ENCOUNTERS WITH RELIGIOUS PEOPLE

Trip Start Jun 20, 2008
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Trip End Dec 18, 2008


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

After four great days, I left the fun girls and curling beaches and modern skyscrapers and shaded avenues of Tel Aviv.

I returned to religious Tzfat, with its dark beards and Hebrew Torah's and stone synagogues and quiet nights.

The people of Tzfat seemed cold to me.  The central-dwelling, religious people and the less religious, suburban people seemed to value: money; family; Jews; professional excellence; and religious discipline.  The suburban people also valued their cars and privacy.

Although most suburban people weren't very disciplined, religiously, I found that most didn't stray too far in their beliefs on "God" from Jewish teachings.  I believe there are a few reasons for this.  1. The television-watching and consumption common in suburban life create an existence void of spirituality and meaning, things which can be found in organized religion.  2. Judaism is attractive to suburb-dwellers, who are often spoiled and see the world ego-centrically.  Why?  Judaism inflates their sense of self-worth, by teaching that they, as members of the Jewish race, are automatically among God's elite.
 
Of course, there are Israeli's, on kibbutzes and in Tel Aviv, for example, who have independent views on "God."  Israel is a complex place.  But, we're talking about Tzfat now.

One of my favorite things about Tzfat is that it's sometimes possible to have very logical debates with religious people.  Students of Judaism have recognized and repaired a lot of the obvious flaws of their religion's thinking, the same flaws which most Christians ignore or don't see.

FLAW # 1 - God is both a thinking being and an all-knowing being.

This is contradictory.  People think.  That's because we're not all-knowing.  If a being were all-knowing, he wouldn't have to think; actions would just shoot out of him.  Likewise, a "perfect God" wouldn't feel imperfect emotions like anger and sorrow and jealousy.  Some Jews don't recognize this flaw.  Others respond by saying God's form and character aren't necessarily human, and are in fact a total mystery to us.

FLAW # 2 - Our souls came into being when we were born.

In actuality, our souls have always been.  They are capable of an infinite range of emotions, powers, beauty, and accomplishment.  They cannot be excluded by the mere dimension of "Time".  Jews say that each of our souls is a part of "God", and that in the past the souls were together with God as one.

- But, there are some flaws which the Jewish students and I haven't yet discussed, or else I have yet to provide a good argument against. -

FLAW # 3 - Time is linear and unchangeable.

Jews and Christians claim "God" is all-powerful, and yet they speak about "the progression of Time" as if God were a slave to it.

FLAW # 4 - We are on Earth to compete and to love competing.

A suburban girl in Tzfat thinks we were put on Earth in order to strive to be better than one another.  She wants to be more accomplished in her art as a film maker, to be more culturally knowledgeable, and to be loved more by her God.  Yet, she says, when she makes a film or accomplishes something, she gets no lasting joy as a result, and immediately turns her attention to the next project.  I, in contrast, think no one is better than anyone else, and that we were put here to have fun and work together.  Each story I write brings me a lasting joy, because I know other people or even I can go back and read it.

FLAW # 5 - There is more than one soul.

You and I think and feel.  We have a soul.  As I said before, our soul is immeasurable in all the ways science finds to measure natural things.  Thus, it represents a force greater than nature.

Assuming there is a great force in existence, assuming time isn't linear, and assuming your soul has always been, your soul could thus be placed in Napolean's body.  It could be spontaneously placed in your neighbor's body, an Arab's body, or in your lover's body.  And because "Time" is limitless, your soul eventually "will" be in these bodies and these lives.  Are "other people's" souls doing the same thing, you ask, bouncing around between different people's bodies?  If they were, they would be having the same thoughts, and living the same lives as yours is.  And that would make them all one.

OK.  So, let's turn our attention to Tzfat.

Holy Shabbat had come.  Most people spend this 1/5th of the week with family.  I spend it alone.

It had occurred to me that maybe it was my fault I wasn't interacting with the religious locals more.  I was vaguely aware that I was unattracted to their ways.  I figured I had to start accepting their invitations with less apprehension.  And I would start responding to their question, "Are you Jewish?", not with a "No," but with a "I'm not religious."  Even though Jewishness is considered by Israeli's to be a question of heritage more than of religion, it seemed wrong for me to be judged by my race.  I don't really feel I'm a member of any race.

On this day, I ventured into a "miqva", to wash a few days' worth of sweat off me.

A small head with a big beard was putting on layers of white clothing, when I entered the dressing room.  I undressed.  I neared the tank of water, into which crowds of naked men submerge themselves on busy days, for holy cleansing after ejaculations.  Being a "non-Jew", I might very well ruin the holiness of this dirty water.  I dropped myself into the bath, making sure to not touch the bottom nor any side for a second, to experience 360-degree cleansing.

The guy, now in a navy suit with an elegant hat, was friendly.  He invited me to join him and his wife for the last meal of Shabbat.  I said I'd like to, but, "I don't really have any Jewish heritage."  He didn't retract his invitation.  But, he - Zalman - and I felt awkward.

Over tasty tuna and yogurt, I learned Zalman is in his early thirties and is still a full-time student of Judaism.  He's learned Aramaic, so he can read the "Talmud", an ancient book in which rabbi's debate how we can best adhere to God's teachings in the Torah.  He's kept all the 613 rites of Judaism since he was fifteen.  He bobbed his body and sang a prayer during dinner.  Once the meal ended, we waited for three stars to be visible in the night sky, and then it was time for Zalman to go to the synagogue.

I really enjoyed talking in English with Zalman and his wife, Sheerah.  I wonderd if they'd just gotten married, since they didn't have any kids.  I would've liked to have known how Zalman, who no doubt is against touching any girl he's not married to, could've lasted so long without female touch.

As I walked in the direction of my tent, a smily Russian guy spotted me.  He called me to visit his youth hostel, a Jewish Study Center that rarely admits non-Jews, or very religious Jews.  It's trying to attract young people to "its" branch of Judaism.

Inside, a band was playing in a comfortable lounge.  Young bongo drummers played furious rhythms, and a guitarist sang, "We want the 'Moshiach' (Messiah) now!"  The Russian pulled me to dance with him and a circle of other guys who might've been drinking wine.

We guys hugged, put our arms around one another, and danced crazily to the music.  It was a lot of fun, though I was worried one of the hostel's local rabbi's would bust me for not being Jewish.

A rosy-faced fellow named Yitzy hugged me the most.  He was a short kid from New York, in an orange sweatshirt and a kippur hat.  He had a lot of energetic opinions.  Girls in Tel Aviv were "whores", New Yorkers "niggers", and lots of people "crackheads".  But, he loved me.  "Hey, you're Jewish," he mistakenly said.  "We're all brothers!"  He even opined that God was going to love him and me more than the very religious Jews, because we'd come from unreligious beginnings but were at least trying to be religious.

Yitzy is now studying in a religious "yeshiva" in Jerusalem.  He currently likes trying to pick up girls, but his ultimate aim would be to also take a vow prohibiting him from touching any female other than his wife.  I wonder what Yitzy will be like after the yeshiva.

Judaism certainly has some good and bad sides.  Tzfat is more interesting, culturally, than Tel Aviv.  You just can't be afraid of the miqva.


"shalom" (peace), Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Ariel; Shelly; Anuli; Schlomy & Embal; Yuda; and Ziyon, his wife, & Ariel for rides!
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