As a lifelong science geek and secular aficionado, how could the religious indoctrination of childhood be sooo deep that it took me over thirty adult years of “reasoning to exhaustion” to un-indoctrinate? Was my religious indoctrination as a child that intensive and life-affecting? (rhetorical question, for I already know the answer!) – Joseph T Farkasdi
I am Yosef ben Joseph v’Karen, or simply Joseph Tsefanyahu Farkasdi. I am a humanistic cultural Jew, an ethnic Jew. I know too much about the real history of our Jewish civilization to not be. I know too much to be settled and complacent with just the smallest part of what it means to be Jewish, that of maintaining some kind of religious adherence to our civil-ritual tradition. I love our mythologized history, the legends of the Torah (and TaNaKH) and the touches of its continuance in Talmud and Mishnah, and in the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rituals and holidays of our ethnicity. But, I know them in their place, and non-theistically, because they were written and devised by men – all of them. Again and again redacted till canonized, since the first formation of our family-nation back as far as 1200 BCE. I know too much from an inquisitive mind about the nature of our world and universe, and the human’s actual scientifically demonstrable place in it.
I know too much. Yet, I am so very well aware that I still know nothing yet! Only that we as a family-nation have survived because we willed it upon ourselves and took it upon ourselves to ensure this survival. This is historically demonstrably so, even demonstrably in the very archaeology of history itself, regardless whether we dress it in times past and in these days in an anthropomorphized command and direction kind of way by a supreme god. I don’t know if this supreme god really exists, and faith of it being so is just simply not enough, at least not enough for me. But, I do know that our culture, our ethnic Jewish civilization, exists and is full of beautiful traditions both religious and secular. I embrace all of Judaism, all of what it means to be Jewish in this world of humans. Just being religiously Jewish or secularly Jewish is simply not enough for me, either way. I need to embrace and express it all, for all of it has informed me of who I am and where I come from. I have a vested interest in where we are going and becoming as a Jewish family-nation, all because of all of it! So, there was a time where I went OTD (off the Path). I became unpious, while still wrestling with the guilt-induced need to behave as if I were still pious. But, this wasn’t the end of the story for me.
I am no longer a Jew by religion, a religious Jew (someone who practices the “tenets of faith” -based halakhic path of my Jewish family-nation). I no longer hold value or belief in religion period. YAY! Believing for good reason that our idolizing religion actually hold us back as human beings, that it (historically and demonstrably) does more bad, both individually and socially, than it has even done good. But, in saying this, I am now BOD, (back on Path), and I’ll explain how in a moment! First, though, … Many long years ago now, religion and I became estranged when it became clear that my non-theistic nationalistic awareness of Torah would never be acceptable in religious Jewish communities, and that for having such views I am either a Jew in need of returning or, worse, not really even Jewish. Religion and I became estranged when I accepted the fact that I am gay or, more appropriately, equally attracted intimately to both women and men. Yes, that kind, the one that always wanted to be married to and intimate with both. Religion and I became estranged when I married a non-Jewish woman to have children with, and realized there really is no home within religious Judaism for my wife and children. Never mind, that she has married a Jew, and my family is traditionally observant. So, I became a Jew alone in this world, having rejected religion and its tenets of faith equally as firmly as religion had rejected the inherent me. The all of me as a Jewish human in this world.
I never stopped being Jewish, never stopped wrestling with Torah and Jewish way of life and how it applied to my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly life. So, I was still a ritualistic Jew, a Jew by ethnicity still deeply invested in ritualistic behavior – regardless how secular in mind (and not necessarily in behavior) I had become. But, I did stop being a community involved and accepted Jew, for these reasons. At least among the communities I knew about, was once a part of, and still longed for, to be affiliated in lifestyle with, deep down inside. I was now an unaffiliated, as some call it, what others know as a secular Jew. In all these years, I never lost my sense or knowing of Jewishness, nor my desire to be part of a Jewish community at some point again. Soon, once more in the future, and to be fully the Jew I am and accepted, at the same time, in my differences. I still longed to bring my family to the Jewish communities surrounding me, knowing that my family is indeed recognized by them as Jewish, too. I knew long time ago that Torah says this is so, for I am well schooled in our literature. That by the very legal definitions clearly state in Torah they are legally Jewish, too, simply by her marriage to me. Which means my children are Jewish, because I’m a Jew (and this is an unavoidable fact of reality). Enough said, as far as Torah is concerned! But, here’s the rub … a little thing called modern Jewish halakhah. I could never declare them Jewish, because every Jew needs a community that says this is so. This is the only way that legally satisfies who is a Jew and who is not, and one’s status as an accepted and declared Jew within a community is very dependent upon the nature of the Jewish community one belongs to. It’s the way it has been since ancient kingdom-state times. I had not yet found an authentic Jewish community that would recognize the legal state of my family’s Jewishness. But, as I said, this is not the end to my story.
