Friday, April 20, 2012

How Judaism Haunts Me and Why I Must Leave Israel

Many people I know don't understand why I hate Judaism so much. They think that since I am no longer practicing, I should just move on. They do not understand why I write about it and talk about it as much as I do. The reason is that Judaism haunts me. I know this might sound dramatic and might be hard for some to understand. In fact, it is often hard for me to put into words and explain. So that is where this post comes in. Hopefully what I write here, along with any comments/conversation that stems from this post, will be clear enough to explain my feelings.

Most of my religious life was very complicated. I was a very proud, religious Zionist and in many ways radical about my connection to Judaism - the religion and the people. However, at the same time I always resented the burden I felt came along with this. I remember at a young age, a friend of my parents brought to a Sabbath lunch a woman that was in the process of converting. I could not understand why anyone would ever want to volunteer to be part of Orthodox Judaism. I figured I was born into it and did not have a choice and therefore I should embrace it. But given the choice, I would never choose it.

A fellow blogger friend of mine, Coin Laundry recently posted a comment on Facebook that reminded me about a debate I had with a bunch of friends when I was around 14 years old. I had asked my friends, if they were to discover that they were not really Jewish by birth, would they convert. Interestingly the majority of the boys said no and the majority of the girls said yes, but overall more said yes than no. I was shocked. I would have been so relieved to discover I was not Jewish. Who needs all the constraints, the guilt and the responsibility? I later brought the question up to my father. He answered that he would convert as well. Again, I was shocked. Why would anyone want this as part of their life?

As I got older, my sexuality became quite the burden. I could not help being attracted to guys. Every time I prayed I would ask "god" to take these feelings away, because I did not want to sin, but could not help myself. On Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement and judgment) I would beg "god" to spare my life. I would tell him that if he just took away this attraction than I wouldn't be so tempted and everything would be OK. Of course I remained attracted to guys and my feelings of guilt and fear of heavenly punishment grew all the time.

When I finally left Judaism behind, there was an amazing burden lifted from my shoulders. (I still tried to hide the fact I was gay but that was because of my family, not religion). Slowly I was able to learn to think freely and resented myself less and less. I was free.

But of course I live in Israel, the Jewish country. Everywhere I look, I am constantly reminded of religion. Religious parties sit in the government and push their agenda on the nation. My university requires all Jewish students to take Judaic courses. When going out, kosher vs non Kosher food, open on the Sabbath or closes, all must be taken into account. On the Sabbath their is no public transportation. Religious people sit on the street corner and try and convince you to follow their ways. Old senile men like Ovadia Yosef wave great power here, just because they are Rabbis with many followers. And while in theory all of these things can be easily ignored, for me they are a constant reminder of the feelings I had back when I was religious.

I think a good analogy would be to a man who was imprisoned and is released after many years. He can walk around freely and do whatever he pleases. His life is his own. However, he would not want to see prison guards, barbed wire and jail cells everywhere he looked. These things may not be a part of his life anymore, but he most certainly would not want to be reminded about it all the time.

This is why I feel that I must leave Israel behind. I need to put some space between me and my past so that I can properly "get over it". While I will probably never embrace Judaism ever again, I do not want to hate it forever. I hope with my planned move across the globe to Vietnam at the end of this year, I can begin to finally move on.

18 comments:

  1. Good luck. Maybe that is actually for the best. I'm just curious why Vietnam?

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    1. Thanks and I am hoping.
      I've written in previous posts about my connection with Vietnam. But in short, i have the opportunity to make a good living there, its a place where I can make a fresh start, I like the people and I like the guys :)

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    2. And plenty of Israelis there as well.

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  2. Don't worry you aren't alone in trying to come to terms with how you want to live your life and how other people/family expects you to live your life (my issue is with shiksas). I found the easiest way I got over the majority of my guilt (because it takes a long time to undo years of guilt) was to just stop caring about what other people thought of me. Think about it, all those "zealots" who condemn others for not living the way they say could give a flying f&*% about your opinion, they truly believe they are right and nothing will change their minds. Well adopt the same policy.
    Naturally I could go on and on about other ways and examples and this is a very simplistic but its a start. A saying that I try to use as a mantra is "What other people think of me is none of my business"
    P.S. I think I was one of those kids who said "No" :)

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  3. Josh, its not that I care what they say. It is more seeing and hearing them riles up resentment and anger because of what I went through with the religion. Over the last few years I very much live as I chose and don't care what anyone says.

