Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hillel, Methodism & The Darn "ch"

First I want to share a story I've read in nearly every book or article:

"A man went looking for Rabbbi Hillel and said to him, 'I want to become a Jew. But only on the condition that you teach me the Torah, all of it, while I stand on one foot.' Hillel looked at the smart aleck and said, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire Torah -- all of it. The rest is commentary. Go and study.'" (Choosing a Jewish Life)

Funny that the simplest message of the Torah isn't all that different from the New Testement I grew up with.

I should explain where I am coming from in order for anyone to understand where I'm going.

I think some people, especially those who still identify as Methodist, wonder what I meant in my first post when I mentioned "anything goes Methodism."

What I meant to imply is that being Methodist in modern-day Christianity doesn't have as strong of an identity as some other religious affiliations. For example, Catholicism, Baptist, Judaism, Mormon, etc. I know a lot of Protestants who choose their denomination based on the pastor, not on its beliefs. Yes, I know this is not the case for all Methodists, or Protestants in general, but I do believe in recent times denominations' beliefs are falling into more and more grey areas. And maybe that's a good thing.

My family, on my mother's side, is United Methodist. I grew up going to the Methodist church all my life, and some of my fondest memories are of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I often find myself asking Ryan if he had any of the same experiences in Hebrew school as I did in Sunday School. ("Hey, Ryan, did you guys have the felt boards with the felt characters for story time?"..."No? Oh that's too bad...")

I stopped going to church in 2003 while I was in college. I mostly felt that our local Methodist church didn't seem to have any relevency in my life anymore. It was a time of change for me, and as it is with people in every faith, sometimes spirituality goes by the wayside when dealing with stress.

I feel very lucky that my experiences with Christianity have been in a United Methodist home. In fact, I think there are a lot more similarities between Methodism and Judaism (especially the Reform branch) than some might think.

Like Judaism, Methodism is based on service to those less fortunate and to the broken world at large. The denomination is known to stress service and charity work. It is a very socially aware and one of the most liberal denominations of Protestant Christianity.

Like Judaism, it is against the death penalty. It also takes no definitive stance on homosexuality and abortion rights. (I heard many "Methodists on the fence" jokes growing up -- usually during Methodist sermons.) And the denomination stresses the importance of peace over war. Now let me make clear -- these are the denomination's stances, not necessarily the stances of parishoners themselves. (And I should say I'm describing these all from memories and through the purvue of past teachers and pastors, so I'm sorry if I've misconstrued anything I have been taught.)

To round out my list of three topics -- the dreaded "ch."

I chose the Hebrew name "Michal" as some of you might remember. Well, that's all fine and good except I CAN'T PRONOUNCE IT! There's something about that "ch" or "chet" sound. I just can't do it, especially when it is followed closely behind by the dreaded "L" (Think: challah...yep can't do that one either).

So I think I'm in trouble. I'm going to have to learn to say the name, or it'll just be silly for the rest of my life. But it's ridiculous to have to repeat rudimentary words to your boyfriend. It just makes you feel dumb.

For the record, I can't roll my Rs either.


NPM said...

I have really enjoyed reading your blog thus far. It avoids the terrible emotions and stories of so many other blogs my friends keep ("Why no girls in my life...", etc.). It has real substance and allows for real interactions, which, I think, is the whole idea behind interactive journals.

A question: As I have read these few entries I pick up on a deep connection to the social and tradional aspects of Judaism, but wonderful aspects of that faith. As I have read the Old Testement (or Hebrew Bible...should I stick to Protestant terms or not here? Let me know) I have always been drawn in by the sense of community within Israel (that is when they are not continually screwing things up!) and how tradition underwrites almost everything.

Now to the question: Is the switch to Judaism based more on social and traditional issues (such as Ryan being Jewish, etc) or theological reasons? You have yet to dive into the theological differences between the faith your grew up with and the faith you are exploring, which are fairly drastic in some issues (i.e., Christ) and word for word in others.

So...I am just curious. I look forward to hearing your theological thoughts.

Michal (Michelle) said...

More good feedback... I very much appreciate your comments and hope more people will take such an interest. I really wanted this experience to be as open as possible. I have so many people in my life from so many backgrounds, and I think every one has a different, valid perspective that can help me along.

As for the theology -- that's a really good point, and something I don't know if I'm ready to deal with yet. I'll probably blog about this at some point soon, but to touch on it quickly as possible...

First of all: In sessions with the rabbi (those that I have experienced and those I have read about): there IS much less emphasis on theology and much more of an emphasis on the social and traditional aspects of Judaism. It seems they are the most concerned with perserving the traditions and culture. I guess one would assume that spirituality is a path and you can't expect someone to grasp the theology so soon in the journey...

