Thursday, April 16, 2009

The God Thing

In the last week, two friends have told me that their daughters are not having bat mitzvahs.

One is a friend from long ago with whom I just reconnected (thanks, Internet!). When M was born, I had the kind of mother's group you read about and wish you had, except for once I actually had it. We met in prenatal yoga, so we were a copacetic bunch of athleticish, organicish, liberalish moms. Our babies were all born within a month of each other, and we were together from babies lying on the blanket to toddlers running around the playground--then I moved away, but I think they stuck together for a while longer. Anyway, I was just thinking about S, probably the one I was closest to, and wondering if she was preparing for a bat mitzvah too, so I tracked her down (LinkedIn), and we were both delighted to find each other again.

Only her daughter is not having a bat mitzvah, because S lost her faith after 9/11 and couldn't see sending her kids to Hebrew School if she didn't believe. I actually haven't responded to that email, because I didn't know what to say.

Then this morning a very good friend emailed me to say that her daughter, whose bat mitzvah was fairly imminent, had decided not to do it because, among other things, she doesn't believe in God. That one was easy to reply to: I just said "Good for her. Hope things haven't been too difficult," or words to that effect.

Then I said to S, "Are we really superficial, or just well-adjusted?" (which was not meant to imply that any of these other people are maladjusted; it's just what I said).

Because, honestly, believing in God has never once come up in the entire preparation for M's bat mitzvah (OK, that may not be true, M may have discussed it with her tutor, but certainly it has not come up between me, S, and M).

S said that he has thought about this issue a lot since his bar mitzvah, and the Talmud says nothing about believing in God, you just have to follow the rules. For Catholics, not believing is a sin, but it's not like that for Jews. I don't know if this is true, but it sounds good to me, and S tends to think about things like this more deeply than I do, since I just read novels.

We didn't make M have a bat mitzvah, we gave her the choice, and if she'd said no, we would have said fine, but there was pretty much no question that she was going to do it. And, like I said, God never came up. Why? Maybe because God just isn't a big part of our religious life. I mean, we go to the Unitarian church of synagogues for a reason. I mean, I don't even think our rabbi believes in God. We're all about the community and the values and the ritual, and, interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, that's what we're emphasizing in M's bat mitzvah (interesting because we never overtly said that was what we were going to emphasize, it just kind of happened; not surprising because, well, duh, that's us).

And, you know, it's not that I don't believe in God, or that I do. I just kind of don't go there. I mean, I certainly don't believe in an old white guy with a beard handing out commandments. But I'm not quite sure I think we're just collections of atoms obeying physical laws either.

Hmm, now I've gotten to the point where I really should make a point, but I don't know what it is. The one conclusion I feel like drawing, and it might be the conclusion to a different post, is that although I am capable of angsting on just about anything and everything, I simply don't have angst about Judaism, our synagogue, M's bat mitzvah...or God. M and S don't seem to either. And for that, I'm glad.

Edited to add: Of course I have angst about sucky Jews who do sucky things, but that's different. In fact, I think that angst is to some degree predicated upon the absence of general religious angst, but please don't ask me to explain how that is the case.


Dawn said...

When I was reading up before converting it was clear to me that one does not have to believe in God to be a good Jew -- belief is beside the point. One is supposed to help heal the world through good acts -- belief in God is optional.

BarbaraCA said...

If you are going to pick one thing to NOT be angsty over, that seems like the one to pick!

postacademic said...

I'd been meaning to wish you luck with M's bat mitzvah. I still remember when you had people over when she was first home from the hospital and we wrote her notes for when she's 16. It seems like a lovely rite of passage to me!

Ruth said...

I'd been thinking about what I believe, for other reasons, and that set me to wondering what M believes. Actually I think what one believes or means by believing in God varies over a life time. What pleases me so about you and S and M, and I trust in time E is just you take your (our) Jewishness for granted and thus utterly seriously.

Lilian said...

Hi! I think this is my first comment (more on that in a second). I just wanted to say that this is a beautiful post and that it's great that you feel so at peace about such tough issues. Now I want to go read the latest post, the letter to your daughter.

My favoritest sentence was: "and S tends to think about things like this more deeply than I do, since I just read novels." I just had to smile (a whole lot).

You see, we have several mutual virtual friends and Dawn more than once told me that I'd enjoy reading you (and I did come visit several times in the past), so I finally want to go ahead and, as I update my blogroll, add you to my list. I'll be combing through the archives too (and may comment here and there -- that's my style).

So, I guess that's my way to kind of introduce myself and "announce" my presence in your corner of the blogosphere. Oh, and we started blogging only a month apart (well, unless you had a previous blog ;-).

Lauren said...

"We're all about the community and the values and the ritual..." Absolutely! As a Catholic from a long line of French/Irish Catholics I feel a connection to it similarly to your Judaism. Even if I am a PC (pick and choose) Catholic and my DH and I considered not doing the church thing (because we're not complete believers of everything--i.e. Jesus), I just sort of had to do it for my kids. I had to give them what I knew. If they don't like it, fine. If they stop after one or two sacraments, so be it. I'm not positive we'll continue with church and Sunday school because there is a terrible conservative movement happening in the American Church right now, but for now I am doing it for the reasons you listed.