Ben Avuyah

Welcome to the Pardess.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

In Vitro Challah–ization

Yikes! There goes another pan clunking from the cabinet, I can hear them from upstairs…. now my wife is muttering something inaudible, she is not happy with the whole situation. I mean, it does border on insanity. But how can you refuse a plea from a friend…

And, we are really not the types to do the extra cooking, especially challah, we usually just buy it from the store; but the hysteria in that woman’s voice, the needy eyes, it’s enough to send chills down my spine, the way she extracted my wife’s promise.

“It can only work if there are forty”, she begged, “you have to tell me for sure, because I need forty.”

She stated it with the poised confidence of the devout. Neither hint of doubt nor measure of thought graced her countenance as she called upon us.

It was simple to her. Someone had backed out, and the segulah said that forty couples making challah are necessary for her friend to get pregnant, now she needed one more.

Imagine me, here I had been thinking of myself as properly educated in the matters of birds and bees, and low and behold, it doesn’t take two to tango, but forty to braid.

Hand your reason over to religion and watch your sanity slip through your fingers

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Orthodoxy Removal Kit….. Batteries not included

Well, dear reader, you have shown courage thus far. Yes, you have made it past the title of this here essay, in sheer disregard of our laws not to read, hear, discuss, or consider heresy in any of it various forms.

Not to overstep my boundaries, but I can only assume, that one attracted to the title above is at least interested to the level of, shall we say, ‘accident gawking curiosity’, as to how such a task can be performed.

Well relax, its not at all like that proboscis defying metallic lobotomy claw that Schwartzenneger rams up his shnoz, in the movie, “Total Recall”, to yank a golf ball sized homing device out of his noggin.

Orthodoxy is far too subtly interwoven in your brain for anything like that!

But I must warn you….

Beware !!

Reading any further is in strict violation of our prescribed code of law…

Well, did you hear that?

No, no…. not what’s written on the page, I’m talking about what just happened in your head when you read that last sentence.

If you, like me, went to any one of the major yeshivas, then you definitely just activated your early warning system.

Listen closely, it’s in there, they don’t let you leave Yeshiva unless it’s intact and fully functional.

Here’s mine kicking in, have a listen…

Yetzer Tov quivering in fear: “No It…. Is…. Heresy !!!! Mustn’t speaks it, Mustn’t hears it Mustn’t believes it…Golem ! Golem !”

Yetzer Hara hissing and pointing his finger: “Yessss ! Tell the foolish hobbitses the truth …”

All right, all right. I have watched the lord of the rings too many times, and what the hell do I know, maybe your Yetzer hara sounds like Vincent Price, or Dennis Rodman, or George Bush. It doesn't matter who's doing the voice over, the sentiment is the same.

Now, hang in there, dear reader, I know you are scared, going up against your Yetzer Tov and all.

And you've probably got a bunch of Uncle Moishe songs bouncing around your head,advising you what to do right now, I can practicaly hear you humming the tune.

But just pause for moment of thought and remember that if you don’t believe in religion then actually you don’t believe in either Yetzer. People without organized religion come to accept a value system that depends on morality, rationality, logic, and the common good. Not some archaic pair of dueling…

Yetzer Tov looking vapid and perplexed : “ What’s ….What’s logic, precious?…..What’s logic?"

Yetzer Hara brushing one long greasy strand of hair from his eyes: “Foolish, Filthy Hobbitses, keep tricksy logicses to yourselfs”!

Me : “Yes. Of course ! That’s it ! You don’t represent good and evil. How could I not have seen this before" !

I mean, Wow….Even all these thousands of years later you can’t deny the genius of it. Calling base wants and needs, though they are required for survival and reproduction, “evil”. And calling conscious mediation of desires “good”, though it is simply a necessity for a functioning society; was a clever ruse used by all religions.

Think about it… You ensnare the unfortunate believer to forever perseverate over his misfortunes in a battle that instinct dooms him to lose.