When I first started dating Ryan and things started to get serious, I thought this would all be much easier. I didn't know what I believed in at the time (I considered myself then -- and still do now -- agnostic). So I thought, well -- can't I just add these sets of beliefs on? I guess I thought my religious palate was a clean slate.

And now I know it's not, but not in the way many suspect. There have been several times I have told Ryan I couldn't convert because I couldn't imagine telling a bet din (think of that as a conversion council) I believe in G_d. And, yes, there is the idea of the Messiah and whether he has come. I'm sure I'll struggle with that soon enough.

So my solution to all of these issues is just to take this process one day at a time. I'm not commited to converting. I'm not putting myself under any deadline.

I'll blog more about this soon (though I suppose I can just copy and paste this), but maybe with more time I'll have more answers.

Buzz said...

Hi Michelle - Wow. This journal is great. You have a lot of guts to air your thoughts in such a public forum as you explore Judaism. Can you say Chutzpah? Try to imagine getting a piece of popcorn hull off of your uvula and not spraying the room with phlegm. (Too much information? - Oy vey!!) I am going to check in with random tidbits as I read your blog. In the end, you are going to know a lot more about Judaism than I do. I am certainly no expert. I don't consider myself religious. I sort of feel agnostic. I like the idea of a benevolent, omnipotent and ubiquitous G-d, but how can I reconcile that with a. the horrors of the holocaust, b. any number of genocides from Armenia to Bosnia to Sudan or c. the millions of smaller sins such as a mother or father not loving, or being indifferent to, their child? I guess I sort of believe the concept that G-d is totally incomprehencible to human beings and therefore so are G-d's reasons for things happening the way that they do. Maybe it is just sort of random. Is G-d humanity's concoction to help to cope with our mortality? I can tell you that about 14 years ago as I was trying to get to sleep the night before having open-heart surgery, I was talking to G-d alright. (I grew up belonging to a reform Temple and we didn't know about mispronouncing or mispelling God's name. We were, however, referred to as "Mickey-Mouse Jews" by our conservative and orthodox friends. Anti-semitism is not limited to non-Jews.) Is G-d real? Is it just on a need-to-need basis? I may expose my ignorance about certain things, but will pass on my understanding of things as opposed to looking them up. I feel a certain amount of guilt regarding Shabbat. I don't observe it. I have always felt that I had to work on Saturdays. I wish that I had made Shabbat dinner a regular Friday night event. It is one of the things that define Judaism. Observence of Shabbat. One obligation that Jews have, if not to G-d, then to our ancestors, is Tikun Olam - "repairing the world" and this should be on a good Jew's agenda until they close the lid and you can't do any more. Another concept is Tzadakah - "charitable giving" but I believe it literally means "justice". The truest form of Tzadakah is an anonymous gift. Sometimes giving becomes a status symbol, the more given = the greater the person. In it's truest form, you should help someone in need and not reveal the source. You should not just give them enough to help them with their problem, but give a little more so that person might be able to help someone less fortunate than themselves. Let them experience the joy of Tzadakah. Ok - so much for now. BTW - Some of these words (Tikun Olam and Tzadakah) are Hebrew and some (Chutzpah and Oy vey) are Yiddish. Hebrew is the ancient language of the Torah and Jewish prayers in general. Yiddish was the spoken language of the Jewish people in the diaspora. Jews lived in many different countries and spoke many languages, but Yiddish was the common thread of daily life. Hebrew, I believe was the language used in worship. Hebrew was revived as a spoken language with the founding of the modern country of Israel (probably started with the Zionists settling in Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and officially in 1948). Enough with my short attention span lessons. Be careful to keep a balance and not get too consumed. You must afterall continue your daily life and you have a lifetime to learn. Sholom...

Sheila said...

Dear Michelle,
Jody sent me your blog and I'm so glad she did.
How amazing are you to share your journey into the world of Judaism with your friends and family!
I really enjoyed reading your entries. You write beautifully.
I loved seeing the pictures of your Passover dinner. Your table was so pretty. I had to laugh when I saw your "lamb shank", i.e.
"femur bone". When I was much younger, and did my very first Passover dinner, I forgot to buy a lamb shank so I used a turkey neck instead. So, it looks as though you did a better job on your FIRST Passover.
I also enjoyed reading other peoples comments, especially Buzz's. He's so smart and has a great ability with words. Ryan is alot like his father.
Michelle...I look forward to continuing to follow your quest into the world of Judaism. I wish you much love, luck and success.