Monday, October 31, 2005

How To Get More Out Of Being Jewish

The book "How To Get More Out Of Being Jewish Even If: A. You are not sure you believe in God, B. You think going to synogogue is a waste of time, C. You think keeping kosher is stupid, D. You hated Hebrew school, or E. All of the above!" by Gil Mann is now available for free download here.

Don't worry, it's legit. Gil Mann himself sent me an email to tell me about it. I'm now in the middle of it myself via this venue and I think there are likely others here who would appreciate the opportunity as well. I think it'll be a good read.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Flexibility With a Firm Understanding

Yitzchak Blau wrote an article titled "Flexibility With a Firm Foundation: On Maintaining Jewish Dogma" where he discusses Marc Shapiro's recent book "The Limits of Orthodox Theology" and why Judaism must have a basic dogmatic core even if that core isn't necessarily as the Rambam described it in his famous set of thirteen.

As I wrote to the individual who sent me this article (with minor editing):

I actually have read Shapiro's book, it is an interesting topic and he does prove his case well, as the author of this article confirms. I also do see dogma in Judaism as an important part of its growth and continuance historically, however, I am not convinced that it is a necessary aspect for Jewish life indefinitely. It is also true, as the author states, that without an ideology of some sort, Jewish practices do become mindless behaviorism. And that is a situation that I do not desire. It is my goal to replace (at least in my own mind, but perhaps for others if they are so interested) new reasons for being traditional and continuing traditional activities without the burden of heavy insoluble dogma.

It is certain that this type of activity of making new reasons for continuing old practices has happened again and again in Jewish history. There are so many interpretations and new "insights" into customs and halachot that in many instances the original reasons for a custom have been lost to us.

I see all of Jewish history in a different light from most Orthodox rabbis and scholars. Judaism, either in terms of practice or belief, did not exist at its inception or over the centuries as it does today. There was a long evolutionary progression where practices and beliefs were created and ignored and where Judaism split and rejoined where some branches died out and other branches flourished. It is my view, for instance, that neither Pharisaism or Sadducism is the "correct" brand of Judaism, but that both are equally valid expressions of the same basic trunk. Neither Hasidism or the Misnagdim were "correct," they just took the source material and went different ways with it.

In this way, I can take ALL of historic Jewish expression and make it my own without declaring one sort heresy or apostasy as those terms cannot apply in my conceptions of Judaism. Judaism is the expressions of the Jewish people as they searched for meaning in the world and held together as a people. In the classic Hegelian sense, to understand Judaism is not to understand "correct" halacha and hashkafa, but to understand the whole progression of thoughts and practices as they formed through history and will continue to form into the future.

My orthopraxy is not the orthopraxy of mindless machinations but the understanding that every Jewish thing I do reaches and connects me back to my People's deepest past and secures it towards the unknowable future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why Learn If You Don't Have To?

A few days ago a came upon some Jewish girls who were discussing the Gemara. To clarify, they weren't talking about something within the Gemara but about how girls aren't "supposed" to study it. It's a huge deal in the darker realms of Orthodoxy that women should not learn Gemara and the Bais Yakovs drill that into the girl's heads that there is even something _wrong_ in women learning Gemara. That a woman learning Gemara is just a silly feminist urge to feel as good as men. This idea is further entrenched as a girl who learn's Gemara probably won't get a good shidduch. To think a man should support a wife in kollel...!

Ok fine, whatever. Obviously I disagree, I think Jewish girls should learn Gemara if they are so inclined. It is as much their heritage as it is the men's. Though I don't support studying Talmud to the exclusion of all else. The kollel drain is a problem too, but that's an entirely different topic...

Anyway, what struck me as terrible was what one girl said about it, "Why would you learn Gemara if you didn't have to?" She was referring to the belief that learning Gemara is a mandated obligation that Jewish men have to perform, but which Jewish women do not. But I thought that was a terrible approach to learning and is what is wrong with so much of the world today.