It nearly took most of my life to find, but I now have this community. A Jewish community where finally I am accepted as a Jew AND as the Jew that I am. In all my diversity in expression and need in life, in all my geek knowledgeable awareness of life. A Jewish community that says this is so, that I am one of them without suspicion or conditions. A Jewish community that says I am not violating their conditional “tenants of belief” by my very inherent natured presence amongst them. A Jewish community that correctly recognizes that Torah as reinterpreted by our religion’s theology is not the absolute and only determining factor on who is and what it means to be a Jew in this world. Yes, there is such a Jewish community, a secular cultural ethnic Jewish community, that’s been around for a very long time. A community that correctly understands that Jewish status is not actually based on modern religious “tenants” of a movement community of religious Jews, but rather is based on the ancestral and cultural ties that make us what we are in the first place, a family, a family-nation. We often really do not realize just how important this community affiliation and acknowledgement of legal status is, until we find ourselves without it. And, having found this community, I am revitalized again once more in my Jewishness! It is like taking a fresh breath of air. It is like coming home, finally!
No, I did not join a Zionist or Socialist Jewish community, for theirs is the approach of purely secular Judaism, and lacks the continuity of ritual tradition that my ritual heart longs for. At least, from my experience, this is the case. I never really stopped being Torah, history, language, and holiday observant, even when I was not halakhically observant by the standards of our more stricter religious communities. (There is a difference between the two, Torah law and Jewish religious law, if you didn’t really know. A big difference.) What I needed then, when religion and I became estranged, and need now is the ethnic cultural ritualistic Judaism, the Jewish way of life of our ancestors. Just without the theistic component I’ve found so incompatible with me, with my inherent view of this world we live in and seek to be a part of. The Judaism of my ancient nationalistic Jewish ancestors, modernized as we have done as a people-nation (now called “world religion” in modern times) and non-theistic in liturgical and ideological approach. Is this even possible, you may be asking? Yes. Even Torah says so, and I have studied Torah very well over the years.
So, what Jewish community is it that I have been accepted amongst that fulfills this dual need inside, of being traditional and yet authentic in my expression of traditional Jewish way of life? I chose ritual-based Secular Humanistic Judaism. Because, this Jewish community movement allows me to be as ritually traditional as I want and need, without having to put a theistic spin on it or adhere to movement specific “tenants of faith/belief” that I do not relate to or believe in, in order to maintain status within the community as an observant Jew. I can only ask … Why did it take me so long to find them? Most of my adult life gone by and no matter how much I searched for an alternative, I simply was not able to see them established there, present in our world Jewry, just waiting for my contact. Perhaps it was because I needed to UN-indoctrinate myself, first, from the deep rooted socially taught belief that the most religious and halakhic governed Jewish communities around us are the quintessential example of Judaism (which they are actually not!, presently or historically, just the most visibly vocal), and that all other forms of Judaism are questionable and potentially unauthentic. Perhaps it was that I needed to do what I did, first, study Torah on its own terms without the hermeneutics of modern religious movement’s need to justify its own stance in authenticity as a representative Jewish way and expression. Perhaps I needed to write my own book, first, on nationalistic ethnic Judaism and its viability in modern times as an authentic modern Jewish expression, an alternative to religious Judaism, before I could see that my thoughts and discoveries have had predecessors well before me through the world wide presence of Humanistic Judaism.
Maybe all this had to occur first, in order to be able to recognize just how important and needed it is to embrace cultural Judaism as a whole, and not limit myself to the confines of being just a Jew by religion only. My heartfelt emotion desires more, desires to be representative-ly Jewish in all aspects of what it means to be legally and authentically a Jew! Judaism as a religion can only provide a part of this, and is not conducive towards embracing the rest of it. Religious Judaism can only offer theism and mythologized history in what it means to be a Jew. I know too much, so I want and need all of it – the religious and the secular, based in non-theistic humanistic oriented realism. All of it – the ethnic cultural arts and actions, the nationalistic activities, and the religious longings for purpose and identity and a future for our people – is what Judaism really is. All of it, this is the enduring civilization of the Jewish people. I am so thankful to be part of a Jewish community that see this, understands this, and acts upon it – preserving the continuity and ensuring the historical future of our traditional way of Jewish life. I am a Jew, with a Jewish community I call home, with a family accepted by this community. I’ve never been so sure of my Jewishness and so empowered by it, than I am now – and I am BOD, back on path, because of this! I am a Humanistic Jew.
Joseph Tsefanyahu Farkasdi
Cultural ethnic humanistic Jew
Every Jew, secular to religious, needs these following books for their home library top shelf (meaning, most referenced shelf!):
You can thank me later! 🙂
Being Jewish is more than religion. It is just as important to learn about our secular humanistic side. I recommend these books here!
