CAN THERE BE JEWISHNESS AND SPIRITUALITY WITHOUT” GOD-CENTRICITY”
(for DIH with love and respect)
The question arises “can I be spiritual and have a sense of connected Jewishness without stressing the primacy of God and a relationship with God? I have known proclaimed atheists who are still very spiritual people. I know secular, non-observant people who have a strong connection to being Jewish and to the Jewish community. So, whether or not it works for me personally, I have to answer this question with a “yes”.
It may depend on how one defines, or rather, describes spirituality. It clearly doesn’t work if we see spirituality in a purely religious context. I see spirituality in broader terms as some sort of internal sense that we are not entirely alone; that we are part of something larger, and can derive some sort of inner peace (or satisfaction or joy) and contentment from that connection, whatever its roots. The connection might be to nature. It might be to our family or neighbors. Or it might be a more abstract connection to “something” not restrictively definable.
There are Jewish observances and practices in which we can participate on a less “religious” level that still work. One of these traditions is the weekly family Shabbat dinner. Even without the ritual practices it becomes an oasis in time in our hectic world where we can take a deep breath, be reflective and revel in the camaraderie and love of our families and friends. Jewish mourning practices also come to mind. The emphasis on community participation both in funeral custom of honoring, remembering and lauding the deceased, and the week of Shiva which give the community and opportunity to offer comfort and support and the mourner a chance to catch his or her breath, express themselves, and gird for re-entry to the workaday world, create a sense of coming to peace with a difficult set of emotions.
We can obtain a spiritual sense by participating in holiday observances especially the “historical” holidays like Purim ad Passover. Like Shabbat they provide an opportunity to spend joyous time with family and friends. By stressing our recovery from trying times they strengthen our sense of be part of not only a religion or religious faction, but also of being part of a people with a long history of resilience and mutual support. Our historic connectedness as a unique people is part of what has kept us together for 3000 years. There is spirituality in our connection to each other and, if I may, our ancient homeland.
There are passages in our scripture that, even without the mention of their being commanded by God, serve to make us and the world around us better and more serene simply by their moral force. I am thinking specifically of the last five of the “Ten Commandments”. I am thinking of the morality and integrity demanded on chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus. There we are told to be honest in our business dealings, to have dependable and accurate weights and measures. We are told that out courts and legal judgements have to be fair and honest and not weighted toward either the rich and powerful or toward the poor. I am thinking of the passages that demand charity and kindness and protection of the weak, the poor the powerless the disenfranchised. I am especially moved on the High Holy Days when, amid so much detailed ritual, we are reminded in the prophetic readings, over and over, of these moral imperatives. I believe there is spirituality in decency and morality. I believe that, with or without God, kindness and charity make us deeper and, in my understanding of the concept, more spiritual people.
The great sage, Rabbi Hillel is said to have summed up Jewish principle by saying “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”. Another great teacher, Rabbi Akiva is said to have preferred Leviticus 19:18 “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. I prefer Akiva’s approach because it demands affirmative benevolence in addition to the abstinence from wrongdoing.
Family, community, peoplehood, tradition, human decency, menschlikeit.
Incorporating these concepts in your character just might be more spiritual than “religiosity”.