Who Am I to Say? (Occasional Advice)

Gershom Gorenberg

Dear SoJo

I am a secular Jew who has a profound respect for Jewish tradition and will be making aliyah shortly. I do not believe in an intervening god, nor do I consider the Torah an accurate historical record or an exemplary moral treatise (not necessarily an abominable one either). I do, however, recognize it as an immensely important cultural anchor that should be studied by anyone wishing to preserve Jewish “peoplehood.”

I’ve fallen in love with an Orthodox woman – dati leumi [religious Zionist], I’d call her. I’ve expressed to her that I have no problem – indeed, I’m quite happy – with upping my observance in the interest of preserving tradition (Shabbat, kashrut, etc). However, I cannot accept the idea of sending my children to a religious school where they learn that the Torah is accurate history and the infallible word of God as written by Moses. She seems open to the possibility of sending her children to a school that exposes them to the Torah while allowing them the freedom to draw their own conclusions about the text’s origin.

Does such a school exist? What has been your experience with this issue? I read your recent article on dealing with the fundamentalism in Israeli religious schools. Are there no progressive religious schools in Israel? Have you come across any couples at your synagogue who are not entirely on the same plane religiously?


Dear Semi,

You ask good questions. Delicately, with lots of humility, I suggest that your last question –

Have you come across any couples at your synagogue who are not entirely on the same plane religiously?

should really be your first.

I doubt any two people are precisely on the same plane religiously. The differences start mattering when you have kids. Forget schools – what will your wife teach your children about Torah, in what she says, assumes, and does? Will you be comfortable with that? Once you have children, will she want to set a model of going to services every Shabbat morning, and will she mind if you don’t go? Will she mind that you explain kashrut as a custom, not a commandment?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. Many couples work them out. But you’ll face those questions long before the kids start school.

As for schools: When I was picking an elementary school for my eldest, I visited several. Each time, I asked if the principal if her pupils learned about evolution. I thought it was a clever way to check how the school related to religion. I was young, naïve, and misguided.

My kids really learned about evolution from the books they read, and discussed over dinner what all that had to do with Genesis. And in religious terms, what mattered more about a school was what behavior was taught and shared.

For instance, you could send your children to one of the Tali schools in Israel, secular schools with extra Jewish studies. They’ll learn more Torah than at a standard secular school. The teachers will probably relate to the text as a Jewish cultural treasure.  Meawhile, your children will be invited to secular classmates’ houses for Friday night birthday parties with movies and candles. Will your wife be OK with that?

Since observance is important to me, as is being at home with Mishnah and Talmud, we sent our children to religious schools. So their classmates also kept Shabbat.  My kids tell me that at their elementary schools, no one ever said, “The Torah is truth, dictated by God.” No one said it, because it was obvious. To be honest, I was more concerned with rightwing political beliefs that were treated as obvious than I was about theology. But we discussed both at home. If you don’t indoctrinate your children, someone else will do it for you.

At junior high and high school, at the age when kids really worry about belief – worry beautifully and intensely – issues of truth and tradition are discussed at the liberal religious high schools where two of my kids have studied. But schools change, and shut and open. Not believing in prophecy – or at least not believing that I’m a prophet – I won’t predict what will be available on the educational market when your unborn eldest turns 13.

Besides, what will you do if the school with the interesting theological debates is chaotically run, or deals poorly with your son’s dyslexia, or if the girls in the class shun your daughter?

You’ll switch schools, and try to give guidance at home. Which is what you’ll need to do anyway. (Then your kids will think something else anyway. Accept it.) If you and the lovely lady are able to live with the guidance that each other gives, you’ll cope with the school issue.


10 thoughts on “Who Am I to Say? (Occasional Advice)”

  1. Are there Masorti schools in Israel? I know there are a small number of Masorti synagogues. I think maybe that could be a good fit for your family because its halachic Judaism but without the belief of “torah min ha-shamayim’ i.e. that it is divinely inspired but not perfect and the absolute word of g-d.

  2. I want to put forward the suggestion that the Jewish religion in its current form is grossly morally and spiritually corrupt. In my opinion, this corruption dates back to the time of ‘Ezra the scribe’, who, as is well known, dictated the present text of the Jewish bible from memory to the so-called ‘Men of the Great Assembly’ after all texts were lost. In other words, he rewrote the Jewish Bible.

