Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So, it's Passover

I spent a good portion of this afternoon running around to various grocery stores in an attempt to find all the necessary ingredients for my Passover baking escapades. Now, as my matzo meal rolls are cooling and my matzo kugel is baking, I can't stop thinking about something I heard on the radio in between the many markets.

In honor of the holiday, today's guest on Fresh Air was Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. She talked about the significance of the Sabbath in her own life, and explained how her own family observes Shabbat. They go to synagogue, go hiking, and share meals with friends; in essence, they simply spend time together, relaxing. Then Shulevitz said something surprising: she enjoys attending synagogue, but doesn't believe in God. Shulevitz likes listening to readings of the Torah, loves the Temple community, and is fascinated by the Talmudic discussions that arise as the rabbis in the congregation share their different points of view. She likes thinking about the possibility of God, but she doesn't believe in God.

Terry Gross, the show's host, was quick to point out that many listeners might not understand Shulevitz's views, but the disassociation of tradition/practice and faith makes perfect sense to me. I love that I got to go to a Seder on Monday night, but I took little notice of the actual content of the various blessings. Growing up with a Jewish mother and an atheistic father, I rarely attended synagogue and learned to be skeptical where religion was concerned. Whatever my mother's beliefs might be, she was far less vocal about them than my father was about his own. As a result, I inherited her ability to make latkes and his lack of faith in a divine being.

Regardless of these beliefs, I consider myself to be Jewish, and I appreciate the rituals of the Seder. It could just be because I'm an actor and reading from the Haggadah is kind of like performing a monologue. Or because of my unusual fondness for gefilte fish. But I think it's really about the fact that the reading of the Haggadah is a shared experience that extends beyond the family and friends gathered around a single table: it's a tradition that provides a link to the Jewish community throughout the globe. And I like that sense of connectedness, even if it only lasts for one meal.

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

I think a lot of people can relate to the "tradition, not faith" thing. I am personally a bit in the opposite camp with "faith, not tradition," but I see it everywhere. Tradition and culture are basic spiritual needs for humans; it's one of the things that separate us from the rest of the creatures on earth.