A new year

It’s 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday in late September. Summer officially ended last week, and even with daylight savings still in effect, the day-to-night ratio is leaning toward darkness. Almost no vestiges of sunset remain as I park on the street; the light from the Unitarian church seems extra bright. I can see the silhouettes of people entering the front door and moving through the sanctuary. This church was an early stop on my excursion through Christianity and now it will act as a bridge to the journey’s Judaism leg.

Normally the individuals who gather to worship in a Unitarian church are well outside the Christian mainstream; they train a skeptical eye on traditional theological principles such as Jesus’ divinity and the trinity. I suppose it’s a point of view born from Christian hearts with questioning minds. Their ranks have included some of the most beloved Americans of all time including Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, and Mark Twain.

Tonight the people gathering are even further outside the Christian mainstream; they are, in fact, Jews. With the closest synagogue over 70 miles away from my home, the Unitarians are graciously lending their space to the members of the local Jewish community to kick off the “high holidays,” which includes Rosh Hashanah and—ten days later—Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Many within the larger Christian community might argue that Unitarians are not technically Christian. Regardless, I think it’s safe to assume that Unitarians hold Jesus and his teachings in the highest esteem—and this they share with Jews.

Rosh Hashanah marks the start of a new year. It commemorates the biblical “day” when God completed the creation of the world. Many synagogues conclude their annual reading of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, at this time and then proceed to start over again at Genesis. It marks an end and a new beginning. Something about the timing of this calendar rings true. I have no problem accepting a spiritual starting point that coincides with the onset of fall. Emotionally, it feels natural to me.

I’m carrying a Tupperware of sliced apples with a little tub of caramel dipping sauce. I read that it is important to eat something sugary on Rosh Hashanah to coax the rest of the year to be sweet. It is customary to enjoy treats like apples or plums from an early fall harvest or goodies left from summer like figs or dates. Before the days of refined cane juice, these fruits would be drizzled with honey. I think the idea is to place the sweetest things possible on the tongue, to push the palate toward pleasure in hopes that in the darkest months the heart will remember this joy—even as the taste buds forget.

Inside the church’s foyer, a man directs me to the basement where I can set down my treats before joining the others in the sanctuary. Not long ago I descended this same narrow staircase for the post Sunday service fellowship. I drank coffee from a Styrofoam cup as I chatted with a couple of friendly retired academics. Back then, I was still under the impression that Christianity and Judaism were polar extremes of one another—as if religions could have opposites. I hadn’t yet grasped how closely the two are related and the strange mix of resentment and dependence bred by this kinship.

Tonight, two long folding tables are set up in the middle of the room, forming a capital letter T. The Jews have pulled out the stops: tins of dried fruit, piles of homemade cookies, fancy boxes of chocolates, and jars of honey. My mouth waters as I add my apples and head upstairs into the sanctuary for the official ceremony.

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79 thoughts on “A new year

  1. When I think of the Jewish culture and religion, I think of something that is permanent, as old as the hills, will never diminish – im looking forward to hearing your interpretation of what you experienced… from my experience I was very aware that they are not as much into marketing and evolving as certain other religions are, and it made everything seem even more “foundational” in the best sense of the word…

    • Hi Janice,

      If you think of it as permanent and unchanging, then you likely don’t know much about Judaism. :).

      It, like any other religion, has undergone significant changes in theology over time in order to adjust to changes in morality and World view. The practice of Judaism circa 100 BCE would be as foreign to someone who worshiped folk Judaism in 1000 BCE as both would be to reform Jews.

      The liberating element of studying comparative religions is that you can see that there is “nothing new under the Sun”, and see the roots of such changes. Here’s a start:

      http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/syncretism.htm

      Dave

      • Boy, I thought I had comparisons of Religion understood when reading the “power of myth” a while back LOL