    I believe that the entire JHVH cult was interpolated at this point, and that the stories of the great prophets of Israel, including Moses, were completely rewritten to minimise the role, goodness, and love of Elohim, and to glory the psychopathic JHVH .

    Hence the fundamental proposition of the Shema is wrong : JHVH is not God. However, this does not mean that Jews have to convert to another religion ; only that they have to fundamentally purify their own religion, by restoring it to the state in which God originally gave it to Abraham, when it was the religion of the true God, who called himself in the language of the time Elohim, and by renouncing the evil JHVH, whose very victories turn invariably into nightmares – hardly a godly fact.

  3. I could put that more kabbalistically, by saying that all good comes to you from the side of Elohim, and all evil from the side of JHVH, but that you see it back to front because you see all JHVH’s temptations as ‘promises’.

  4. Look, to give you an idea of what I mean, and how deep it goes, take the King James Bible, the ‘Authorised Version’. Now, every time it says “the LORD”, that corresponds to the name JHVH in the hebrew. Every time it says “God”, that corresponds to Elohim in the hebrew. Every time it says “the LORD God”, that corresponds to “JHVH Elohim” in the hebrew, i.e., the claim that JHVH and Elohim are one and the same, a sort of compound, two-named being. That’s how deep the interweaving of these two deities goes.

  5. Mr. Berkely:

    And exactly how is Judaism morally corrupt?

    Encouragement of immoral or unethical behavior is a separate issue from interpretation of one’s sacred text. For example, “all men are created equal” is a completely different idea today. Same thing applies to Torah. I happen to agree with you about Ezra with the exception that he combined texts from various sources and weaved them together. I came across that idea from reading Friedman’s “Who wrote the Bible?” My presumption is that he wanted to unite the returning peoples together by giving a little bit familiar text to everyone – but it is a presumption.

    So I now repeat what is it within Judaism that encourages Jews or Noachides to do that is immoral or unethical? We are talking behavior now not belief. And since I consider that portions of the Talmud are the moral source code for the greatness of Western Civilization (encapsulated by Christianity ironically), I can’t wait to hear your answer.

  6. the so called greatness of western civilisation is nothing but a genocidal nightmare, in which you may personally glory, but which the majority of the world’s population has come to see as a mortal threat to humanity. If you knew the will of your demon god, JHVH, you would also know that the destruction of humanity is precisely his purpose. But you know nothing except brainwashed self praise.

  7. You know Mr. Berkeley, the “rest of the world” keeps trying to break into my western-civilized country illegally. I have some personal experience in that arena – having supervised the USCG documentation of 176 migrants from Ecuador rescued from a get-this 50-foot disabled fishing vessel. That rescue made me wonder what kind of “humanity” these people were running from to agree to endure feces, body-odor, over-crowding and risk death by drowning, dehydration, or dysentary just to take a chance that they might come to America – home of the free.

    But back on thesis: you still have yet to answer my question. I repeat what is it within Judaism that encourages Jews or Noachides to do that is immoral or unethical? Or is it that you fear telling us that the flying spagetti monster let you in on the JHVH/Eloheim difference (which anyone can read about at his local library)? Or perhaps it would be rather un-intellectual of yourself to consider why you come around here picking on the Jewish religion when there are plenty of other religions to pick on in terms of un-ethical and immoral behavior.

  8. My dear fellow, you are wasting your pontifications on me. I have no desire to impress you at all. You may take or leave my comments exactly as your ‘god’ (which appears to be mere ‘westianity’) moves you.

  9. Mr. Berkeley:

    My “pontifications” were not for you. They are for anyone else reading these comments who might have thought your post had a shred of credibility in regards to it having denigrated Judaism without any evidence. Some of your ideas have merit but that does not lead to the logical conclusion of moral and spiritual corruption within the framework of Judaism. Any religion, on its own, cannot stand logical examination and here you are telling people about this god and this god. Most people who study or practice Judaism know this already and know that it has no negative effect on their sense of morality or ethics.

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