioned then that it wasn’t something I’d be over-sharing about, but there are some points I would like to share.

I attended my first Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, this year at the synagogue we belong to. They were beautiful services, including beautiful stories from members about their paths to Judaism and a touching general memorial service for loved ones who are no longer with us. One of the Rabbis also took some time during one of the services to talk a bit about one of the less traditional interpretations of God that had me going home to read more about the traditional Jewish interpretation. It’s been… confusing. But I am enjoying the no-pressure exploration of the question of God again.

The memorial service really hit home as well. Since I am not a Christian, I find many of the mourning practices in our modern Christian-focused society to be lacking, and as an unbeliever I feel doubly unsatisfied as people would talk about seeing their loved ones again in Heaven. It’s come to be clear recently that I really didn’t do a good job dealing with my father’s death. I lacked a solid support structure for handling it, both in terms of people and general structure of how to mourn. I was left feeling empty and angry and only sought to move past it. In Judaism there is both a community and formal structure around mourning and loss, I suspect partially because it really is the end for them and it’s tough for us to come to terms with that. I think taking the time to properly remember my father is what I’ve been missing.

This week I also started taking an Intro to Judaism class at the synagogue, as a precursor for getting married but also because I keep bumping into texts warning me against studying Judaism alone, oops! Unfortunately my travel schedule will cause me to miss several of the classes, but I have the book we’re using in class and the syllabus so I can catch up on what I missed and maybe even catch some of the classes I missed the next time the class is offered.

I touched upon our wedding, but we are indeed planning on having a Jewish wedding to begin our “Jewish household” life together. The Rabbi in Philadelphia we’re working with is actually from San Francisco, so we’ve been able to share our love for both cities with him in our discussions. We have a draft of our ceremony now and are working through what we’re all most comfortable saying and doing since I’m not Jewish. It was all quite intimidating at first, but I’m growing more comfortable with the ceremony as we work to personalize it and I become more familiar.

Finally, I also finished writing my Torah study guide and have almost finished Numbers. I’m hoping to finish the last book this month, but we’ll see how lucky I get with reliable power and Internet access while I travel.

One Comment

  • kevix

    its been interesting to see your dipping a toe in Jewish ceremony and community. I’m a Jewish/Pastafarian, so not far-off from your POV. But I was raised jewish, whereas you were not. It’s definitely more community-focused than my experience with Christian traditions. There is ‘sitting shiva’ after someone dies, and the lighting of Yahrzeit on the jewish anniversary of someone’s death. As well as the trip to the cemetery to put a stone on a grave.
    Hope you find some more meaning and resolution in your travels.


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