    Thanks for reading and posting :)

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  4. Please be careful when you are in Vietnam. You don't want to go from one prison to another:

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_VIETNAM_BLOGGERS_CHARGED?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-04-16-09-11-29

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    1. Thanks for your concern. I will be careful, don't worry. I only write about myself. While I love discussing politics, I avoid writing about it in my blog. I should be fine there :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  5. You said:

    >I hate Judaism so much

    but the majority of examples you gave are your disdain for Orthodox Judaism. Do you hate all Judaism?

    I do share/understand your frustrations with Orthodox Judaism - particularly when it encroaches on secular life (which of course is not really as much - if at all- an issue for Jews like me living outside of Israel.) However, I see Judaism as a culture - with religious elements - rather than a religion with cultural elements. In other words, for me it's: Orthodoxy = a part of Judaism, NOT Judaism = Orthodoxy.

    Since the Orthodox definition of Judaism depends on an acceptance of dogma, if you stop believing in it but continue to accept that there is therefore no value to the rest, you allow Orthodoxy to hijack the term "Judaism". Nevertheless, this is a very narrow definition of Judaism that robs the term of all its non-dogma related aspects: food, language, music, humour, literary history - aka: culture.

    So I guess what i'd like to know is: How do you define Judaism? (i.e. where does culture fit in? where do liberal movements fit in?) and do you really hate all of it?

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  6. Judaism to me is a religion. There might be some cultural aspects, but they all come from the religion. Would you consider someone that has a cross in their home and puts of a Christmas tree Christian just because of a few cultural symbols? Most people would say no. So why is someone that has a Star of David and eats matza "culturally Jewish". And what about the many people that eat matza but also have a Christmas tree?

    The culture without the religion is missing its whole source. Why have a sedar if you do not believe in the story? Just because family that came before you did it? To me that does seem like a good enough reason. And if you go back far enough, the reason our ancestors had these traditions was religion.

    As far as me hating it all, I do. Even Reform Judaism has certain cult rules that are followed blindly (first thing to come to mind is circumcision).

    In the end, I very much dislike all religion, more so monotheistic religion. The reason I hate Judaism and not just dislike it is because of my own emotional past. Forget the fear I had of god and all that. I feel as if I wasted so many years that I will never get back, and I am angry about that. I feel like I am just starting my real life now, when I should have done this years ago.

    I don't think I can explain what it is like to be a gay boy/man "in the closet". Its to constantly fight, deny and fear a huge part of yourself. And once you get over that and look back on all that time....I really can't think of words to explain the feeling.

    In the end, Judaism was a huge part of me staying in the closet until I was 26. Right now, at this moment and time, I cannot forgive Judaism that. I want it to be as little a part of my life as possible. The only reason I make any room in my life for it, is because of my family who I do not want to lose. This whole answer might so childish, but it is simply how I feel.

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    1. > but they all come from the religion.

      I really think this is a bit of a chicken/egg argument. SO MUCH of religion is influenced by culture. Michael Satlow does an amazing job speaking to this in the beginning of his book Creating Judaism where he compares Israeli Judaism to American Judaism.

      >Would you consider . . .
      Would I assume someone with a cross and Christmas tree in their house was a Christian? Signs point to yes . .. at the very least I'd consider them to be of Christian heritage (mostly for the cross).

      >And what about the many people that eat matza but also have a Christmas tree?

      Many of those are Jewish. My parents NEVER bought matzah when i was a kid, but we did put up a Christmas tree once. My best friend growing up (also Russian Jewish) also did.

      >The culture without the religion is missing its whole source.

      It's just missing the theological justification that rabbis would like their congregants to buy into. (Rabbis need to do this so that thy stay in business). For example, Rabbi Fink wrote a short post on Dov Bear re: the egg on the seder plate. See here: http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2012/04/eggs-at-seder.html

      He says: "As a particularly meaningful way of celebrating the return of the eggs, they were incorporated into the Seder. It's a classic example of adding religious meaning to something that was done by all." Chicken vs. egg - which came first - religion or culture?

      > Even Reform Judaism has certain cult rules
      I just don't think it's a fair comparison to Orthodox Judaism which deems halacha binding. As long as halacha is not binding (which it is not in Refom) then there is dramatically more room for the religion to adapt to the changing norms of the surrounding society.

      >The reason I hate Judaism . . . is because of my own emotional past.

      And had you grown up Reform with gay rabbis, you would presumably not have the same kind of emotional damage. So again, I don't see why all the versions of the religion have to get an equal amount of your anger - they are not all equal in their detrimental qualities.

      >Right now, at this moment and time, I cannot forgive Judaism that. . . is simply how I feel.

