Shavuot, once a harvest festival, now represents the so-called
giving of the Torah. In synagogues all over the world, there is great joy and excitement, with Torah study going on all through the night, into the dawn– re-enacting the biblical tale of the Jews waiting at Mt. Sinai for the Torah to be revealed.
Such poetry is, of course, part of the Jewish experience, and I’m never one to shun the beauty of legends, even if factually untrue. The “rational” inheritance in modern branches of Judaism, such as classic Reform which is my formal legacy, sometimes did get a little overboard, stripping away sentiment, the heart-view of an event, and the mysteries of human interpretation, which become legends–. even legends treated, over time, as fact.
Now, if you’ve been following our little blog, you will know that I am not Orthodox. I am observant in the literal meaning of the world: I look. I observe. I see how Life works. I study it. I study myself. Over time, it is actually possible– and prolonged meditation can help– to actually begin to discern “How God Works for Good”, i.e. to have an experience of God.
This is the result of being truly observant. One learns the laws from Life!
Indeed, one can have a personal revelation, and begin to fathom, personally, some of the spiritual experiences that are underneath the recorded Torah. This is possible! The proof of this assertion is only in the under-taking of this.
However, this kind of personal revelation, which is very real, and which can dawn upon anyone who chooses to be diligent enough to pursue it, is not the kind of “bells and whistle”, or rather “lightning striking” revelation of the legend of Sinai.
I am not, at all, a believer in the facticity of this event. To believe this event, use it as a justification for the transmission of authority, eventually to the rabbis, sets up “religion”. And, while it may seem a contradiction, I am not a religious rabbi. Religion, to me, is a secondary phenomena! Life is first.
The true revelation of Life, the ability to actually raise one’s consciousness, as if on a mount top, and begin to glean the deep, astronishing order of how Life works, the intricate workings of middah kneged middah (measure for measure, sowing or reaping, karma, if you prefer), IS Sinai. And because such an experience may be had, one need not, in principle doubt that there might be prophet, such as a Moses, who could possibly have gleaned this knowledge and promulgated.
The legend about revelation may be exaggeration, but, it has a basis in spiritual experience, in spiritual FACT.
The story of the receiving of the Torah on Sinai, may not be fact, as we record it, but, this does not mean it is empty of TRUTH.. It is unfortunate, that the distinction between Truth and Fact, is all too readily blurred.
There is Truth in fiction, sometimes, in fact, more than in fact! Because embedded in the hearts of writers, including redactors of the Torah, is a spiritual power– of human insight and meaning– which, released from the prison of fact, can take flight, and sometimes fancy, and transfigure the mere event into a living symbol, something worthy of veneration, such as a Shavuot “all nighter”, even if it is “rationally” not rational.
This brings me to the point I want to make.
It is extremely sad that many liberal religionists wish to strip away all the beauty and poetry, and attempt to reduce Judaism simply to what is knowable, quantifiable as if that is what so-called “science” is.
But— that is NOT science. Science too has inspiration. Science too can have sudden “AHA’S”.
It is the opening up the depth and breadth of the human being that is the foundation of both religion and science.
Universal Judaism teaches a scientific spirituality. It is taught systematically. It is taught by putting Life first– because we know THAT is REAL (and if we don’t believe it to be real, what is the point!)— and then traditional teachings second. But, that being done, the traditional teachings are looked at for the meaning, the insight, and the tool that they can be for the transfiguration of the baser elements of the human nature, into more exalted natures: To raise us from the dust of the desert, to the top of a mountain!
If Moses can have a halo— if that is truly possible— then, WE can have a halo, or halos do not exist, unless we are not human, or Moses isn’t one too. The test of the truth of religion, no less than the test of truth in any scientific experiment is repeatability of experience— the ability to repeat a spiritual experience recorded, systematically, and consensually (meaning multiple people, multiple viewpoints in agreement).
For practitioners of Universal Judaism, Shavuot is a Yom Kabbalat, a day ofenlightenment, a Yom Chochmat, a day of Wisdom. It celebrates the human
facility to study the mechanisms of life, and clean general principles, be they some scientific “law”, like E=MC2 or some kind of a moral “law”, like Thou Shalt Not Murder.
