As conversations with my Israeli lover inevitably root deeper into the fecund soil that is religion and culture, I find myself tripping over cultural trappings of my own Christian upbringing, reckoning with that now near-calcified belief system that nevertheless shaped my childhood. The more we explore the waters of tradition and culture, religion and belief, I find myself growing fervently curious about why Jewish households often seem to invite lively discussion, encourage dynamic debate, and engage and question their own belief systems and the status quo. I had never before given a thought to the unspoken agreement to remain quiet at our family's dinner table when it came to political or religious topics, but after just one family meal at the Rosenthal's it dawned on me how banal and bland Christian American dinner tables tend to be (the suburban version, at least). We shy away from controversy and cringe when Uncle Bill brings up that annoying Syrian occupation again. Can't we just talk about the food? Is the silent resounding sentiment from others in the room. No one ever seems eager to delve into the murky waters of potential disagreement, or heaven- forbid, a debate...
Well. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far, a small thing that sends me reeling in its simplicity and obviousness: The very backbone of Judaism is the value of the various interpretations of the Old Testament (Torah). Hebrew, by its nature of being a root language, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Jews take it as their moral and sacred duty to question and engage with the text on an individual level. This forms a culture based on questioning, intellectualism, and places value on a curious mind. This is very much in contrast to Christianity, which stresses blind faith, dogma, the Pope/Vatican as authority on spiritual matters, and purposefully ignores the history of how the Bible came to be. As Catholic school students, we never discuss the fact that the Bible was originally written in Aramaic and Hebrew, or the social context in which it was written at the time, or the fact that Hebrew as a root language is open to interpretation, never mind our own authority to engage in that interpretation ourselves. We are literally encouraged to be sheep. Our minds wither and our intellect dissolves as our fear rises with our awareness of our own ignorance.
Well, developing awareness… It’s a start.