        I guess I should have been clearer in what I meant, i am limited sometimes in that written communication dept…but anyways – I havent seen Judaism promoted the way i have seen Christianity and some other religions promoted. Yes, Judaism over the centuries may have changed theology, but when you compare Judaism to other religions, they dont seem to be as hypocritical in their methods….In other words – heres a silly thought, but true – do Jewish people argue about hymns versus chorus music in worship, and closed down places of worship because of it? Do they talk about who is really “saved” versus “works”, and then develop their synagogue around it? Do rabbis make sure they are up to date with technology/fashion/music so they can reach those in a Gay Community, Goth community etc. (or insert any lifestyle that doesnt line up with theirs) in order to “save their souls” ? Do they write self help self promotion how-to-live-like-us books that are based on their own interpretations of the Torah, in order to get them to be more like the people who follow the religion that make the best seller lists? Do they organize protests against medical communities that go directly against their medical/religious beliefs? Do they have speakers who go all over the world in concert style (somewhat like Jesus, but with amps, and booths selling books, DVD’s, music etc) relying on the people of the religion to bring people to those concerts in order to be “saved” and then leave for the nxt city, next concert? Has Judaism politically motivated new countries (plural) with political power and riches to develop a set of laws based on their principles only? do they promote certain un-quantified medical practices by setting up “service tents” when there is a disaster so as to make their religion known? and the list goes on etc.

        Im not talking theology, im talking methods. Judaism seems to me to rely on a traditional set of standards, and a traditional culture – the changes you are talking about concerning theology are based on survival. The changes that Im talking about are not about theology but about self promotion, growth – I havent seen a “join Judaism now – be saved later”, concert/book/ad yet :). There is a huge difference between the two. One is trying to keep alive while others are trying to destroy it; the other is about trying to build an empire in order to control those who destroy. am i correct in thinking that?

        Thank you for being patient with me. BTW I like Jesus’s train of thought, but Im not a Christian. The reason why I am not a theologian is because Im an atheist. I truly believe that the desire for man to understand Death compels them to have an explanation for everything that is living. Sometimes those explanations are a little out there…;p

        • Wow, Janice, what a breath of fresh air you brought to this blog. I hadn’t thought about the non-advertising of Judaism before. There is a well known Rabbi, whose name I can’t remember right now, who is often invited to talk shows to share information relative to the subject being discussed but apart from that I don’t see much of Judaism being played up. Suddenly, as I was reading your material I just felt this flow of fresh air, freedom and relaxing and having a sense that I don’t really have to follow the Christian movement in its current surge of efforting at who can be the biggest and the best. I think it’s a sham that will eventually go bust.

        • Hi Janice,

          “I guess I should have been clearer in what I meant, i am limited sometimes in that written communication dept…but anyways – I havent seen Judaism promoted the way i have seen Christianity and some other religions promoted.”

          Christians also haven’t been the subject of vicious pogroms and genocidal campaigns over the past 4,000 yrs: you think that MIGHT have something to do with Judaism’s reluctance to poke sleeping beasts with sticks which in the past tried to wipe them off the face of the Earth? Compared to the number of Jews who died at the hands of the Romans in the Jewish-Roman wars (which spanned roughly 80 yrs, and took about a million Jewish casualties), the handful of Christians who died at Roman hands is truly miniscule. It makes the “great tribulation” prophecy and Jesus’ words of needing to flea during the “end of days” seem significant (although the question remains of WHEN those gospels were written).

          Here’s an interesting PBS video on the excavation of a cave which was likely used as refuge during the Bar Kochba revolt (and likely during the first century’s Roman-Jewish wars).

          http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ancient-refuge-holy-land.html

          Most Christians completely fail to understand the political climate and the turbulence of the times in which the the gospels were written (1st century CE, when the Roman/Jewish wars were just getting started), and how truly desperate the conditions were for both Jews AND early Christian Jews.

          “Yes, Judaism over the centuries may have changed theology, but when you compare Judaism to other religions, they dont seem to be as hypocritical in their methods…. In other words – heres a silly thought, but true – do Jewish people argue about hymns versus chorus music in worship, and closed down places of worship because of it? Do they talk about who is really “saved” versus “works”, and then develop their synagogue around it? Do rabbis make sure they are up to date with technology/fashion/music so they can reach those in a Gay Community, Goth community etc. (or insert any lifestyle that doesnt line up with theirs) in order to “save their souls” ? Do they write self help self promotion how-to-live-like-us books that are based on their own interpretations of the Torah, in order to get them to be more like the people who follow the religion that make the best seller lists? Do they organize protests against medical communities that go directly against their medical/religious beliefs? Do they have speakers who go all over the world in concert style (somewhat like Jesus, but with amps, and booths selling books, DVD’s, music etc) relying on the people of the religion to bring people to those concerts in order to be “saved” and then leave for the nxt city, next concert? Has Judaism politically motivated new countries (plural) with political power and riches to develop a set of laws based on their principles only? do they promote certain un-quantified medical practices by setting up “service tents” when there is a disaster so as to make their religion known? and the list goes on etc. The changes that Im talking about are not about theology but about self promotion, growth – I havent seen a “join Judaism now – be saved later”, concert/book/ad yet :). ”

