Monday, April 19, 2010

Making the minyan* (prayer quorum)

In general, the only time I go to prayer services is on Shabbat and that is really only for social reasons. With work keeping me busy during the week, I like to go to synagogue to see my friends, hang out a bit and catch up with everyone.

So the times that I do attend services during the week are few and far between(I could count the times in the past few years on one hand). I just don't believe in prayer and services during the week don't really have the pull of being quasi-social events like they are on shabbat. In any case, I was attending an event last week where there were exactly 10 men. When it came time to pray, it was just assumed that everyone was going to join since everyone was needed to make the minyan. So I got stuck praying mincha* and a little later on maariv*.

I felt really weird because I don't like praying and this was more of a forced prayer. Sure, I could have stood around and not said the words (which I did do to some extent), but I just felt like I would have much rather have been enjoying the event instead. It doesn't bother me if other want to pray, I just don't like being forced into it.

The other thing I was wondering about was whether the other 9 would have wanted me to count as part of their minyan if they knew my feeling about prayer. Do you think they would have wanted to know this info and then wait for another chance to pray later? Do you think they would want someone to be a part of their minyan who doesn't believe the words they are saying are doing anything or have meaning?

I once heard a big time rabbi say that a man can be counted for a minyan as long as he does not categorically deny God. Under those conditions, I guess nobody could really have any issue with me being part of the minyan.

Any thoughts?

Minyan - a quorum of 10 men required to say certain parts of prayer that require such a group
Mincha - afternoon prayers
Maariv - evening prayers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

When the ^*%$ hits the fan

I have known for a long time that there would be a time when my wife would find out about the non-religious part of my life. As one who hates confrontation, I had always hoped that that time would be far off and that I would be able to control it under my own terms. Well, that didn't happen.

One week ago, I was in the middle of a project at a client's house when my wife sent me an SMS wanting to know when I would be home and that she would like to get a babysitter so we could go out. I asked where and she said it didn't matter, we just NEEDED to talk. I asked what was wrong and she told me that we would discuss this only in person. The rest of that work day was filled with all sorts of crazy thoughts of what it could be . . . from news of sick relatives to ones that may have passed away. From something wrong with our house or the lease to her being pregnant (not something either of us want now). In the words of Geirge Costanza "Nobody NEEDS to talk", so I knew this was something serious.

In the back of my mind, I thought it was possible that she knew I was OTD, but I just didn't think that was it. Heck, only one of my close friends knows the full extent of my irreligiosity, so it is not like it is out there for her to find out from the grapevine. I knew she hadn't found the blog, because she is not one to just read it and not say anything.

So I get home from work and we get in the car to go. I ask her where and she says to just drive to a parking lot or something in another part of the city so we can talk. When we stopped, she asked me if there was anything I was hiding from her. This cat & mouse game went on for a while (i think it was about an hour). I think I was still afraid to say anything and was just hoping that she really didn't know. At one point I said something about the blog which she said she knew nothing about [As a side note, initially I was wishing i kept that quiet, but as the night went on and in the week since, I am happy i let her read the blog].

After 4.5 hours of talking, yelling, arguing, crying, debating etc. I feel like it all came down to one central issue: While she is not happy that I am not religious, she is much more upset about the fact that I kept it all from her. She said by leading this double life, I showed that I did not trust in the strength of our marriage (which is great) to get us through this, nor did I trust in her to be understanding. I always felt that I was protecting her & the family by not letting this out. While that is true to some extent, I now realize more than ever that I was protecting myself from having to deal with this properly and just fooled myself into thinking that I could keep everything hidden until the "perfect" time arose to bring it up.

So where do we go from here? If we remain together, I will have to continue with many OJ formalities & actions for the sake of the family. My wife has said she doesn't want me to leave, but she also doesn't want me to resent this lifetyle and then decide in 10 years that it sucks and leave her as a single mother in her 40's. I kept thinking back to something that we always end up saying when we have had some financial difficulties; While money problems are tough, at least we have each other, our beautiful kids, supportive family and our health is good so we can get through this. So to here; While parts of OJ may drive me nuts, my life is good and these annoyances are a small price to pay for all the goodness I have in life.

All in all, this week has been a true mixed bag of emotions. At one point, in our initial conversation, I thought it was all over. Coming that close to the brink made me realize even more how much I want to be with my wife & kids. I know that it will be tough for my wife to be completely trusting of me going forward, but I truly feel that this is going to work in the end.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tisha B'Av conflict & the Beit Hamikdash

I fasted yesterday, as most Orthodox Jews do, to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Honestly, I find it tough to fast when I don't really care about the fact that we no longer have the Temple. I do not have a yearning for public sacrifices and private ones meant for forgiveness/repentance. Nor do I yearn for the days when a Sanhedrin (Jewish court) rules the country.

I was thinking about something that related to this. There is a concept in Judaism called "Ein somchin al haneis - Don't depend on miracles". Basically, it is used to tell us to take that first step & make the effort and then God will help out to go to the next level. In general, it is a nice concept and I think it is also apropos for parenting.

So why don't more right wing OJ/chareidim apply this to the State of Israel? While they obviously want a "Torah true" government run according to halacha (which we clearly do not have now), isn't what we have better than having no country at all? Let them view this as the beginning of something that can bring us to the point were God can take over? If we as Jews are supposedly mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty I would think they would recognize this step.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What brought you to (or back to) Orthodox Judaism?

Unlike many people who have gone OTD, I didn't have a bad experience with OJ overall. There isn't a single event or group of events that pushed me out and made me seek an alternative. Rather, it all began with an overall disinterest in OJ in specific and Judaism in general. I felt that the minutiae of halacha was a huge pain and that following all these rules just didn't give me spiritual upliftment or any real meaning in life.