So, in this sense, it is very fitting that Shavuot began as a harvest festival.
But, in a more abstract, more rarified, way– the harvest is now KNOWLEDGE.
It can take quite a lot of toiling in the field-of-mind, to bring back a harvest of knowledge. But, it is upon knowledge that any ESSENTAL Judaism must be
based. Not mere reverential knowledge from the past, but, Living Knowledge.
Please do not seek religion. SEEK KNOWLEDGE which is the foundation
of any religion worth its truth-claims.. If they don’t have knowledge, don’t go
Blessings to everyone,
Many Jews who are not aware of their own spiritual heritage, often assume that that the debate over the necessity of circumcision, is really just a Christian or modern (derived from Christianity) infection of Jewish thought.
It is not.
Deuteronomy, very much following the thinking process of Jeremiah,
is very quick to caution people that the mere clipping of the end of a penis does not, necessarily, produce God-blessed behavior, and that what is required, and is indeed more ESSENTIAL, is a “circumcision of the heart”.
This internal discussion within Judaism was picked up in a Pauline dialectic,
where– given the imminent return of Jesus, and therefore, the fact that the physical body was going to be transformed and ascend– (and the earthly penis was no longer going to be an issue let alone earthly food, like shrimp or scungilli– Paul did not follow Peter’s exhortation that circumcision be required for converts to the Nazarene. Paul, permitting these converts to follow merely the Noachide laws, did not require circumicision, but, just the bare Pharisaic requirements for a righteous Gentile.
This internal discussion remains with us today. It IS an internal discussion.
These days, we have Jews who are uncircumcised— such as many who came from Russia where it had become forbidden. There are many Jews who are circumcised in hospitals, where there is no ritual associated with it, although they can quickly gain admission to a liberal synagogue, even if the mother was not Jewish. There are Jews who are perfectly, halachically, kosher in their circumcision, and are, nonetheless, thieving scoundrels.
And these days– because, as I’ve written about many times, in this era of neo-naturalism (because of the Roman destructiveness that had not been purged by Western Civilization, because they did not know Jewish Law)— there is a movement to consider circumcision to be a primitive and destructive artifact,
a violation to the integrity and natural-sexuality, of a person. There is a new advocacy for a so-called Brit Shalom, a non-surgical covenantalization.
The Universal Judaism position is that, obviously, FORMAL circumcision is obviously, not a criterion of spiritual knowledge. Circumcision, in and of itself, cannot be considered the sine qua non of the Jew. For that matter, what makes so-called Brit Shalom adherents inherently more spiritually-advanced? I would say that FORMAL ritual of any kind does not, in and of itself, produce a spiritually-conscious individual!!
So, for me, what is required for an actual, authentic, circumcision– and I am not
opposed to the ritual, nor to more creative, non-surgical rituals, either– is a
CONSCIOUSNESS that is AWARE of the ACTUAL PLACE that circumcision serves in the economy of spiritual development. There can be lighter circumcisions needed for “thoughts”. There can be deeper circumcisions needed for “bodies”. There can be variations, BUT ALWAYS WITH A PURPOSE . . . if the awareness is there OF the purpose.
It is very curious, that in my counseling of both men, and women, I have noticed a tremendous need for CIRCUMCISION. By this I mean, that the linkage between God, and Individuality, and Force-of-Will, and Direction in one’s life, in relationship to others, and World History and Creation– does not go ALL THE WAY DOWN, to inhabit the genitals. What Kabbalists call “yesod”.
Such a cursory “metaphysic”, is necessary if the very meaning of COVENANT, in a reproductive (not necessarily “religious) sense, is going to take place. There must be a kind of “download” of the very purpose of Universal History, into the very tissues, and cell structures, so that they can genetically propagate.
(I cannot go into the genetics of this right now.)
In counseling people, I have noticed that circumcised people who have not achieved this spiritually, need to reconnect their circumcision to its purpose.
I have also noticed that uncircumcised people can readily achieve this purpose spiritually. And yes, “people”!!!!— circumcision, in a spiritual sense, is achievable by both males and females– and these days, is more critical than ever, because women are not stay-at-home, and are actually in the so-called “world of men”, i.e. actively engaged in building society, outside of birthing and family life. They cannot be absolved of societally-transformative “mitzvot” now!
