From the Big Bang to Baseball: The Elephant in the Room

Responses to the Elephant in the Room contest have taken us on quite a trip, from the ballpark to the circus to the birth of the universe. Whether you are working on your own entry or just discussing among friends, these visualizations of Judaism may help on your own trip:

“The Big Bang occurred 13.9 billion years ago; the Bet that begins the Torah. At that moment everything was an undifferentiated colloid of infinite density and temperature. As the explosion unfolded in the first tiny fraction of a second, the laws of physics and chemistry became manifest and subatomic particles began their organized movement … The power that makes this all happen, that’s God.”

“Does this God have a human-like personality such that if we do things like pray or sacrifice goats or do compassionate actions God will be pleased and stick her proverbial finger into our daily causes and effects? I do not think so. As Jews, doing Jewish things, we insist that doing these things is good for us, that they sustain our community, that they ennoble us, that they tell our story and thus we participate in the God process. But God has no more first hand knowledge of our poor powers than we might have of an ant colony thriving in a distant corner of our backyard.”

-          William Blank

“What does it mean to be Jewish without belief in God? I ask my students this question … I make the students draw extended metaphors for Judaism, placing God somewhere in the picture. For some, Judaism is a flower, and God the sun—without the sun, it wilts, and blooms no more. For others, Judaism is a car, and God the engine—without the engine, no movement, only idleness and rust. One student, a budding Humanist to be sure, drew Judaism as an onion, with God as a layer—without this layer, many other rich layers remain.”

-          Matthew Lowe

“When I was a child – before there was a State of Israel – I was taught that Judaism is more than a religion, it is a peoplehood. I learned that we Jews are part of a great civilization that has endured for millennia despite numerous attempts to destroy or change us. As an adult I have learned that internal divisions have threatened to tear us apart many times in our history. When I think about how the Jewish people have endured despite forces within and outside our community, I consider our survival as a distinct people nothing short of miraculous.”

-          Marge Kravitz

“Being Jewish is a passive genetic a state, over which I have virtually no control. Being a Jew is an active state.  Using my years of interest/study of Judaism I have set three standards that I have to meet to consider myself to be a Jew.  These apply only to me.  Each person must set his/her own standards.  I judge no one else by my standards.

  1. Religions have a basic tenant of the faith.  In Judaism it is a belief in god, as stated in the Shema, which I do not do, so the umpire calls STRIKE ONE!!!!!!
  2.  Of the Ten Commandment given to Moses at Mt. Sinai nine are moral commandments. One is a religious commandment, i.e. that of shomer Shabbat, keeping the Sabbath, which I do not do, so the umpire calls STRIKE TWO!!!!!!
  3. All religions have traditions, rules, laws, etc.  In Judaism these can be found in the massive Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. In the 1550s Rabbi Caro in Safad condensed them in to the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, which I do not follow, so the umpire calls STRIKE THREE, you may be Jewish but you are NOT a Jew!”

-          Howard Sands

“Who needs a god, or even ‘the God,’ when you have a good story. A good story is a current that can carry along a person, family, or tribe for a long, long time, providing entertainment, instruction, and identity. And for Jews, our tribe has an amazing story. It is full of magic and mystery, tragedy and triumph, heroes and heels, poetry and prose, and even some lively licentiousness.”

 “I like the idea of god, even “the God.” It somehow makes the story grander. I like to imagine this character even sits, unseen, by our campfires, listening to the story of the Jews. I imagine the character getting great amusement from the story. I have even heard a yarn about ‘the God’ choosing the Jews — maybe that would be like picking out a favorite serialized TV drama. If so, I hope the show gets its contract renewed; I would like to hear a few more seasons of it myself.”

-          Michael Chusid

“Forgive me dear friends, fellow Jews, religious some, atheists other.  If you haven’t yet figured it out – being a Jew is like taking part in a circus.  The Jewish circus is a one ring circus. … The acts call themselves Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Elephant.”

 “Is it so strange that I take what I need from within the Jewish tradition and say ‘this is what makes me a Jew?’  Isn’t that what you who worry about the Elephant in the Room have also done in the past; selecting, discarding – deliberately forming that which you now consider the immutable holy books?”

“In Yiddish we talk about “di golden keyt” – the golden chain of Jewish history.  The elephant has always been one of the links in the chain.  Do you dare continue to try to break the links?  You need the elephant.  He is strong.  He is loyal.  The circus is in danger of becoming a side show without him.”

-          Gerry Kane

7 responses to “From the Big Bang to Baseball: The Elephant in the Room

  1. First, a story: When I was a little girl, my parents had an extensive record collection that included the original Broadway cast recording of “My Fair Lady”. On the cover was a caricature of Eliza Doolittle, with puppet strings manipulated by a caricature of Henry Higgins, who had his own puppet strings being manipulated by a caricature of a bald, bearded man on a cloud. I thought that was God. It was George Bernard Shaw.