Why study anything if you don't have to?

It's of the same theme as those who say that subjects like geometry is "useless." No, it may not have any direct bearing in functionality in life, but it adds to your way of thinking, your culture, and frankly, knowledge is meaningful for its own sake. I really can imagine little else of more value than knowledge and wisdom.

Of course one can go through their entire life without ever knowing who Kant was or how the Persians formed their empire or what standard temperature and pressure is, but what a shallow superficial life such people must lead. This type of thinking is what leads to the vacuous nature of popular culture and unending commercialism and materialism.

Gemara is worth learning.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Foibles and Oddities

I've been tagged by the great Jewish Atheist to write about my own weird quirks and personal idiosyncrasies, so here goes:

1. I bite my nails. Not as a nervous habit, but as a determined method for cutting them. Sometimes I get a little zealous though.

2. In my wardrobe I have either t-shirts and jeans or a suit. I have no middle dress-casual.

3. I often have my television on, but I'm rarely looking at it.

4. On a related notion, one show I do watch is the Simpsons for which I hold complete loyalty and it kills me that they are being displaced in the public's eye by the newfangled Family Guy (which I also like, but still!).

5. I can't stand being in pointless yes/no arguments. If we're ever arguing about something and I can't prove it one way or the other based on the knowledge I already have, I'm always running to a computer to do a quick google search.

6. My room is always a mess...and you'd scream if you saw my bathroom.

7. I like driving, but I have a pretty awful sense of direction.

8. I actually really hate shopping. I will wear clothes that are worn out and have holes in them and I don't care.

9. I shave maybe once a week.

10. I will stay up extremely late (think when the wee hours start turning into real hours) and then complain all day about being tired. And, no, I never learn.

So basically, all the above makes me your general, run of the mill, college bum. ;-)

I am now tagging forward to Wolf, Ben Avuyah, and Sarah, but we'll have to wait and see if they're willing to go down to this level of blogging.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Af Bri: Angel of the Rain

I don't often post emails sent to me, but I thought this was an interesting topic and worth showing since it is rather timely as well. If the writer wants me to include his/her name/pseudonym on post, just leave a message or send me an email.

"A search for Af Bri, that name to which we address our first entreaty for rain in Tefilas Geshem, shows up inthe Angel Dictionary on Wicca and Wikipedia.

Do you know any info about the origins of this Af Briin Judaism or can you PROVE its pagan origins, to the exclusion of the defense that they got it from us? I cannot find the Jewish roots of this nor when or whereor why it entered the liturgy."

As far as I know, Af Bri first enters Judaism and the world at large at the introduction in the Tefilas Geshem liturgy written by Rabbi Elazar HaKallir (there are different spellings online if you wish to search, "ha kallir, hakalir, etc.) at around the 6th to 8th centuries CE. It actually very possibly is a poetic way of referring to the more well known angel(s) of rain of the day. If you break down the name, Af, meaning anger and Bri, meaning health, it describes the two general types of ways in which rain can be delivered (assuming in a theistic cause for the weather, of course). At the very least, the name sounds very Hebraic.

The first Jewish angel of rain is probably "Matarel" who is mentioned in the Book of Enoch (circa 2nd cent BCE) and who's etymology is simple. "Matar" means rain and "el" means "god or power." Most angels of that time in Judaism were named as their specific "mission" and ended in "el." Other names for the Jewish angel of rain were things like Matriel, Matariel, and Batarel which are clear derivations. A couple of others, Ridya and Zalbesal I found but I haven't looked up their origins.

Vegetarianism vs Orthodoxy

I know a few people who are ostensibly Orthodox but who are also vegetarian. An interesting combination. Some of these are silly highschool girls who say they are vegetarians but really just don’t like the taste of meat or want to eat less in their speeding race to anorexia. But I also know some serious vegetarians and at least one family who are strictly vegetarian.

