Would you believe it? After a very long season of dormancy I am starting up my again. This time around I’m diving into Judaism, and I’m very eager to do so.
Studying Judaism is a bit complicated for me. My own faith, and my own life, is entirely based upon following a man who was himself ethnically and devotionally Jewish, and who made no attempts to become anything different. Much of our sacred scriptures is the telling of Israel’s story. And yet current day Christians, myself included, are so very divorced from any real understanding of Jewish life, traditions, and mindset. How can we understand the man we believe to be the Jewish Messiah if we do not understand the Jewish mind or heart? How can we know the God who first introduced himself to Israel as Creator and Sustainer if we do not know Israel? I have saved Judaism for last because it was so close to me – like a cousin I rarely met. Too close to be introduced without preconceptions, but too far away not to begin at the beginning. And now, here I am.
As it happens, the impetus to jump in came from a novel my read this month, called . I found this book to be gorgeous and utterly compelling, as we follow the lives, beliefs, and dreams of generations of Satmar Jews (a Hasidic sect) from Hitler’s time to today. From the eyes of children we see the horrors of Nazi Germany and as these children grow up we saw how the tragedies and losses impacted their understanding of themselves, their pasts, their future, and their choices. The author does an excellent job of showing us both the beauty and the liability of living and believing in a community such as the Satmars do, and the difficulty of taking one without the other. It was this that sparked my imagination and sent me back to the library.
There are many haunting scenes in this book, but the one that haunts me deepest taps into my other great hobby – the study of . Josepf, whom the reader has known and loved since his terrible childhood, discovers personal news that he considers a sin. The law and scriptures, as he has been taught them, allows for no forgiveness or redemption in this area. He spends literally decades searching the scriptures and teachings, finding only a paradox – messages of God’s unending love, forgiveness and mercy abound, but the law on this particular matter is unyielding and there can be no mitigation or repentance. Which of these is Joseph’s story and path – the individual commands of the law and their consequences for failure or the overarching story arc of mankind’s continued failures and God’s continued redemption and faithfulness? The trees, or the forest?
So many factors determine which of these he will see – his own temperament, what he has been taught, and the questions he asks as he approaches the texts. The impact of our own perspectives on how we understand what we read and hear and “know” is so powerful, and so fascinating to me. Part of what I love in this exploration of World Religions is the ability to see this in others, and then learn to see it in myself.
What Josepf saw and decided was ultimately a combination of his community, his experiences, his beliefs, his mind, and his heart. The same is true for each of us, and for me as I approach this long distant cousin of Judaism.
This post is partially inspired by by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write