    Besides mixing up Shaw and God, and besides the fact that I’ve never completely been able to get the picture out of my head when I think of God, my thoughts about God have evolved over the years. I used to think you couldn’t be Jewish without believing in God. That, however, would have eliminated a number of people I know who identify strongly with the Jewish community, observe Jewish holidays, study Jewish texts, practice Jewish rituals and live by Jewish values. I couldn’t honestly place these folks outside the circle.

    I believe the world around me is too complex and fragile and astounding to be a coincidence, but I don’t think God is nature itself. I read once that “nature is the cloak that God wears” and that fits my sense of it all. I believe something incredibly powerful and spiritual happened at Sinai. Did Moses take dictation? No, I don’t think so, but something profound enough happened there to merit the telling and re-telling. Between Creation and Sinai, my faith places me squarely in a partnership with a/the/some spiritual presence and the world presented.

    I don’t think a lot about God. I don’t examine my beliefs too deeply. There is some spiritual side to me that finds it comfortable to use the vocabulary of “God language” to express that side. God isn’t listening just to my prayer to make things happen the way I want. That’s not the way the world works. But the God-language gives me a context to deal with the way this world works, and that’s enough.

  2. “Being Jewish is a passive genetic a state, over which I have virtually no control. Being a Jew is an active state. Using my years of interest/study of Judaism I have set three standards that I have to meet to consider myself to be a Jew. These apply only to me. Each person must set his/her own standards. I judge no one else by my standards.” — Howard Sands, above.

    So Jews for Jesus are Jews? Because each person must have their own standards? Or are there some absolutes?

    • Mr. Richer–I must answer your statement because you do not full appreciate my position. I am not the Pope, the Chief Rabbi, or an Imam. I have no rabbinical training. That means I have no religious authority over anyone but me. I am aware of many Conservative Jews who feel it is ok to drive to the shul on the sabbath, in clear violation of the biblical comandment not to make a fire on the sabbath. I know of Conservative Jews who keep an ultra-kosher kitchen, but work on the Sabath and eat fish at Chinese resturants, without regard to what was cooked with it or was previously in the frypan. I may not like the idea of a Jew for Jesus. But in all of these example I have no right to make a value judgement. It is entirely up to the individual to set his/her religious and moral standards. As I stated in my orginal submission, I do not judge others by the standards I set for myself and I do not want to be judged by the standards other have set.

      • Stephen Richer

        Thanks for the response. I am generally with you that we should withhold judgment. I certainly live in a glass house. But I reject — emphatically — the type of cultural/moral relativism implicit in “I have no right to make a value judgement.” Yes I/we do. If you torture cats or people for fun, then you’re a jackass. Period. I feel we have every right to judge on that one and others.

        Similarly, though I don’t judge too much on how people practice Judaism, I do think some lines have to be drawn about who is a Jew. You can’t be a Jew and say Jesus Christ is the savior and lord and is divine.

      • I certainly agree with you on MORAL issues. We have the right to enforce laws against murder, chlid abuse, animal abuse etc.. That is a far cry from inflcting my religous, or lack of religous view on others. Extremist Jews are wrong!! Just as extremist in Islam, Christianity and all other religons are wrong. They want to ENFORCE their view of the religion. I have no right to enforce my or anyone elses view of Jewish law on anyone but ME!!!!!!!!!

  3. …one of my many teachers..rabbis..that i have studied with over the years said (paraphrasing): In order to become sovereign over my own self..my life ..I must acknowledge that which is sovereign over me….
    Higher Power Nature God/dess The Name… Mystery . I do not believe we will come to the end of Mystery..not through all the science in all the worlds in all the ages … ever..never.
    We will not come to the end of mystery….Mystery. Some call that God
    others Nature..and so on..
    in my 35 years of counseling people ..I find that agnostics have a belief about the God they do not believe in (often a much more limited and specific notion of God than mine)..and atheists tend to be angry with /towards the God they do not believe in..much the same as a lost (and found) child refuses to acknowledge a parent they perceive as abandoned them.. there are not doubt exceptions to these observations..but they hold some usefulness …and in this way God is not a fair weather friend…doing good for the sake of good is good enough human..Jew.Jewish…this too is GOOD GOD/DESS
    ONE CAN ABSOLUTELY BE A JEW/JEWISH WITHOUT BELIEF IN GOD.
    A (better?) question regardless of one’s relationship to ALL, to MYSTERY,
    to an acceptance of that which is Sovereign over me…is how do I live in relationship to MYSTERY..THE mystery ..of life..of ALL life..of all peoples, species…

  4. Heavenward Child

    Why is it NOT possible to be Jewish and believe in Jesus Christ?
    I don’t understand.

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