          A HUGE difference is that Judaism doesn’t seek to gain converts via proselytizing, since there’s no mandate (or even a path!) to add members into an exclusive ‘members-only’ group: you MUST be born in to “the tribe” There’s no conversion into Judaism to be a full-fledged member of “the tribe”. Gentiles are not expected to follow the Torah as a Jew is commanded to do. Jews believe Gentiles must follow basic rules in order to make YHWH happy. Jews believe their role is to serve as leaders and teachers of mankind in order to usher in the Messianic Age, but there’s no role to play UNLESS you’re born a Jew.

          Another significant difference is that Judaism developed as a National or State religion which claimed Divine Authority to rule over its people, even empowered by YHWH to engage in capitol punishment for such sins as apostacy. Christianity makes no claim to having such authority over its members; instead, the idea is that secular laws must be respected (“pay Caesars things to Caesar”). Jews lost the ability to impose laws over Jews under the Babylonian Empire, and mostly never got it back under the Persians/Greeks/Romans.

          “Im not talking theology, im talking methods. Judaism seems to me to rely on a traditional set of standards, and a traditional culture – the changes you are talking about concerning theology are based on survival.”

          Religious practice and religious theology are not tied, but can vary significantly (esp in ancient times, when communication and control via great distances was a problem). Judaism is perhaps the BEST example of that divergence, wherein the way people practiced folk religion in 400 BCE in rural areas was VERY DIFFERENT from the way it was prescribed by the priestly class who lived in urban Jerusalem. Hence why many polemics against idol worship appear in the Torah: such statements represented the attempts of the writers/redactors of the Bible to “stamp out” practices they didn’t approve of from their rarefied air of the Temple. And with time, the Torah remains as a “minority report” of those who left a written record (the Torah), vs the far-greater unwashed masses who actually left MUCH MORE physical evidence of their folk practices, which have been unearthed throughout the archaeological digs of Judea.

          Most Christians operate under a fantasy model of ancient Judaism that simply is not the case: it’s a version of a myth that people heard from their pastors, when the reality as discovered in ancient documents and ruins indicates a story that’s much more rich and complicated.

          ” There is a huge difference between the two. One is trying to keep alive while others are trying to destroy it; the other is about trying to build an empire in order to control those who destroy. am i correct in thinking that?”

          Yeah, I’d agree with that, as it goes towards the hubris of gentile Christians who think that the silly Jews just weren’t smart enough to understand the prophets and they do, although the prophecies are written in a language they don’t even read, and in a cultural context they don’t care to learn about!

          “Thank you for being patient with me. BTW I like Jesus’s train of thought, but Im not a Christian. The reason why I am not a theologian is because Im an atheist.”

          Funny, as the reason I’m an atheist is that I’m VERY interested in theology, except in approaching religious practices as used by cultural sociologists (eg Marvin Harris, Jared Diamond) and examining what roles religion serve a culture.

          “I truly believe that the desire for man to understand Death compels them to have an explanation for everything that is living. Sometimes those explanations are a little out there…”

          Yeah, I think that Hebrews just like everyone else needed to understand WHY things happened, and they used the best-available methods of their day which meant a reliance on older myths, eg rainbows were YHWH’s promise never to create floods, different languages resulted from Tower of Babel, human, animal and plant life started from YHWH’s creative acts, the Sun, Moon, and distant stars are attached to a firm-dome called the firmament (tariq) so they move underneath it’s surface, etc.

          Science provides evidence-based answers that do a slightly-better job of explaining the same observations, eg we sent men to the Moon in 1969, and didn’t have to worry about the Apollo spaceship colliding with a solid brass dome. 🙂

          Dave

          • And just to clarify: while there IS a way for Gentiles to convert and become a Jew, the traditional approach is for the rabbi to turn away the potential covert three times after explaining the Gentile’s obligations under the Noahide covenant to obtain approval in the eyes of God (the less-stringent standards applied to non-Jews), etc. An orthodox rabbi is likely going to take a different approach than a reformer, so there’s one example of the range of opinions and interpretations available in Judaism which kinda blows the claim of greater consistency in religious practice/theology than in other religions.