      I hope you know I'm not trying to negate how you feel. I'd be pretty pissed too, and I think your message is important. For all the party line preachers say about secularism/assimilation pushing people away from Judaism, there is enough material in (mainly Orthodox IMO) Judaism on its own to repel folks as well.
      (As i wrote about here: http://coinlaundryblog.blogspot.ca/2012/02/country-club.html)

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    2. Thanks for the food for thought. I can agree that Reform Judaism is less guilty than Orthodox Judaism. I have very littler personal connection to Reform Judaism and maybe it is not fair for me to lump them into the same group as their orthodox cousins.
      Obviously I still have issues with Reform Judaism as a religion, but maybe it does not deserve my hatred. They are very excepting of different people of different backgrounds, and that is something I respect.

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  7. write a book like feldman. we need more voices like yours. you're not the only one who is haunted! good luck,
    tuvia

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    1. It is something I want to do, but it will have to wait a bit.
      Thanks for reading and commenting :)

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  8. It is not Judaism that you cannot forgive. It is G-d. Sorry to be blunt. It is G-d that decreed that homosexuality was an abomination, not Judaism. And as you probably know, this is one of those abominations that applies to all Mankind, not just Jews. Not fasting on Yom Kippur or not eating kosher is a Jewish matter between Israel and G-d because Israel is the nation of priests. The issue of homosexuality is one of those issues that transcends the Torah itself. The sons of Adam and Noah were just as obligated. Halakhah is not Sharia and is not demanded of Mankind. Yet, there are seven basic principles of decency and basic sanctity that are obligated of all sons and daughters of Noah. Yet, believe it or not, in the infinite wisdom of the Torah, it is well understood that "crimes" against G-d between consenting adults

    1. would never be punished by human courts since the "offense" requires witnesses. I am sure you are discreet so that even if there were an Orthodox court to enforce the prohibition against homosexuality, you would never be sentenced.

    2. and more importantly, that the only repentance possible is repentance out of love and not out of fear as you so claim. It is why the prohibitions against consenting adults engaging in certain abominations are read in the afternoon of Yom Kippur because by the time the afternoon of that Great Day arrives, it is understood that the only repentance that can be attained is at the higher level of b'ahavah (out of love) and not b'yirah (out of fear). Judaism does not seek to frighten the person engaging in homosexuality or bestiality into submission. It is fully understood that especially where consenting adults is concerned, the teshuvah has to be at a far deeper level that simply threatening you with stoning if two witnesses ever saw you perform the act, which as point 1. points out would never happen anyway, would never get you to be different than who you are. Out of love I ask you to seek help. Find out why at a very deep level you are driven toward what is not natural, towards what does not build families with children, and which does not foster love between a man and his wife. Both the Torah's and the Noachide ban on homosexuality has helped build Western Civilization and rather than suppressing the rights of women, it has enhanced those rights because it has demanded the recognition of women in the nuclear family. As much as you don't care about what others think, I could care less about what your readers might think about me especially since the tendency in today's world is to mock what I have written above. The world as it has evolved as you well know hates what I have just expressed far more than the choices that you have made. For me though, I pray that you find your way back. We all have journeys in life, and you are on yours. I am sure that Mashiach is imminent so imminent that it might cut short your plan to travel to Nam, and I am sure there will be cures for those who have strong desires as men to have relations with other men. When you realize that this might be a deep spiritual illness, you will seek the loving help that you need.

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    1. What ere you blunt about? Everything you just wrote is ridiculous. You just want that to be the case. The truth is I do not believe in god so I cannot be angry at him. Even if I believed in a god, the idea that the Jewish god is correct as opposed to any other version is pathetic and laughable. You happened to be born into this religion and that is the only reason you believe in it.
      But I do not have any issues with make believe sky monsters.

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    2. The problem with your assertion is that unlike the Torah itself which was only given to Israel, the 7 basic canons of the Noachide system of decency and basic sanctity are completely rational if one posits the existence of G-d or as Thomas Jefferson called Him, Nature's G-d. Then by studying nature itself one can derive the legal system that G-d meant Mankind to live by. An Algonquin Indian in the 11th Century in Upstate New York or T. Jefferson (take your pick) could rationally conclude that Nature's G-d would abhor homosexuality. The punishment is besides the point. Forget about it for now, and simply deal with your desires which need tender loving care so that you can be healed.

      What you call the Jewish G-d is the actual Creator, the a priori existent of an Infinite Being before the Big Bang brought time, space, and matter into existence. Without the Infinite Being who transcends time itself, there never would have been a "moment" of Creation. So G-d is not simply a Jewish fantasy. Without him, time itself would never have come into existence.

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