In general, being an Orthodox vegetarian Jew doesn't pose too many problems for daily life since there aren’t really any halachot that say a person _must_ eat meat. You don't _have_ to enjoy meat on holidays and Shabbos even though that is a strong custom. And we don't eat the korban Pesach lately, though the fact that we once did indicates a strong contradiction between the values of vegetarians and the implied values of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy typically sees korbanot as good things and that it is a damn shame that we can’t have them today. Certainly in the Torah, God sees them as good things since he commands them to be given so often.

Ok, but besides the philosophical differences between normative Orthodoxy and vegetarian values, there is a real physical issue with vegetarians in relation to Judaism. Suppose the vegetarian’s ideals were universalized among all Jews. Where would the leather for tefillin come from? Not to mention the parchment for everything from mezzuzzot to Torah scrolls. Where would you get a shofar from? And I won’t even get into suede kippas or rabbit felt black hats. Would kaparot ever be the same? I'm sure non-Orthodox groups would adapt just fine, but what would happen to Orthodoxy?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reading on the First Day of Succos

Zechariah 14:

"1 A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you.

2 I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.

3 Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. 4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. 5 You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

6 On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. 7 It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime—a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. 8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter.

9 The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.

10 The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place, from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses. 11 It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure.

12 This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 13 On that day men will be stricken by the LORD with great panic. Each man will seize the hand of another, and they will attack each other. 14 Judah too will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected—great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. 15 A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps.

16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. 17 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. 18 If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The LORD will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. 19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

20 On that dayHOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. 21 Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD Almighty."

Seriously, does the Gog/Magog (as named in Ezekiel) eschatology seem like what a good God would do? The "Lord's Day" is a day of terror, suffering, plagues, madness, panic and abject war? Which will then be followed by severe meterological theism and indefinite threats of additional plague?

The great Puppetmaster really knows how to draw people to Him out of love, right?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Riding Cherubim

"Hashem, Master of Legions, God of Israel, enthroned upon the Cherubim, it is you alone who is God." (Artscroll's Yom Kippur Machzor, Shomeah Tefillah prayer, page 107)

Artscroll has a little star next to this item and indicates that it means that God rests his Shechinah in between the Cherubim on the Ark. That's more or less in line with the Torah's general view on it as well. Alls well, but it could it mean something closer to this? Or this? Don't worry I'll explain later.

"He flies upon His Cherub, and responds to His intimate people." (Artscroll's Tom Kippur Machzor, Aider Y'kar Aili, page 383)

Rides on a cherub? Can this be taken literally? Well, surely not according to Artscroll which has another star by this verse, but could it be something like this? Or like this?

Also take note of verses in Tanach, like 2 Samuel 22:11 and Psalms 18:10 which go "And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."

Sure that can also be taken non-literally, but do archeological discoveries suggest otherwise? See here for details.

Even without the oddities of Ezekiel's visions recorded in Ezekiel 10, the archeological evidence surely seems to indicate the the cherubim were not angelic childlike figures in Grecian style, but a more griffin-like figure with a fully animal body, walking on four animal legs, with bird-like wings and perhaps a human head.

Israelite culture and religion did not spring from a vacuum. Its predecessors and contemporaries in Egypt, Phoenicia, Canaan, and Assyria likely had a great degree of influence. Certainly the traditional childlike form is suspicious because remarkably no memory whatsoever in post-Biblical Jewish history is there of what the cherubim looked like.

Friday, October 14, 2005

My Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur this year wasn't as bad as I remember it. There was a point two years ago when it was crawling along somewhere in the middle of musaf and I swore to myself that I was going to tell everyone everything and that this was going to be my last Yom Kippur. It was just torturous for me. Obviously though, I got over it.

Yom Kippur started out slow. Wednesday night I had a full belly and was halfway asleep. In fact, during the Rabbi's speech and appeal, I actually did take a nap. Hurt my neck in the process though and my whole leg had painful pins and needles. Hard shul benches don't make the best beds.