            Dave

  2. It was one of the places I had to visit as part of my ministry school education. I had a delightful visit. I got there early and the Rabbi pulled into the parking lot at the same time. He was very friendly as I explained why I was there and what I was doing. He offered a box filled with yamulkas and asked me to pick one and wear it for the service. I did. As people arrived he introduced them to me and then assigned one person to sit with me during the service to explain it to me. The lady selected was very nice and all during the service she would whisper a short phrase to let me know what the Rabbi was doing at any given moment and why. They invited me to stay for the social time which I did and enjoyed some good conversation. I have no judgments. I have worked with several Jewish nurses who practiced their religion and we had some wonderful times together and I got invited to their homes several times. As I discovered in all my church adventures; when you get past the rituals and the words, bottom line they believe in the same God we all believe or don’t believe in. It simply made me more aware that there is only One Power and it is part of all of us.

  3. In my limited experience, I’ve seen Judaism assimilate or evolve tremendously in order to survive. Take for example, the fact that our children can be raised Jewish in Reform Judaism, in spite of their mother’s roots. Now Hinduism, on the other hand… 😉

    • Youve brought up an excellent point – I do have some questions concerning Reform Judaism – isnt this only about 30 years old? And its basis started in the US – so technically it doesnt replace Judaism in Israel, but is more of an “offshoot” of Judaism, the same way we consider the Protestant church to be an offshoot of the Catholic church – Christian, but definitely not the same? In US history, one of the reasons there are so many Protestants here is that they could not practice their religion elsewhere in the world as freely as they could in a “new world”…

      Looking forward to hearing what you have experienced and know 🙂 !

      • My understanding is that Reform Judaism is a few centuries old and started in Europe (and came to America in the 1800s) in order to prevent people from dropping Judaism entirely due to the lack of equitable treatment Jews experienced (shorthand in my mind for assimilation). (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Origins_of_Reform_Judaism.html). That kind of effort was a boon to interfaith marriages in which children were produced, if those parents desired to raise their children as Jews, (especially if the mother is not Jewish). (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/reform_practices.html#Who). Reform Judaism or Progressive Judaism seeks to coexist with Conservative or Orthodox Judaism in Israel, as far as I know. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Judaism_(Israel)).

        I learned a lot about Reform Judaism about a dozen years ago. Boyfriend/fiance at the time (now husband) is Jewish. We were hard pressed to find a Rabbi to work with my Hindu father to co-officiate our ceremony as we did not belong to a Reform temple. We found a lovely Cantor however — and that works, too, in Reform Judaism. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantor_in_Reform_Judaism).

        Judaism and Hinduism coexist quite nicely too. Handy for my family! (http://newvoices.org/2013/04/24/interfaith-gathering-highlights-hindu-jewish-relationship/)… 🙂

        • Thanks, acorporatewife (interesting tag, that). I appreciate your putting the links to the Jewish virtual library. I’d never heard of that, but looked it over briefly. As a Christian, one of the things I’m interested in is understanding our Jewish roots. thanks for this. We were in Israel two years ago, a high point of my life!

          • Walt,

            Another good resource is:

            http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/

            From their home page:

            “This website contains the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, which was originally published between 1901-1906. The Jewish Encyclopedia, which recently became part of the public domain, contains over 15,000 articles and illustrations.

            This online version contains the unedited contents of the original encyclopedia. Since the original work was completed almost 100 years ago, it does not cover a significant portion of modern Jewish History (e.g., the creation of Israel, the Holocaust, etc.). However, it does contain an incredible amount of information that is remarkably relevant today.”

            Dave

            • Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate that. I have seen that before but only now am beginning to look for some specific things, and that will be a real help.
              Btw, Jesus in the Gospels was offering himself as Messiah to Isreal, but when they rejected him, I don’t think he was mortified that his disciples would end up worshipping separately from the other Jews. Initially, they were still going to Temple and synagogue and keeping Sabbath, etc. I think it rather broke his heart. He wept over Jerusalem when they refused him.

              • Hi Walt,

                I imagine you’re going to have a hard time being objective here (since you are a Christian), but have you honestly examined the reasons WHY Jews would reject a messianic claimaint who presented with the background that is claimed for Jesus? Or are you content to leave it as, “oh, those silly Jews don’t even know how to interpret their own prophets in the Tanakh!”, as most Christians do?

                There’s many good reasons WHY they rejected him, based on biblical prophecies for the long-awaited Jewish messiah.

                http://www.aish.com/jw/s/48892792.html

                Of course, there’s no mention of Jesus Christ having even existed in ANY extant historical documents or writings, which is odd, in and of itself….

