Today was Yom Kippur (the “Day of Atonement”). It is the last of the Jewish “High Holy days” or “Days of Awe” which started 10 days ago with Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year).
During the “Days of Awe”, we ask for forgiveness and we forgive others, for any wrongs done during the year. Essentially to make peace with God, you first need to sort it out at ground roots level and make peace with each other. We also ask God to be “written and sealed” for a “good year” in the “book of life”.
I was raised as a Jew, in a Jewish home, by Jewish parents and grandparents, and as an active part of the Jewish community. I married a Jewish man (much to my only then surviving grandmother’s relief), and I am now trying to raise Jewish children. We bring in Shabbat (the Sabbath) every Friday night, with blessings for candles, challah bread (mum even makes a vegan gluten free loaf for me now) and wine / grape juice, surrounded by family and friends, and we also try to get the kids involved with the Jewish festivals (which generally involve particular foods as well as other traditions) as much as possible.
My oldest child (6 going on 17) has lately started asking me curly questions about religion, and about God. Had he asked me 2 years ago, he may have received more definitive answers from me, along the lines of what I had grown up with. However, the more I think about it, the less logical, and, more pertinently, the less important the whole religion thing, and the whole God construct seems. Don’t get me wrong, the moral constructs and the traditional aspects I was brought up with, I really have no problem with; it’s just the theistic aspects, which have, of late, caused me some cognitive dissonance.
So back to where I started, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. The great thing about the day of “Atonement” is it is a day of doing pretty much nothing but introspection; you literally get to be “at-one” (see what I did there?) with yourself and your thoughts. So there I was today, in synagogue, fasting (yes that is challenging for me but I coped), and praying (but to who?), but mostly just thinking. As usual I came up with a list of questions, most of which I can’t answer but they were along the lines of:
- Why do we need a day of atonement? Surely if we could just be kind, moral / just all the time, or even if we had an off day and screwed up, apologise? Same goes for if someone else hurt us and apologised….could we not just accept their apology, move on and let it go?
- Where does God fit in to this anyway (if God is in this)?
- Why do we need to give thanks to God for our lives, or for other things as opposed to just being grateful in general and making the most of our time here?
- Does God really have any say in our destiny, in whether we live or die? I know the “book of life” thing is meant to be a metaphor, but seriously, if we have free will, then how can God stop us from doing things which will adversely affect our time on this planet?
- Do we have any more or less control of our lives than God (if God exists) does?
- Can I still be Jewish if I don’t see the importance of God existing?
As I said, I really don’t know the answers to my questions. Faith is something to which logic cannot be applied; you can either choose to believe or to not believe. At this point I think I am probably in the camp of choosing to be somewhat ambivalent about it. I still think having a community and a heritage are very important but concerning myself about attributing the creation of the world or the control of the destiny of myself, others, or indeed the planet / the universe is something I would rather leave on the sidelines. I really don’t consider that my life will be any less meaningful as a result.