As in all things, the truth sets me free, both my core wants and needs, and the mediation of them by higher centers in my brain make me who I am…..the two Yetzers are nothing more than a ceremonial mask; a flimsy garment, religiously bestowed upon the pre existing machinery of my mind.

Now that we have temporarily deactivated your brain bound burglar alarm, it is time to descend to deeper territory: forbidden plains that have waited for you; until now unexplored.

After all… our religion forbids this venture.

How much praise and credibility can you bestow on an idea whose core elements state: You must never consider my validity or delve into the nature of whether or not belief in me is justified?

How much pride can you swell your chest with, when you say you believe completely, in something you fear to intellectually challenge even within the private confines of your own mind ?

If you are like me, dear reader, you cannot turn back now.

The dark cave into which I am about to take you will not be an easy journey, so take heart, gird your loins, pack an extra sandwich, and prepare yourself for the worst. Your weapons will be of no use to you here, only cool reason, deftly employed will take you successfully through to the other side.

Now I can’t promise what it is you will experience when you first ask yourself what it is you believe and far more importantly…. Why you believe it.

You see, all faith is defined as believing without any substantiating proof, and to find out why you have come to believe in orthodoxy you will face for the first time an idea that has been placed very deeply amongst the sulci and gyri of your mind, an idea that, drawing strenghth for the coming battle, is fully prepared to hang on for dear life.

Your belief, is of course, a meme.

A Meme, for those unfortunate yeshiva bochurs who have not tasted the fruits of knowledge outside the daled amos of their shtenders, is an idea that can replicate itself from generation to generation and from person to person. This meme is almost always implanted in early life, before you have the tools to properly hold it up against the light and see it for what it truly is….a virus of the most devilish sort.

It is very old, as old as our religion itself. Perhaps the basic meme that makes up the backbone of religious thought is older still. It harkens from an age when primitive man walked the earth in fear of thunder and lightning gods, and sought to appease them through belief and service.

This dark and befouled arachnid that clings to the very tissues of your mind with its spindly legs sunk deep into your gray matter, has preserved itself from time immemorial. So don’t think it hasn’t learned how to defend itself over the years. It is as savvy an enemy as you have ever encountered and it is now fully aware that you have broached its perimeter defenses. It feels you tenuously testing you’re weight on the first sticky strand of webbing. It draws close to your conscious awareness now, possibly for the fist time in your life, and prepares to pounce. Don’t expect it to pull any punches with its survival on the line.

Well, no, dear reader, no……

I can’t tell you exactly how your confrontation will go, clearly you and I, have led very separate and different lives; this must be your own battle. You must pull your own equivalent of sting from bejeweled scabbard and herald a battle cry that is all your own.

But if this can be for you a light in dark places, I will show you how the war was waged when it was my hour to face my own demons.

One Friday night in the dim light of my living room after all had bid their goodnights, I sat alone and thought upon the nature of faith. When the only noise around me was the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, I asked myself why in the world I could possibly believe in an intricate set of dogma and minutia without so much as a hint of rationale behind it all. As I peered as deeply into the fibers of religious belief as I dared, I did not find an intellectual answer at all.

Indeed, to my surprise, the first response that my mind presented was a confrontation with a selected group of decisive experiences from my early life. I squared off, toe to toe, with these memories of choices I had made in the past. They were conclusions I had come to, regarding religion, that were so loaded with emotion that the feelings carried over in a form sufficiently potent to leave me misty eyed, and lost, in a bitter sweat, reverie.

I am fourteen now.... and am being given a ride by my beloved Rabbi to the grocery store near by. He is talking with his wife. It is a conversation about an old friend and former Yeshiva student of theirs. Someone who had clearly been close to both of them.
He turns to his wife careful to keep his eyes periodically on the road. “Yes its true….Moshe went…off the Derech.”
His wife’s face is a picture of well-constrained shock and grief.
This memory is so clear to me, I can smell the challah from the shopping bags and see the red trimmed upholstery of the rickety station wagon.

“And his children….”

The Rabbi leaves the question to trail off into silence

“Why would someone do something that could cause so much pain and heartache to those closest to them ?”, I wonder to myself.