I went to sleep early and woke up around 3 am. I just can't sleep for so long. But then I had some books around to read and I went through those until 7ish. Went back to sleep for a little while and then was woken up at around 8. I was feeling very well refreshed and was dressed, canvas shoes on, and ready in minutes.

Anyway, I was in such a good mood that during my shacharit davening, I don't know why, but I felt more at ease with my Judaism then I have felt in a long time. It wasn't as if I resolved any doubts or came to any firm convictions but all the same it felt so natural. Make of it what you may.

But after that I spent the day imagining the prayers as one long extended metaphor (suffice it to say, it got difficult at some points) and pondering various metaphysical theories of the universe (unfortunately, I didn't progress very far). I'm working on the idea of Judaism being just one way of approaching Existence. Maybe some of the metaphysical assertions aren't on the mark, but there may be a core of truth worth adhering to. I'm fairly sure that there have been many famous Jewish thinkers who didn't believe in every Yom Kippur tefillah that they said, but they said them anyway.

But, in any case, I think that imagining a perfect moral judge examining your deeds and thoughts is a great method for examining your own morality. Maybe you might think yourself justified in acting a certain way, but could you really convince a perfect omniscient superjudge of the same? Makes you think. And in that sense my Yom Kippur was a success.

Oh, and the fast was easy. But that's trivial, remember?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why Might God be Hiding?

In modern life, as opposed to the miracle strewn stories of the past, we have no direct contact with anything we can call God. There are some who would disagree with this, though, and claim that they experience a true miracle or conversation with God on a frequent basis, but I certainly haven't and I think most people are like me. What then could be the reason that God, assuming he exists in some form, seems to be in hiding? Why is there no direct evidence for the existence of God?

Well, we could first deconstruct the idea of a "willing" God and suppose that God cannot choose to do anything. He didn't choose to go into hiding, he isn't really a "he" at all. Perhaps by the nature of what he is, he cannot make "himself" apparent to us.

On the flipside of this is the idea that the weakness is not in God, but in mankind. Perhaps God does act in the universe but in so transcendent and so subtle a way that our limited human minds cannot perceive it.

Perhaps it could be that the universe is too sensitive for such obvious interventions and like a soap bubble would be destroyed the moment such actions were tried. This is another argument for a "limited" transcendent God.

Perhaps God is not limited, nor transcendent in that way, but part and parcel of this universe and there are no such things as "miracles" as anything that happens at all is a function of this higher Existence Producer.

Then there are more provincial possibilities, but nonetheless worthy of mentioning:

Perhaps God is punishing humanity and leaving the world to work by itself free from Providential aid.

Perhaps God doesn't care about humanity. Either he left the universe in total or is focusing his attention on a distant part of it, but in either case allowing the world to operate on its own through disinterest.

Perhaps it is some sort of test of faith, or test of human determination, or human creation. Perhaps God needs to be absent to fulfil some mission that was planned for humanity.

Perhaps God doesn't exist as far as this question makes any sense. How can what doesn't exist hide?

I am sure there are also possible answers, but I'm just throwing these ideas out there.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Are You Mochel Me?

This is something which I have never really liked. It's the whole "are you mochel me?" marathon that those fearful of the sensation of burning flesh try to rush in right before Judgement Day. You know they're not sincere because _they_ don't actually think they've done anything wrong and even if they do suspect that they've done something wrong, you know they're only asking you because they fear divine retribution, not because they're actually sorry.

What then does this whole race accomplish? It's of the same vein as the mumbling Ma'ariv and the fast without a cause. The mentality is "I did the duty, now I'm in the clear." If people really believe that God cares so much about their individual conduct, do they think He's fooled by such transparent reasonings? Now I'm feeling a little bit like Isaiah here, but ritual without content is pointless and is at worst offensive.

