Religion has been a rather positive influence in my life. As a child I was exposed to the beauty and pageantry of Catholic ritual. I went to a Catholic school for 12 years, and the nuns and priests were certainly positive role models. When I stopped being a practicing Catholic, I still retained many of the values I had absorbed. I became involved in left-wing political movements that tended to be non-religious, even anti-religious, but many of the values—concern for the poor, seeking justice, valuing community—were actually the same. In many ways Judaism combined those values with a religious worldview that I found congenial
I have always been fascinated by languages and at one point took up the study of Hebrew. I started to attend a synagogue in order to familiarize myself with Biblical and liturgical Hebrew. Over time I became friends with the rabbi and started to attend his classes on the Talmud and other Jewish texts. Eventually I realized that Judaism was a good spiritual vehicle for me and decided to formally convert.
What specifically appeals to me about Judaism is its emphasis on ritual and ethical action rather than on dogma or doctrine. Other than the unity and oneness of God, Judaism does not impose any particular concept of the nature of God nor does it insist on the literal interpretation of its scared texts. One current of Judaism maintains that we can’t say anything positive about God at all, even that God exists, because doing so would limit God to our very limited ideas about existence. I suppose Judaism satisfies my need for ritual and a sense of spiritual connectedness without posing the perplexing intellectual problems that a specifically doctrinaire religion does. Jews can and do believe all sorts of nonsense, but it’s not a requirement.
Judaism, of course, presents its own problems. The intersection of Judaism, ethnic tribalism and Israeli nationalism troubles me. Along with many other Jews, I strongly oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. I have witnessed the devastating effects of Jewish settler fanaticism on the lives of Palestinians. The relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has gone so far that the two-state solution is probably dead. What the alternatives are is hard to say, but the occupation can’t go on forever.
Religion and nationalism are a toxic mix. My favourite Jewish philosopher, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, put it very well: “Counterfeit religion identifies national interests with the service of God and imputes to the state—which is only an instrument for serving human needs—supreme value from a religious standpoint.”