You Shall Pursue

January 9, 2014

Gratitude

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 11:56 pm

Today I am grateful for my broken places. I am grateful for the reminder that I am not perfect, that perfection is an illusion, and that it is the height of arrogance to pretend that I am anything even approaching perfect. I am grateful for the opportunity to fortify myself in the cracked places, to get stronger, to grow better, and to continue on more humbly that before. I am grateful for the supportive loved ones who hold me in my broken times, and for the people who treat me with compassion even as I am disappointing them. I am grateful for the reminder that I need to treat others with compassion even as they are disappointing me. I am grateful for the opportunity to remember that we are all of us broken, and that it is my duty and privilege to hold all of the people of the world with compassion and love when they are hurting and scared and unsure. Because I have been so blessed to come through the fire, again and again, each time a little stronger, and a little more whole, than the time before.

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April 5, 2013

Lipstick and Pearls and Tefillin, Part 2

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

Issues of gender and dress, especially around ritual garments, have been coming up a lot for me lately. The first time I wrapped tefilin, I felt like I was in “Orthodox man drag” (I’m recovering from this gut reaction, but slowly). I still don’t like wearing kippot because I feel like it’s a very masculine garment that doesn’t jibe with my gender presentation. I’d rather wrap my hair to cover it during prayer, but that carries a whole other set of assumptions about my level of religiosity (and relationship status). Yesterday, I wore a headscarf to shul, and I felt like I was in “Orthodox woman drag.” And I’m also trying to decide whether or not to start wearing tzitzit.

tefillin are the wrappy arm things

tefillin are the wrappy arm things

tzitzit_women

tzitzit

I wonder what it means that so many ritual garments are coded “male” in my mind, and about the huge internal barrier that makes me feel conflicted about taking on certain rituals, especially wrapping tefilin. Breaking gender boundaries, even if they are internal, is a challenging thing. Especially when you are so closely aligned with a more traditional gender presentation in other ways.

And also part of it is about my hesitancy around looking “Orthodox” or “religious.” Clothing is a powerful marker of group identification, and  I’m still struggling to figure out where I sit between my secular/Reform roots, and the more religious life that I feel myself drawn towards.

Long story short, I never thought so many of my internal struggles around my Jewish identity and practice would come out in my clothing choices!

March 7, 2013

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Filed under: Choosing Life, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 7:10 pm

The beauty and fragility of family narrated by a brilliant kid. I see great things in store for him…

February 8, 2013

The Bible is a Real, True Myth

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:27 pm

Whenever I try to explain to people the difference between Truth and Fact when it comes to Bible, I will send them here. In my world, Abraham and Moses and Hagar and Miriam are as real to me as my family, even though I recognize that they never truly existed. Their stories and personalities speak to me, and they teach me how to live my life. The multiplicity of those stories, and how they were interpreted by my predecessors in every age, teach me more about the history of my people and how I came to be here than any volume of history ever could. Because we love our ancestors, with a fierce and abiding love, and it is love that gives a window and an insight into the soul.

January 25, 2013

Tu B’Shevat: I Am Planting

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 10:00 pm

Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish New Year of the trees. As the world begins to awaken into spring in Israel, we take the time give thanks for the beautiful beautiful world that we have been given, and to reflect on how we can preserve it for the centuries to come.

A translation of the chorus:

As my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for my children.

January 9, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 3: Two Civilizations

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 1:30 pm

I am writing this to you on a computer, in English, wearing blue jeans, in the city of Philadelphia in the country of the United States. What does that have to do with Judaism? According to Kaplan, quite a lot.

While Kaplan wrote extensively on the “Jewish civilization,” he did not see Judaism as a bounded, separate entity from the rest of the world. Quite the opposite, in fact. He recognized that Judaism is affected by the broader civilizations in which the Jews live. From Aristotle’s influence on Maimonides to Polish music’s influence on klezmer, Judaism has always borrowed from the surrounding culture and made elements its own. And he hoped that a thriving, healthy American society would, in turn, help Judaism to thrive. In particular, he was excited about how democratic ideals could help make Judaism more participatory and open to its laity.

When Kaplan put forth his idea of “Judaism as a Civilization,” he was advocating that Judaism should be respected and celebrated in a way that was uncommon for religious and ethnic minorities in his day. The prevailing paradigm for Americanization in the earliest years of the 20th century was an assimilation into WASP culture, which was identified as American and pushed onto minorities as a condition for social acceptance. So when Kaplan calls Judaism a civilization, he is not just advocating that Jews take Jewish ritual, religion, and culture seriously. He is also advocating that ALL Americans take the Jewish project seriously, rather than an identity that Jews must shed outside of the synagogue to become “real Americans.”