Circumicision is a spiritual-alignment, and this spiritual alignment can take place in thought and HEART (as Jeremiah and Deuternomy require), but, there is absolutely no reason at all, why it should not also be concretized in the male, in the physical act, for those who are drawn to this particular surgical ritual.
(Or, perhaps not, too!)
After all, what IS circumcision? What IS it? It is the removal of a flap of skin, so that the head of the penis becomes slightly de-sensitized. The male of the species (who was, until this era, more engaged in societal and conceptual achievements), is not as sensitive (i.e. controlled) by earthly nature, so that a higher nature, can more readily dawn. We trim the lower head, so the upper head can open up. Certainly, in a more primitive era (and if you’re a male, you know you’re still rather primitive, in regard to the power of nature and sex over your thinking process), this was not a primitivism, but a SPIRITUAL INSIGHT.
The emergence of new awareness, so radically different than mere naturalism, that it required a ritual-memory in the flesh, to ANCHOR IT.
(Just as tefillin anchors Torah-Rabbinism on the skin of an arm!)
All this is terribly metaphysically complex, and I apologize greatly, because it needs to be unpacked in a better forum. However, the point that I am making is that I believe the Universal Judaism position should not be a divisive, destructive, either-or position, where “modern” fights “tradition”. Nor, do I believe that there is any need to exterminate mitzvot of religious-devotional kind, in favor of merely mitzvot of ethical kind, which is, essentially, what the Reform movement tried to do. In the process, we lost our own cultural uniqueness!
And the issue over circumcision is not mere “meaning” and “symbolism”, which is the common intellectual escape-root for holding onto vestiges from the past.
This is sentimentalizing. It is lovely, but, it is not essential.
The essential issue is SPIRITUAL-PHYSIOLOGICAL, BIOLOGICAL. The place of circumcision in GOD’S CREATION, for the Jewish Purpose of UNVIERSAL HISTORY.
What ARE these rituals? Circumcision? Tefillin? What do they ACCOMPLISH.
for the organism?
In Universal Judaism, it is my hope that we will seek a REASON that grants us the actual ability to DISCERN the PURPOSE (not just the allegorical meaning and sentimentalisms) of previously-inspired rituals.
It is my hope that we open up the consciousness so that rabbis and lay people alike, can UNVEIL the TRUE GIFTS of these ancient insights, and not just put them on a grid, “modern” or “traditionalist”, as if these two things are actually contradictory in reality (except in our divided minds and hearts).
Universal Judaism needs a Higher Rational than the Rational of the previous era of so-called “reform”. This was a blessed re-universalism of the Jewish people, to help them leave the ghetto and enter “modern” life. But, it exemplified a modern reason, and like all modern reasons, it has its smallness.. There are REAL FLAWS in modernism, philosophically. And modern religions are also flawed.
It’s time we evolve our contemporary-thinking, otherwise, our entrenched modernist liberalism becomes a vestigial remnant of the past, which, eventual
forces us to question it, too. Just as we do circumicision. I AM QUESTIONING OUR MODERNISM HERE! It is inadequate to the task of the our people!
Rituals ARE NOT GOD. Rituals, while recorded in scripture, ARE NOT EDICTS
from above, ETERNAL!!!
They are human concretized ACTS of awareness, that SERVE REAL LIFE
PURPOSE. They are purposeful-creativities!
If we cannot discern the real life purpose behind it— then the rabbinic recommendation of circumcision or not-circumcision is simply FORMALISM.. That has its place too, after all, we all owe a debt to our more Orthodox brethren for preserving ritual, even if it made no sense. Otherwise, we would have lost valuable pieces of ourselves. However, they owe a debt to us, otherwise we’d all be stuck in a ghetto, isolated from the world.
Circumcision has continued VALUE. But, the value requires TRUE KNOWLEDGE of God and Creation, not just of religion teachings past.
Again, and again, I say this: Universal Judaism puts Life first, and all human understandings, including science and ritual, second. We do not turn our
understandings into gods, which we worship.
We lap them off, like a foreskin, and allow the light in.
Blessings to all.