Just added two more paper-book copies to my Top Shelf. These two I had originally purchased as electronic-books and, after close reading, realized that they are the most important ones for my shelf.
Fully Present, The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Dr Susan Smalley and Diana Winston; and
Staying Sane in a Crazy World, A Guide to Rational Living by Rabbi Sherwin T Wine
Even if my family doesn’t give the other books a serious read in the way I read books, I would hope these two just mentioned would be the exceptions and that at some point in their lives they were to fully embrace what is written in them!
The other books, I’ve mentioned before, but are:
God-Optional Judaism, Alternatives for Cultural Jews Who Love Their History, Heritage, and Community by Rabbi Judith Seid;
A Provocative People, A Secular History of the Jews by Rabbi Sherwin T Wine; and
Judaism in a Secular Age, An Anthology of Secular Humanistic Jewish Thought by editors Renee Kogel and Zev Katz of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism
These are no less important, for they ensure the continuity and survival of Jewish way of life in a world going through its last throes of a worldwide departure from ancestral nationalistic/salvation religion. It’s time to grow up as a humanity, put our big boy/girl britches on, and realize and accept that we make the world a better place – and this is done through inquisitive reason and intuition. The first two books mentioned above are the most important ones to keeping you grounded. By you, I mean each and every one of us, me included! Read them and you’ll see why I say this.
A Facebook post of mine on Civil-Religious Judaism Movement, May 2015
“When intellectual honesty replaces childhood indoctrination, one discovers meaningful peace and acceptance for what simply and miraculously is.”
Civil-Religious Judaism Movement – May 25, 2015 at 2:02pm
(In reference to Torah/TaNaKh …) Where do we get the deeply emotional ladened idea that this book is all that important? That, somehow, we are supposed to seek upon it, reverence it, and define our lives based upon what’s in it? A compilation of many divergent writings and beliefs in competition with each other, each written in their own spans of time over the period of a thousand years? Then, redacted together as one all inclusive document in the modern era, at the beginning of our Common Era (C.E./A.D)? How is it that its varying commentaries on real world events of the ancient (B.C.E) past is more authorative and important the the actual real and discoverable Jewish and human history that transpired to cause the writing of it?
Since when are we taught to reverence it, to near worship it, as a guiding source of what we need to believe, wrestle with, and think in this world? As if we couldn’t have (and, falsely believed, didn’t) develop a sense of morality, meaning, and purpose without it? That, even though real history shows the opposite, that somehow we wouldn’t have developed the more humanly ethical, humanistic, and democratic world of today without its influence? How is it that we come to so deeply believe that humans are incapable of aspiring to the “good” in life and the more “just” in life, without a divine authoritarian in some higher plane directing us on what to think and do?
Indoctrination, from birth. This is how. We are taught to believe that the world operates this way, through this book and all its hidden messages. We are taught that we must seek understanding of this world through the words of this book – and, in these days, along with science. We are taught that the understanding of our world through secular sources of study is secondary to and submitted beneath the divine wisdom of this book, and should be kept in its submissive place to it in servitude to its divine ordainment. Nevermind, how unimportant science and other secular studies reveal this book to literally be – just collected literature, given religious cult status, tied to rituals that are meant to edify its status and importance. How is it that we who live in a science and democratic based world are still looking upon this theocracy world-viewed set of a thousand years worth of writings as if it is something we must embrace to be authentically and fully human? How is it that, even though we know we can live our lives humanistically secularist and truly ethically, that we find ourselves having to spend a lifetime wrestling ourselves free of this “religious” indoctrination’s hold?
I used to love this book, and used to worship it, too (without calling it this). Kept coming back and grappling with it year after year after year. Until, one day, I truly saw it for what it is, and saw the indoctrination deep inside that causes me to be drawn to words that were never meant for our times – to begin with. I no longer love this book. When I speak of Shavuot, I am talking about the real history of the national ethnicity known as the Jewish people. It is these fuller literary and historical sources that illuminate this, showing more clearly how this idolized mythologized history came to be – all these equally worthy of reverent attention unrecognized (or, limitedly recognized) writings that’s been added to the Jewish saga throughout the last three thousand years of Jewish writing history – that I reflect upon and share with others and ask questions upon as a Jew in this world. – Joseph T Farkasdi
The questions I present here in the post directly above, I’ve been asking off and on for years, now, and near daily recently. The following link by The Atheist Rabbi echos much of what I now think and feel.
This Is The Torah! – My presentation was entitled “V’zot Ha-Torah – This is the Torah,” a line taken from the traditional Jewish liturgy. It is chanted after the Torah reading when the scroll is opened and raised high for all to see its words: “This is the Torah which Moses brought before… patheos.com