Things have changed, to say the least. Multiculturalism is still a challenge in America (see: FOX New’s “War on Christmas” stories every December, current anti-Islam hysteria) but, in general, we accept that Americans can proudly celebrate and embrace a variety of identities and still be wholly American. It is very rare that we are asked to justify how we can consider ourselves both loyal Americans and Jews. And in many cases, this leads to Jewish people identifying much stronger with the American Civilization than the Jewish one.

The question is where that leaves us as a community. Predictions of doom and gloom aside, from where I stand Jews are still innovating, passionate, and fighting to keep their civilization vibrant. I am really not interested in talking about whether or not Judaism is going to survive the next generation, or the next dozen. What I am interested in discussing is how Jews who are invested in the Jewish civilization can make that passion, investment, and innovation clear to Jews who may be rejecting a sixty-year old version of Judaism, when there are pockets that addressed their concerns decades ago (see: Jews who are angry at “Judaism” for rejecting interfaith families when I am in rabbinical school).

Part of this is adapting to modern American tools of information dissemination. Part of the reason I am writing this blog is so that there is another young, liberal, religious voice out there talking about social justice, God, and what it really means to become part of the clergy (I’ll talk about this more later). Part of this is fighting against a very real and painful tendency for the most Jewishly invested members of our community to ghettoize. Since coming to rabbinical school, I spend the vast majority of my time around other rabbinical students, and other religious Jews. But I also dance, and keep in touch with my friends from high school, and go to church with my grandmother on Christmas, and in small ways I try to stay open and enthusiastic about my work and my Judaism while firmly embracing the parts of myself that are in love with broader American society.

And last, and perhaps most counterintuitively, I think that we as a community need to become more comfortable about the fact that ALL Jews live in multiple worlds, and dip back and forth between them at different times throughout their lives. The more we can acknowledge the challenges of balancing between two worlds, both our own and those faced by the people we are trying to serve, the easier it will be to convince people that the values, education, and rituals in the Jewish civilization are worth clinging to.

January 7, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 2: All About God

Filed under: Rabbinical School, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 8:40 pm

There are many who accuse Mordechai Kaplan of atheism. This could not be further from the truth. Kaplan believed deeply in a Divine Power; it’s just that what he believed the Divine Power IS is radically different from what many other monotheists have to say about God. His vision of God, which he referred to as “the power that makes for salvation,” is one in which God is inextricably tied to the natural world, and does not operate on a transcendent level beyond the reality that we as human beings can see, and touch, and feel.  As a result of this, Kaplan’s theology (often referred to as”process theology”) and worship focuses more on the processes that make holiness evident in the world, rather than God as a being.

Kaplan gives the example of רופה חולים (healing the sick). Needless to say, when we pray for God to heal the sick, the patient does not always get better. Kaplan turns this prayer on its head; instead of praying for some mystical intervention, when we pray for healing, we are giving thanks for medical improvements that allow us to greatly extend our quality and length of life. We are giving thanks for dedicated doctors and nurses that work tirelessly to treat their patients. And we are giving thanks for communities to support us when we and our loved ones are ill. Recovery is not always possible, but reaching out to tap into the healing parts of the universe is. As Kaplan put it “The prayer form celebrates the reverent acknowledgment of those values and qualities which through human effort unite to satisfy the needs of man.” Kaplan’s God is a God of miracles, in that the natural world is a miracle; no more and no less.

I am a huge fan of process theology. As a Reconstructionist, I’m not terribly interested in a God who is a grumpy old bearded man in the sky who is watching for me to screw up so that he can pounce and SMITE. There is little that appeals to me in the idea that God is a bigger, more powerful version of human. And yet, I am also not terribly interested God as Prime Mover, a force that sets the universe in motion and then steps away without any ability to react to or care about the process that it has begun. The God that I yearn for is a God that is involved, immanent, and present with me in an intimate but ultimately totally non-human way. How does that work exactly?

While Kaplan used the phrase “power that makes for salvation,” I have for years been calling God “the Soul of the Universe,” or in Hebrew “רוח העולם” (Ruach Haolam).  Incidentally, this is a common epithet for God in Reconstructionist liturgy that I didn’t discover until years after I started using the term. In Hebrew, the word רוח (ruach), or soul, carries a slightly different meaning than the English soul. Ruach is the animating force, the breath, the indicator that a person is living. In Genesis, it is a ruach that God sends out over the waters in order to begin the process of creation. It is the force behind the first words. When I call God the Soul of the Universe, I am saying that God animates all that is living, that God is in every blade of grass causing it to grow, and in every spinning galaxy.