Asking people for forgiveness could be done the right way with actual intent and with actual care about how one's conduct affects another. Though I do prefer to let bygones be bygones than to resurface old scars between people. But still, it isn't even wrong that such thoughts of personal accounting could be brought about by a certain time of year. And in that sense, Yom Kippur can be a meaningful holiday dealing with individual introspection and measuring oneself up with how one has been and how one wants to be. We can improve ourselves and we can become better people.

Begging the bearer of a divine Sword of Damocles for mercy is how most of Orthodoxy sees Yom Kippur for your fate is sealed on that day, but again, this is not about improving yourself for morality's sake, but for placating an angry overlord to whom prayer is a meager substitute for the full bodied aroma of barbecued animals. I think this is a weak and wrong-headed method for improving behavior. Most people will quickly revert to their previously comfortable levels of moral observance. One really must be honest with oneself and think deeply about what they may have done and how to improve themselves. You can't ask for mercy from yourself, but you can promise yourself to do better.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why do Jews fast?

I did something today which may seem strange to most people. Yes, I fasted, but that isn't so strange to those on the "inside." What I mean is that while I did fast all the Orthodox Jews that I spoke to today looked on in approval, but when they offered a ride to Mincha and then later Maariv, they couldn't understand and looked in contempt at my lack of enthusiasm. Why would one fast and not daven?

"Hey, Orthoprax, did you daven Mincha yet?"


"Well, we're going to Landau's now. Want a ride?"

"No thanks. I'm good."

"Are you sure? You really should daven. It was just Rosh Hashanah."

"No thanks, really I'm good."

[Squinty-eye look] "Hmmm...suit yourself, but you really should daven."


Thanks for the tip, right? ;-)


Anyway, I got the same basic conversation for Maariv and then the guys came back for the bagels we had bought to break our fasts. So my friend (I'll call him Abe) comes and sits at the table next to me and says "There's really no point in fasting if you're not going to daven."

I say calmly, "Oh, is that right? I thought we fast in order to remind us of what happened on this day in history." Then I added, "Why did you fast today, Abe?"

"Oh, Gedaliah was killed," he responds.

"Who was Gedaliah? Who killed him? Why was he killed?"

"Um, he was the king of Israel, killed by the Babylonians..."

"No, Abe. Wrong."

"Eh, [he gets up to wash] it's more important that a person fasts and davens than to know the reason why."

I respond, getting a little upset, "Knowing why is the _only_ reason why we fast. That's the whole point."

I look around the table at all the frum college students sitting eating bagels and I ask, "Does anyone here know why we fasted today?"

I get little scraps of the story. "Gedaliah was killed by a Jew...he was a governor, not a king..." but nobody seems to have a real grasp of the story. So I start telling it, but as soon as I get into the roles of personalities like the King of Ammon, people are already uninterested. Typical.

Why do Jews fast today, indeed?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

My Views Today

It's a difficult thing in philosophy to keep the same opinions that you began with until the end of the discussion. The topics are often complex and there are lots of different views to consider. Anyway, I first came into the whole philosophical whirlwind as your typical Modern Orthodox teenager. Well, maybe not your typical one, but not so far off from the average either.

I wasn’t limited in my studies, I could take out whatever I wanted from the library, science and Torah were equally valid truths, could not contradict each other and both came from God. Basic Torah U’Maddah in a nutshell. My views as a child consisted of the Big Bang, deep time, theistic evolution, Adam as a real evolved person but with a qualitatively different soul, a global flood, exodus, revelation at Sinai and other miracles were real events, etc.

Then I began discussing politics and theology online with other people. Christians, agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Pagans, you name it. We discussed everything under the sun but the basic underlying theme in all these theological discussions that could not be denied was that I had no way of justifying my own positions over these others. It was easiest with devout Christians and Muslims, though, because they, for the most part, agreed with the same basic legendary history as Jews. But when debating with the doubters of Abrahamic religions, there really was little to stand on and I was left posturing with empty assertions.