Over the years, my wife recognized this ambivalence towards OJ and told me to go seek out the answers I was looking for. Honestly, I wasn't really seeking answers because I just didn't care. Some people feel a spiritual void and need to look for meaning and God in their daily lives. Not me. I was happy going on living each day to its fullest, having fun with the family, succeeding at work, enjoying hanging out & doing stuff with my friends, and generally enjoying life.

Did God create the world or did it happen by chance? Did God create the world in a literal 6 days or did He set evolution in motion? Is the Torah literal? Does God care about my daily actions? What happens when we die?

Questions along these line are often the major questions that get people all revved up about God (or turned away when the answers are not sufficient). Yet, not a single one of them ever bothered me. I just didn't care. I always dealt with the facts on the ground that I am here now and I make the best of it. Does it really matter how the world started or where I go when I die? It wasn't until my wife pushed me to seek answers that I really began to think more about OJ theology, God, messianic redemption, Jewish law etc.

Given my situation, it can be very frustrating to be forced to lead a somewhat OJ life when I don't believe in it. Periodically, I have tried to speak to educational, rabbinic, and generally knowledgeable people about my issues with OJ. If someone could light that spark and make it meaningful, I am not opposed to getting back into it. If someone had plausible answers I could overlook some issues and make that leap of faith, but it just hasn't happened.

So i'd like to hear from any of my readers who where never religious & became OJ or perhaps from converts to OJ or people who were OJ then left and returned. Why, did you choose this life? Who or what made you look towards OJ as the answer to your life's void?

Monday, June 29, 2009

How does Olam Haba give purpose to life?

One of the common arguments I often hear in support of OJ is that, without God and the Torah, there is no purpose to life. Through the Torah's commandments, God has given us purpose and a way to attain a place in Olam Haba, the World to Come.

I have two problems with this "reason" for going along with OJ:

1. If, as many OJ adherents claim, Olam Haba is sitting in the presence of God and enjoying the Torah with Him, then I am not really interested. They make it as if the reward is basically hearing a Torah shiur (class) from the Man himself. Sorry, but that just doesn't do it for me.

2. Ok, so the goal is to get to Olam Haba. Then what? Do we sit around God and hang out with other do gooders? What is the purpose of that? So Olam Haba really just gives you a goal for this world, but then the problem arises again since there is no purpose to Olam Haba itself.

Sure, if you are into OJ, then living OJ with the addition of a closer connection to God would sound great. But in itself, that is a lame carrot to dangle as a reason to be OJ.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let's say we get 100% proof . . .

I was talking this past shabbat with my wife about the fact that it bothers me that moshiach & olam haba are not mentioned outright in the torah. As the discussion ensued, she basically told me that she thinks I am looking for excuses to get out of OJ and am therefore nitpicking all the things that seem to annoy me. While she isn't completely on target, she isn't necessarily that far off.

This got me thinking, what if I was presented with 100% proof that gets rid of all the issues I have with Judaism. What that proof is, I don't know, but suffice to say it was rock solid. Maybe God himself comes and has a one on one chat with me. Maybe Moshe Rabeinu pops in with a video of him getting the torah. Maybe I am provided with a time machine and see things myself. Maybe I fly on Alladin's carpet up to God's castle in the heavens.

You get the point: ROCK SOLID proof is provided to satisfy me and any skeptic out there of the following:
- God created the world
- God chose the Jews and personally gave the torah to them, which is all fact
- God wants us to follow the torah and cares about our daily lives
- God generally rules the world
- God rewards us in the life to come after we are dead

So then what? Does OJ all of a sudden interest me? As I once responded to my wife when she asked me if I was interested in a shiur she read about, "Just as you never attended my engineering classes because they do not interest you, I am not attending the shiur because I am just not interested".

So, in the end, it really doesn't matter how "right" OJ is. It just matters that I am not one who is spiritual and believes in the mitvot and supposed reward that OJ offers. Couldn't I just opt out and not be bound to things I don't believe in or care in? I would gladly give up the "olam Haba" that OJ think I have coming to me. Just like there are people who prefer to not to be managers because with the additional money comes additional rules and responsibilities, i want to choose to be a plain old person.

If all jews were really given a choice, I wonder how many would choose OJ? And I am not taling about the "choice" they say we have now, but then look down upon anyone who isn't a practicing OJ.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The logistics of Techiyat Hamaytim (resurection of the dead)

I have posted in the past about my disbelief in Techiyat Hamaytim (resurection of the dead) at the time of Moshiach (in whom i also don't believe). Today, I went with the family to the cemetery and my kid's were asking questions about what happens when these people will come back. I gave them the usual "we don't really know" OJ viewpoint.

It got me thinking about how this would actually work (and yes this is a part serious, part mockery) . . . .

- If a guy was married to two wives during his lifetime because his first wife died, will he get to choose which one he wants?

- Will these people just rise up from the ground or will they all come from a central location?

- Once they arise, will we be able to differentiate them from currently living people of the same age?

- How old will they be? Will they continue to age from the age at which they died?

- I am assuming people with lost limbs will not get them back. however, will people who died of diseases come back healthy?

- What about general pysical ailments?

- Since their bodies have decomposed over the years, what body type will they have?

- Will the newly resurected person have the same personality as they had before death?

- Will they be clothed or in the shrouds that they were buried in?

- Does every Jew who ever died come back? Are there opinions who believe non-Jews will come back as well?

- Since we are assuming that all of these people will come to Israel since it is in the time of Moshiach, where the hell are they all going to live?

- Can cemetery land be developed for housing or other projects since it is no longer filled with holy bones that can't be disturbed?