I vow, solemnly, that this will never be my fate. I will never leave the cherished truths that have defined my people from the days our forefather’s….Never.

Revisiting the strength of youthful conviction is almost enough to throw me, but I persist. Why, I ask all these years later, challenging my younger thoughts. Why, am I so sure in my teenage exuberance.

Could I be correct ?

No. The truth here is in societal pressure. I am sure that I am afraid to disappoint, afraid to incur the anger and judgment of authority, and certain that the safety that orthodoxy guaranties in other peoples eyes is enough for me to believe in for now.

None of these fanciful thoughts hold up to the scrutiny of my older and more skeptical mind.

I search once again for the reason why I believe so strongly in orthodoxy and again instead of a reason I come up with an emotion-laden memory. It appears evasion is the tactic of defense for this virus of the mind.

I am fourteen again.... I know this......for it is a familiar and cherished memory. I am breaking ground curfew to stare up at the stars in the open field near the dormitory late at night. There is construction at a nearby building and I have perched my self on the hood a bulldozer to stay off the cold wet ground. The air is crisp and atmosphere dry, and they reveal to me a sky be-speckled with stars beyond imagination. I push my glasses a little closer to my eyes and believe that I can make out the faint aspect of the milky way arching gracefully from horizon to horizon. I sense for the first time out of shiur and mussar classes, that this is no accident, there is a force behind this, and behind my life as well. I swear not to forget this moment.

This is a difficult memory for me even now, because so much of it seems true.
But I remind myself that appreciation of the beautiful universe in which we live does not part and parcel justify a god who arrived in a cloud of fury and vengeance to hand out torahs and sheitels to all who would listen and subjugate themselves to his will.
I may not have all the answers as to why we are here and how it all started, but I know I will start my search from even ground; Accepting nothing on authority of ancient custom or creed, and moving carefully forward where rationale and science point the way.

And so it goes on, my reader, the religion meme, is very good at shielding itself from direct examination. It lives in a box covered with many mirrors; each startling you with your own reflection from a period of your life during which you were totally in the sway of religious thought. It prompts you to realize that this is who you are and who you have always been.

But do not give in, dear reader, you have come to far to fail at the end.

For, in realizing the tactic of the meme, you have in fact rescued yourself from it’s clutches. Remind it that you are familiar with your past naiveté and are not convinced by it no matter how strong the emotions attached to these memories are. Strengthen yourself, that no images of disappointed relatives or friends will dissuade you from pursuing your intellectual journey to find the truth of your beliefs.

Remember, faith is being asked of you.

You are commanded to believe in entire genre of non-empirical thought with absolutely no evidence.

Past incidents that demonstrate that you once believed, or that illustrate the pain to your family if you fail to continue to believe, are insufficient justification for living your life according to rules that have no reason.

Confront the meme directly, stand before the confusing surface of it’s multiple diversions and ask, what is inherently true about orthodox Judaism that it demands my belief ?

Open the box of mirrors, dear reader..…. but do not despair when you find it is empty. You’re neither the first nor the last to be taken by this great demon of inner thoughts.

Sadly, the title to this little piece is misleading for you can no more remove the orthodoxy meme than you can remove the first thirty years of your life. But, take heart, having a clear idea of where your religious thought patterns really come from will give you the ultimate power in making the decisions in your life. And in time, although never completely expunged, they will cease to be a frequent part of your daily thoughts. Then you can relax and enjoy a life that isn’t hassled……

Yetzer Tov confused and vacuous : What’s…What’s relax, precious ?….What’s relax?….get to the Beis medrish and Daven, Precious…

(As you can see I have not yet fully rid myself of certain aspects of Judaism either.)

Yetzer Hara sporting characteristic, eviler then death, sardonic grin: “Yes, Fat, Fat, filthy hobbit, stay on the computer, lazy hobbit, eat more chipses, filthy hobbit….yessss….eat more chipses and dips…”

Me crunching on chips: “Good grief….Sigh.”

Yetzer Tov: “Golem” !

Yetzer Hara : “Golem” !