I also find the language of Soul helpful because it addresses the question of why the universe is ultimately imperfect and broken. There is no human being created into a perfect body. We have poor vision, high blood pressure, chronic pain. And yet, who would not describe the human body as a marvel of God’s work? And the soul, the triumphs of body and spirit, are not lessened by the fact that we are, each of us, born in an imperfect body that has so much potential to break. So too is it with all of creation. At its core, I believe that our universe is imperfectly created, and that God is a marvelous thing for providing for so much good in that imperfect system.

This view of God allows me to take a fairly relaxed attitude toward the Divine. I am a strong believer in finding the Divine through science (see my post about God and Quantum Physics or this video with the brilliant words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson). I am also a firm believer in religious pluralism. If God is not a being with one agenda true across the eternity of time and space, but is rather as fluid and changing as creation itself, then certainly different people can come to God in different times and different ways. If that is through Christianity, or biology, or chanting, it is really all good. It is about opening oneself to the miracle that we all exist, and allowing ourselves to be swept away.

December 31, 2012

Feminism and Faith

Filed under: Social Justice, Spirituality — Tags: , — marleyweiner @ 9:15 pm

Feminism and Faith

This is a fascinating article by the fabulous Sady Doyle about how women can use their religious beliefs as a tool for promoting a more just and egalitarian world. It can be a challenge, balancing a commitment to egalitarianism with the patriarchal origins of Judaism, but there is so much good to be had by reclaiming the text and making it ours.

December 2, 2012

On Jewish Learning

Filed under: D'var Torah, Rabbinical School, Spirituality — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:57 am

Mishnah is fun you guys. So is Bible. So is reading Kaplan and analyzing it for meaning. Before I started school, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work, and while it is indeed kicking my ass, I’m pleased to realize that I actually do find most of my classes fun.

Our texts are so much more complicated, and human, than so many are willing to allow for. There is this idea that divine texts have to be perfect and sterile, in a way, but that’s now how it works. Our texts like to contradict each other, and double back on themselves, and yell at each other. Some things that I have learned this year:

  • There’s two versions of the Ten Plagues, each one espousing a radically different theology
  • Similarly, the two kingdoms (Israel and Judea) had radically different relationships between ruling power and God. In large part, the Israelite theology is the one that survived. The covenant theology with Moses is only one half of the picture.
  • The rabbis like to tell each other (in a coded, respectful way) that they are being stupid. The phrase “If so, then there is no end to the matter” has become a running joke in my hevrtua, because it basically means “stop being a punctilious asshole.”
  • Moses is REALLY grumpy. Like, he complains to God ALL THE TIME. And then God yells at him to shut up and do the staff thing, already.

What would it mean if religious people everywhere were able to open up to this ambiguity and embrace our texts in their portrayals of human begins with flaws grappling with God? I think it would leave us with a lot more room for forgiveness of one another’s flaws, to truly see each other as created in the Divine Image (the God of the Bible pulls some petty shit, y’all). As I said before to one of my classmates, “I prefer Moses grumpy.” If Moses is human and struggles with his path, certainly I should be permitted to struggle with mine, as should we all.

October 18, 2012

First thoughts on pulpit work

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 7:57 pm

I really really enjoy working with children. So much so, in fact, that I spent this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur leading children’s services. I had the kids for two and a half hours, and wanted to provide them with meaningful, engaging, and fun (whenever possible) prayer experiences.

Something that I learned while doing services this year, is that I am really going to have to work on the balance between creating a spiritual experience for myself while at the same time working really hard to create a spiritual or learning experience for students or congregants. Serving others can be a very specific type of spiritual experience, but I never want to get to the point where I am so focused on the needs of the people that I am serving that I begin to neglect my own needs.

This is something that every rabbinical student struggles with. We join the rabbinate often because we find deep meaning in performing ritual and praying. However, immersive experiences are really good at causing burnout. When your life revolves around something, even if that something brings you joy, it can be a struggle to continue doing that something without needing a break. I consider it a high priority to stay spiritually engaged during ritual, and there is a difference when working with kids between having fun (and I had a BLAST) and carving out spiritual space. This is especially challenging on days like Yom Kippur, when I am traditionally able to turn my focus entirely inward.

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