Please reload

Recent Posts

Atheist Jew

April 29, 2016

As you probably know, I come from a religious Jewish home. In the previous post, I explained the differences between a religious Jew and non-religious Jew, and I made it clear that, in fact, with regard to Jewishness, there are two distinctions: one cultural, the other religious.

Since I am not religious and I do not actually believe in God (in the religious sense), I define myself as culturally Jewish. That is why it's important for me to keep Jewish customs, so that I feel connected to the State of Israel, which, historically, is the Jewish state.

 

It is very hard to put into words the very fundamental process I went through. Outwardly, there is no fundamental difference between my behavior now and my behavior, say, ten years ago, when I still thought of myself as a believer, but the transformation in my life is very, very dramatic and substantial.

I made it all the way from being a religious Jew to being an atheist Jew. As my education was religious, and often bordered on brainwashing, I'm still dealing with it to this day.

In Hebrew, there is a name for this process: a person ceasing to be religious is returning with questions and a person becoming religious is returning with answers. I think that the terminology is remarkably accurate. When I was religious, I had answers for everything, including the most important and difficult question: what happens after we die? Now, I am full of questions, and, of course, I have no simple answer to the questions. I have no idea what will happen to me after I die. I guess… nothing. No Heaven, no Hell, no reincarnation, no seventy virgins. I'll just stop being, just like before I was born. It is a very difficult concept that most of the world's population finds very difficult to deal with, and so I think Man invented God, Heaven and Hell. When I had the answers to everything - when I was religious - my life was much simpler.

Of course, I didn't wake up one morning and just decide to stop being religious. It was a long and essential process, so, to the dismay of many of my relatives, I cannot see myself returning to being religious. My parents are not very pious, and so, from childhood, I learned to question my religious education. I often argued with my teachers, who really did not like their rebellious student. My main argument, during my youth, revolved around religious laws which were legislated by rabbis - in other words, by humans. Jewish laws are divided into two sets of commandments: those from the Torah, prescribed by God; and those set forth by rabbis in what is called the Oral Torah, in the belief that part of the Torah was given to Moses by God and was passed from generation to generation until, in the third century AD, it passed into a written edition known as the Talmud, or Gmara. Rabbis have ceased to date laws on the basis of the Talmud, which, ironically, sometimes contradict what it says explicitly in the Bible.

Laws from the Talmud are divided into two: social commandments (between man and man) and religious precepts (between man and God). Relative to the time the Talmud was written, the social laws were very advanced, but several centuries have since passed and many rulings are not relevant any more, such as the treatment of women (a woman can't testify in court, according to Jewish law). However, there are many laws based on natural justice that still exist today (such as the law of “returning a loss” - whoever has lost something has to give two marks to the finder of the lost item so he will return the lost item to him). Of course, I have no problem with such social commandments.

I have a lot of problems with the commandments related to religious worship, which restrict a person at work, their movements (as it is forbidden to drive on Saturday) and with food (Kosher laws), when the only reason for it is because it was written in the Talmud - a book written by humans.

With the commandments from the Bible, I had a problem, because, until a very late stage in my life, I believed that God wrote the Bible. So I limited myself to various foods (I ate only Kosher) and did not cook on Shabbat, which denied me the chance to prepare fresh food. (Everything had to be prepared in advance and then reheated.)

 

In recent years, I had another revelation, which was much more substantive: I stopped believing that God wrote the bible – i.e. I am no longer a believer. There are many religious Jews who find themselves skeptical about the right of rabbis to lay down laws. The result is different streams of religious Jews. The difference is in how devout they are. Linking them all is the wholehearted belief that God exists and that he dictated the Torah to Moses. For those of you who do not believe, or those who have not experienced a religious education, there is no way to describe this belief that God accompanies you everywhere.

This is a huge fear that accompanies faith. Fear of God. To this day, I cannot quite break free of this fear. I'm writing these lines, and this fear still hangs over me. I'm afraid that God will be angry at me for writing this post and I have to remind my rational mind that there is nothing to fear. This belief is rooted in fear that accompanies everyday conduct. An example: a religious Jew will say a short prayer called the "Prayer for the Road" whenever he travels in and out of the territorial area of his hometown. To this day, I still know this prayer by heart. When faith was still a part of me, I never missed. I was afraid not to say the prayer, and, once I’d said it, I was calm. I felt protected. I well remember how I made sure my husband also said it as he was going off to his Reserve Duty in the army. To this day, on every journey, my basic instinct is to say the prayer and, to be honest, sometimes I do say it, just out of habit, and, like a mantra, it calms me.

How actually did I lose my faith? As I said before, it was a process that lasted for many years. You may ask why I believed in the beginning. The answer is, of course, the education I received, but it isn’t only that. I had a modern, religious education. I studied math and science to a very high level, which means that, from an early age, I was exposed to various scientific theories that disqualify the existence of God. I chose to believe, despite the information I was exposed to, because the beauty of creation and its complexity made it difficult for me to believe that it is all coincidental. I could understand the Big Bang theory, but I still couldn’t figure out who caused it.

In fact, I still don't know, so I still have faith in the supernatural energy that created the universe. The difference is that, today, unlike in the past, I have no shadow of a doubt that the supernatural energy (you can call it "God") is not interested in the everyday existence of human beings. It doesn't care what we eat, how we dress, or how we conduct our lives. These laws have been invented by humans. The first crack in my personal belief, the one that actually led to any conclusions that I raise in this post, came about after experiencing multiple miscarriages. This encounter with the finality of life forced me to deal with the issue of death and the finality of our existence. I searched for answers. I was looking for purpose and couldn't find it in religion. Religion stopped giving me comfort. I continued searching… I discovered the contradictions in the Bible and the irrationality of belief in God. Quite amazingly, my penny dropped only after watching a feature film that I would recommend to anyone: The Invention of Lying. I don't want to give away a movie spoiler, but, for me, this film just completely opened my eyes about false religious beliefs.

 

God is not Jewish, not Christian, not Muslim, nor Buddhist. If there is, indeed, a supernatural entity that created the universe, it doesn't need human worship. Humans need this cult to define themselves. And, mainly, they need an answer to what will happen to them after their death.

 

Please reload

All rights reserved to Michal Hartstein