I was then lead naturally to skepticism and eventually to the safety of positivism which says that one doesn’t believe in anything unless the evidence leads one to believe it is true. That’s a good hard basis for your beliefs and generally you’ll win the arguments. Debates turn into solid "show me the evidence" and not endless assertions of dogma or even weak apologetics of dogma.

However, after some time as I read more deeply into philosophy with guys like Kant making it clear that metaphysics isn’t something that we can ignore just because we cannot empirically analyze it, and William James showing me that one is justified in making some decision on these questions even though the physical evidence doesn’t suggest one over the other since in many ways it can determine how we think and how we act in life, I began to rethink my adherence to positivism.

Positivism is very limiting. It may tell us what is, but it can easily fail to include other things that are true as well. Sure it can protect us from falsehood, but by its very nature, it can never supply the whole truth. To thus be a student in the pursuit of truth, one should leave the safety of the positivist nest and face the possibility of accepting some falsehood while gaining all the potentiality of more truth. And I should remind myself, there is nothing so bad in being wrong.

So I’ve faced all the common arguments for the existence of God. Sure, there are none which are free from criticism, but still take the cosmological argument for example. The fact remains that we have no good answers for how the universe got to be here. That the universe spontaneously came into existence is absurd, that the universe has existed for "all time" is a linguistic trick and the many universes hypothesis is as groundless as any other metaphysical view. One can be justified in taking the opinion that there was something (some may call it God) that brought the world into being. Perhaps it was a choice made or perhaps it was an inevitable extension of whatever that "thing" is, but I do think that there was something.

But besides from that, the most convincing evidence of there being something beyond our universe is the fact that our world makes so much sense. As Einstein observed, it follows rational principles and it follows certain laws of logic that our minds can comprehend. While atheism doesn’t necessarily imply a randomly beginning universe, many atheists will say so, and I don’t believe that the rational nature of our universe lends to the belief that it has a merely random origin.

One can defend belief in a purely random, unpurposed universe, but where is the evidence for that belief? Humanity exists in an environment which it can comprehend, shape, and explore. We are intelligent, inventive, imaginative, capable of morality, capable of advanced communication, amazingly dexterous, creative: we produce art, music, poetry, fashion etc., and we have an incredible capacity for abstract thinking. That all these characteristics came together at once in our species by accident, is hard to imagine. There are scores of variables necessary for a universe to admit the possibility of the existence of a civilization and for that civilization to develop that can explore and understand the universe that it boggles the mind to say that it happened by accident.

I don’t know if I am arguing for God’s existence or just against the assertion that the universe and our existence is just the result of some cosmic accident.

So does God exist? I still don’t know. I can’t say. But am I an atheist? I don’t think I’m willing to say that I am. An author, Chet Raymo, had said that there are two types of people in the world: skeptics and true believers. I don’t think I’ll ever be a true believer in either theism or atheism, but how can I not be a skeptic? I don’t think the material world is all that there is - things seem way too neat for that to be - but I cannot make any claims for what that something outside of the material world may be. I don’t even know where to start.

Do I think this "thing" cares about human behavior? That it sits in judgement of our thoughts and actions? No. Is there such a thing as a soul and immortality? I don’t think so. Was it this thing which spoke to Moses in the desert and proclaimed a set of laws and regulations for a special kind of human to follow? Sounds kinda silly doesn’t it?

But what Judaism is and has been through the ages (along with other religions) is an attempt to connect with this thing, to understand it, to become a part of it, perhaps. It is a human construct, of course, but with a noble goal. With this view, Judaism isn’t a pointless burden, but it speaks of a determination to join in this goal. Judaism is also the cultural bond which connects all Jews to one another, but it is not just that. Perhaps one day, as in the Rambam’s view, we will be able to commit to an intellectual pursuit of this transcendent thing without the rest of the common rituals, but we must admit that they give us opportunities to set our minds and to reflect on what the world might be. Perhaps we are not a nation of priests, but a nation of philosophers.