Monday, November 28, 2005

Jews in Alabama Podcast

Well, Eric isn't going to brook bris discussion for a month, but I had a thought about this I have to post -- on the podcast, Eric and Raya have talked about their being pregnant. Eric is not sure if he wants to have the baby bris'd if it's a boy. So there's been discussion.

One of the things I said was that I was uncomfortable at his being a convert and having bris issues. I acknowledged it wasn't fair of me, and surely lashon hara and all sorts of other things, but it was an important reaction to note.

He reacted by saying it wasn't as if he was saying Jesus or the Rebbe was the Messiah, to which I replied, well, to me, not having your boy bris'd is worse than saying Jesus or the Rebbe is the Messiah. Which Eric disagreed with to such an extent that he says we perhaps both can't be Jews because the positions are so different. And he was terribly emphatic and certain that you can't be a Jew and believe in Jesus. Which is interesting, coming from someone who is saying this in the context of saying it's OK and appropriate to question all the mitzvot.. How one can be so emphatic about a belief while not being so emphatic about practice? Is this a sensible approach? Now, do I think that being Jewish and believing in Jesus is compatible? No. But is not getting your son a bris comparable in seriousness as believing in Jesus? Oh, you bet it is.

Saying that Reform don't require a bris, as Eric did, helped me see the truth in my odd little argument. I'm not looking towards Reform as the example I should follow. On anything. So when Eric says that perhaps we can't be in the same religion, I start to agree. I get the point of the Orthodox who insist that non-Orthodoxy is not true Judaism. And now I have to decide if I will be in Orthodox, or in the Judaism-is-whatever-we-want-except-you-can't-believe-in-Jesus (at least not THIS decade--- who knows what the uncircumcised Jews of a few decades will decide is appropriate Jewish behavior--).

I think this whole thing has been useful for Eric because I don't think he was aware of how the bris issue is really about as close to a third-rail issue as any in Judaism, and while it's possible to find Jews who don't get it done, it's an issue that stirs up emotion like few other.

That being said, I have a last point to make about WHY saying Jesus is the Messiah (or the Rebbe is) is right up there with not giving your kid a bris. I actually have many, but this is the main one.

The early believers in Jesus were Jews. What did they stop doing that directly led to their identification as Christians and not Jewish believers in Christ? Mainly dumping the mitzvot, two in particular. Kashrut went out the window when Peter had that cool dream(all the animals on the big tablecloth), and Paul won the argument against Peter re: no circumcisions for the new believers. With these two main mitzvot gone, Paul was free to get believers more easily, and we got Christianity. If the Jews like Peter who thought Jesus was the messiah had continued the Jewish practice as they were doing at the beginning of Acts, they would have ended up like the believers in any number of other false messiahs-- after a few generations, if that, they would have forgotten about their failed messiah and ended up back in the normative Jewish fold. When you stop the mitzvahs, however, you tamper with that which is central to Jewish identity. It is not so much falling in with a false messiah as stopping the mitzvot that sets you down the path away from Jewish identity and practice. Once they're gone, it's hard to bring them back, whereas beliefs are comparatively easy to take up and lay down.

And this is a big problem with all non-Orthodox Judaism... we are tossing the mitzvot that kept us Jews till today. That has done a lot more damage and led to a lot more assimilation than someone's beliefs in one person or another as a messiah --- a LOT more people convert to Christianity because they grew up secular, without practice or mitzvot, and fell in love with a Christian than converted due to deeply held belief. That's certainly why I did.


Carol said...

Christians deleted the brit part because they wanted followers and lets face it-asking people to cut off their foreskin is a hard sell.
I get lost when you say that a Jew saying he believes in Jesus is less of a problem than a Jew who does not want a brit and at the same time you say reform Jews are not practicing Judaism. Orthodoxy is the only true form but when I said to Raya that Subway isn't Kosher even if you only get non meat sandwiches you thought that any level was okay. However the Orthodox don't view it that way.

lee said...

Carol --- As you know, other followers like Peter thought to follow Jesus, who they thought of as the Jewish messiah, you would first have to become Jewish. Paul decided that being Jewish, not the bris, was the impediment. It wasn't so much that it was a hard sell, I think --- look at the things people pierce today...

I am certainly not consistent! But I think there is a difference here, and that is the kind of mitzvah.

When I was talking about kashrut, the idea was that it's a good step in the right direction to go to a non-kosher restaurant and get the vegetarian options. And the intent makes a huge difference. If you are mindful that it's a step in the right direction, vs thinking that the rest of your life eating the bean burritos at Taco Bell is kosher enough for you. You'll be eating the rest of your life, so if the best you can do is eat non-meat at subway, it's an ok place now --- as you grow as a Jew, you can get more observant. It's like the idea that what makes you Orthodox isn't your piety. It isn't what percentage of the 613 you do properly. It's whether you agree that God gave them to us and we are bound by them and the oral law and the halacha today. If we say that we're not able or ready yet to follow them all, that's not being Reform or Conservative--- it's being a not very observant but still Orthodox person, because the aim is to do more mitzvot.

However, it's hard for me to see any ladder of growth with a mitzvah you do once, when your kid is 8 days old... you get one chance to do it, and not only that, but it's such a huge Jewish thing. I just read that Emperor Augustus commanded Jews stop circumcisions because it was mutilation of the body... I';m sure it was not the only time. I;ve said this before, but to me, the mizvot that are more odd feel more authentic to me, because it makes more sense that a God that's a real God would end up asking us to do things that, to us, seem a bit off. Otherwise the Universe is too easily understood, and then it's a pretty boring place.