"I'm trying to find personal answers to some big questions:
- How can a truly liberal person take seriously religion in general and Judaism in particular?
- What is the meaning of Jewish community if I only cherry pick the elements of Judaism that "speak" to me personally? But once I surrender autonomy to some other authority -- God, Chazal, my rebbe -- then how can I stay liberal?
- I cannot believe the Torah was dictated to Moses by God, and I simply can't accept that Oral Torah could be binding for all Jews for all time. But then how do I read and understand these texts? How am I to relate to them?"
These are good questions. These are questions which trouble many people as their religion conflicts with their senses.
I would like to propose some answers. I don't accept that there is a conflict between liberalism and religion. I think their is a conflict between living as a human and religion.
I have long thought that religion serves and has served a useful purpose in the world. But I do not believe in the concept of god and I don't think anyone else does either. A belief is all encompassing. If one believes that they should look both ways before crossing the street, they don't shut their eyes and jump into the road to test their belief. Similarly, if people actually believed in God, their behavior would reflect that truth. All too often it does not.
So why is/was religion important? For thousands of years people had no way of explaining the world. They understood some physical truths about the world and attempted, as do we all, to make sense of the world around them. Religion fulfilled that function. As people realized that incest causes a threat to survival of their little tribe, they banned incest. As people realized that eating uncured pork can threaten the survival of their little tribe, they banned pork. The people saw the results but not the causes. The language of science had not yet been invented. God made sense. Do not eat pork because god said so. How did he say so? by killing a bunch of people who ate bad pork. A leader needed to galvanize troops or people? God endowed the leader with special powers, like King David or Solomon, who are remembered not for their humanity, but for their special connection to God.
But this does not mean one has to reject their Judaism. One can accept that after thousands of years, a book and tribe developed. You can then decide what, if anything, from Judaism you wish to retain.
For example, Shabbat. The concept of a 7 day week has NO astronomical value. A 7 day week with a day for rest was, by current records, invented by the Mesopotamians (where Abraham came from) about 7000 yrs ago. They didn't have the science to explain why a day off was healthy for people and families, so they used the words 'God commanded' to guide people towards healthy behaviors or just the behaviors leaders wanted.
Does science have all the answers? not yet and maybe not ever. But science has provided enough answers to show that we no longer need to use the term god to fill in the blanks. If you went back to the middle ages and explained how a virus work they might kill you for sorcery, or they might promote you for sorcery. Now we know that viruses are real and sickness is not caused by an imbalance of humours.
How do you retain your Jewishness without accepting the Torah and Moses and all the rest? You read the books as histories, as tales and fables intermingled with histories and laws. You read the books as the development of your tribe, your family.
Does everyone in your family need to think and feel and behave the same for you to love them and still feel connected as family?
So you look at the book and say, I am so thankful I don't live in an era where genocide is commanded by god and women who are raped are sent off to marry their rapist. Those laws and events made sense at the time, but I like medicine and hotels and television. I like having a family day once a week. I like celebrating holidays with my family, celebrating the history and development of my large extended family. But I can reject all that offends my sensibilities because it is not truth. The books contain truths, but each truth is individualized.
Enough for now. Its a beautiful day. Enjoy.