|Humanist Essay for October 2011
"Flashback to an Incipient Humanist"
[My essay in the HSNM October 2011 Newsletter would normally be reprinted here. Since it mainly concerns HSNM business, I'm posting something a little different in this space for October.]|
I discovered the following on a recent visit to my hometown of Wilmington, DE, where I spent some time sorting through a big box of the school papers my mother had saved. This short essay was written as an assignment for my Jewish Confirmation Class and reprinted with many other class essays in our graduation publication Bikkurim: "First Fruits" Class of 5733-1973. That graduation marked the completion of my mandatory Jewish education, which, in after-school and Sunday classes, had progressed apace with my secular education through the 10th grade and included the traditional coming of age Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the age of 13. By 15, as you will read, I was a budding Humanist. That the contrary and rebellious ideas of myself and my classmates were published for and appreciated by the congregation at large is a tribute to the value that the members and faculty of AKSE (Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth) Synagogue and our Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz placed on education, freedom of thought and freedom of expression - though it may not have seemed so to me at the time. In finding this essay and another challenging one I'd written on "G-D" I feel appreciative of the attention that was given to our moral, spiritual and philosophical growth. It has served me in good stead, even as I have gone my own way with respect to religious observance. Looking back, I can see that there was a strongly humanistic side of my deeply religious upbringing, and that this can be found in communities of every faith. --ZG
In the unit on Torah, many different ideas about Revelation were presented. After going through all these ideas, the Rabbi summed up by saying that we should all accept the Torah and then decide which of these theories or any other theories explains why we accept the Torah. The Torah itself states that first one must accept Torah and then question it.* I don't understand this logic at all. I think it would be far more meaningful to study the Torah, question it, and then accept it only after all your questions have been answered, and you find that you can really obey all its laws in all sincerity; than to accept the Torah, or anything, and then try to justify yourself.
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher said, "The crowd is untruth." In regard to religion I have to agree with him. He says that no matter if everyone in the crowd possesses "the truth," the "crowd" is still "untruth." I interpret this to mean that what the "crowd" advances as "truth" is false for anyone outside "the crowd." That is, each person must find his own "truth" and if this "truth" happens to correspond to someone else's that's fine, but if it doesn't, it is still right for that person, and noone can tell him otherwise. This is why I cannot accept the Torah without question.
* "Na-a-seh V'nishmah, we shall do and we shall listen."