Rituals

First, I want to apologize for not responding to the various comments of late. As you can imagine, this time of year is an especially busy one for me. Preparing the myriad of derashosh, arranging for shofar for those who are unable to make it to shul, answering questions (although a three day Yom Tov is not that uncommon, it seems that many still require refresher courses as to what one is permitted to do in preparation for Shabbos), etc., etc. I hope to respond to some of the comments when I have a chance.
Second, I wanted to address something that was raised a while back, regarding ritual. The question was essentially, what meaning or purpose does an Orthoprax person find in Jewish ritual? For me at least, this time of year is illustrative of what I find meaningful. I love the various simanim, the apple and/or the bread in the honey, the various fruits and vegetables that many eat to symbolize a good year. The childlike enjoyment that we take from these things is thrilling. Sure, I don’t think that eating or foregoing these will truly affect my year, but so what – everyone sitting around waiting for the next item, relishing in the tastes is fun. The new fruit. Every year we try to eat something that we have never had before. Not for halakhic reasons but because it is truly new. When we make the Shechiyanu, we feel renewed but symbolically and materialistically. The shofar. It is our one attempt at including musical instruments in our services. The solemnity of the moment when are all standing, standing quietly, listening intently to hear the notes of the shofar is an amazing moment. The collective relief when the last shofar blast is sounded and everyone can relax a bit, we are released from the moment.
Tashlich, the act of throwing away our baggage, while simplistic is an important lesson is personal growth – to move on sometimes we have to let go. I especially enjoy my children’s reactions to these rituals. They really like them, they can relate to them in a way that others such as prayer and the like are harder to access. Everyone understands sweet foods make for a sweet year or, similarly new fruits are symbolic of newness, and, what a “new” year means. Who wouldn’t want to throw away their sins and start with a new slate (although there are other reasons for tashlich the most common reason is a purification process). Putting a talis or shaking a luluv are harder to related to. That is not to say easy access is the sole value of a ritual, indeed, too easy and one risks boredom and becoming clichéd. These rituals appear to strike a nice balance.
Additionally, I appreciate that during this time of introspection, we focus not only on methods of improving oneself spiritually, but there is an emphasis on interpersonal relationships. For me, that is especially meaningful. We don’t abandon our fellow-man to attain higher spiritual bliss, but instead, improving, fixing, reconciling with others is the mantra of these days. A very universalistic approach.
As I need to return to my regularly scheduled duties, I will sign off for now – to all, a happy and healthy New Year and enjoy those rituals.

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11 Responses to Rituals

  1. EMET49 says:

    I am not attempting to criticize you for I very much sympathize with your position and have a deep respect for your creating this blog. As a lay person in an Orthodox community I think very much on your lines. However, by definition, I am not a rabbi. I think some of the Jewish rituals are beautiful; Shabbat is simply superb. An atheist can certainly be a non-proselyting person, in contrast to the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris triad, but in some sense you are counter-proselytizing i.e. strengthening the faith of those whose faith system contradicts your own. Atheism is not a religion but it is a faith system. Do you have moments of despair when you find yourself promoting beliefs that you oppose?

    • David says:

      Why is atheism a “faith system?” If I have no faith that there is a God, and conclude that there is insufficient evidence to sustain the proposition that “there is a God who created everything and who is, and does, good,” how is this an act of “faith” on my part? The notion that atheism is a “faith” system is, it seems to me, a sophistry tossed out by believers attempting to debate with religious people.

      • EMET49 says:

        Atheism is not a conclusion there is insufficient evidence that there is a God – it is the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence that there is no God. This is not provable so it is a belief which I call a faith, but it is not a religion since a religion requires some belief in the supernatural.

      • You do not understand the weak atheist / strong atheist distinction. (And no, it is not the same thing as agnostic / atheist distinction)

  2. Ephraim says:

    “The shofar. It is our one attempt at including musical instruments in our services.”

    No rabbi, lapsed or otherwise, would write such an ignorant statement.

  3. Ephraim says:

    “Why is atheism a “faith system?” If I have no faith that there is a God, and conclude that there is insufficient evidence to sustain the proposition that “there is a God who created everything and who is, and does, good,” how is this an act of “faith” on my part? ”

    Because while you may conclude that there’s insufficient evidence for, you can’t conclude that there’s sufficient evidence against. Thus you’re left with a choice, or more crudely a coin-flip (even though the coin may not be fair). The choice to not believe is thus also an act of faith.

    • “Because while you may conclude that there’s insufficient evidence for, you can’t conclude that there’s sufficient evidence against. Thus you’re left with a choice, or more crudely a coin-flip (even though the coin may not be fair). The choice to not believe is thus also an act of faith.”

      The mere fact that something has no evidence against it does not make said proposition a 50/50 chance, not does it make it an act of faith to reject such a claim. There are many things that has no solid evidence against it, such as the spiritual cookie monster who brings much spiritual meaning and purpose to the lives of the spirit cookies.

      Incidentally though, you mention that there is no evidence against the existence of God. I’m wondering, what kind of evidence would you consider to be “evidence against the existence of God”?

  4. Abe says:

    “Because while you may conclude that there’s insufficient evidence for, you can’t conclude that there’s sufficient evidence against. Thus you’re left with a choice, or more crudely a coin-flip (even though the coin may not be fair). The choice to not believe is thus also an act of faith.”

    So I suppose the “there-aren’t-any-flying-purple-panthers-club” is “faith-based?”

  5. Suzanne says:

    I do really appreciate this article about rituals, since I have a very hard time of late relating to Jewish rituals that I grew up with. I like the universal approach you take and it reminds me of why I used to take such pleasure in this time of year. Shanah Tovah!

  6. moishy says:

    Calling atheism a religion is like calling NOT collecting stamps a hobby.

  7. ah-pee-chorus says:

    +++The choice to not believe is thus also an act of faith+++

    the definition of faith is belief absent evidence. atheism is an acknowledgement that there is no evidence for the existence of a god. it is the exact opposite position as faith.
    as an aside, its interesting that the definition of ‘faith’ is quite similar to the definition of ‘delusion’ .

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