                Dave

                • Hi Dave. I’ll read the link and get back to you.
                  I’m sorry you think Christians can’t be objective or that “most” of us have a “fantasy” understanding of what the Jews went through. That last comment sort of betrays the fact that you are not the most objective person, either. And it is not necessarily because of your belief system.
                  Thanks for the link.
                  Walt

                • Hi Dave:
                  I’ve been reading this article. It’s a very well put-together with serious objections that would not merit some flippant response. I am going to be digging into this at weekend…I have to get another book read first. I’ll try to respond to it all at once–at least the pieces which I think need responding to. Otherwise, we’ll be pursuing endless rabbit trails, for which I don’t have time these days. Thanks,
                  Walt

                  • Hi Walt,

                    So then it’s safe to assume that you HAVEN’T actually looked into the issue before now, as I initially stated?

                    Dave said:

                    “but have you honestly examined the reasons WHY Jews would reject a messianic claimaint who presented with the background that is claimed for Jesus? ”

                    Walt said:

                    “It’s a very well put-together with serious objections that would not merit some flippant response.”

                    It’s only been 2,000 years, so no rush now, I guess…. It’s safe to say the parties involved aren’t going to die on us… 😉

                    As much as you may not want to admit it, it’s not like I HAVEN’T looked into the issue long ago: I find the Jewish argument for their rejection of just another Jewish messiah claimant to be very compelling, when looking at what the prophecies in Isaiah say as the prerequisites, etc. Also, you’d better BELIEVE that early Christians (some of whom relied on the Septuagint, with mistranslated prophecies) had access to the same qualifying prerequisites, and were motivated to inserted details in the biography of Jesus in order to force s square peg to fit into a round hole to support “their” failed messiah.

                    Jesus was only ONE of a long string of Jewish messiah claimants who believed they were the one to fulfill the Takakh’s prophecies; this group included Bar Kokhba, another failed claimant who was killed 100 yrs AFTER Jesus died but actually succeeded for a short while, until his revolt was crushed by the Romans and 600,000 Jews lost their lives. Now THAT’S a level of failure that is hard to dismiss, with the deaths of a few hundred thousand innocents on his hands. And why did they did? Religiously-fueled silliness, pure delusions coming up against those willing to kill for THEIR delusions.

                    It’s not like I don’t have experience interacting with believers: I WAS exactly the typical Christian who accepted the party line that the silly and stubborn Jews just couldn’t understand their prophecies in their Holy Book (I can still hear my Jesus-believing relatives parroting that, that’s how ingrained it is, LOL!), and hence why the Jews missed the ‘obvious’ symbolism in Genesis (starting with the serpent actually being Satan, or the twisted reading of Genesis 3:15 that in Christian theology is supposed to serve as foreshadowing of the coming of Christ 4,000 years later). Of course, this was decades BEFORE I even knew what the term ‘eisegesis’ meant, which is something Christians are no strangers to practicing (even if they don’t what the term means).

                    (Not that Jews weren’t immune from engaging in such tortured interpretations themselves: sometime take a look into how the so-called “Seven Noahide Laws” came into being, which aren’t mentioned ANYWHERE in the Flood account (Genesis 6-9), but instead are based on wild rabbinical speculation and tortured eisegesis of Genesis 2:16, found in the Babylonian Talmud.)

                    I figured that perhaps with your theology degree and greater access to research material it might’ve been different with you, but I dunno, since you seemingly indicate the question is new to you or one you haven’t considered?

                    (The question IS a FAQ for Jews who HAVE considered it before, so it’s not THAT esoteric of a question, or one that hasn’t been asked. I’m guessing the reason is that Christians really don’t want to HEAR their answer, but maybe you’ll prove me wrong)?

                    Dave

                    • You flatter me, Dave. I don’t actually have a theology degree (rather glad I don’t, actually). I have a BA in history, and MA’s in Special Ed and Biblical counseling. Although I have studied a fair degree of theology and language.

                      I have looked a lot into OT prophecy and some of the Jewish response, but have not seen something as simple but well laid out as this article. Like I said, I don’t want to give a flippant answer. Peter encouraged the church to give a reasonable response for the hope that is in us. I love the Jews but it’s so unfortunate that they have rejected their Messiah. And I think it’s worth looking at with a bit of serious thinking and prayer. My focus for the past several years has been working with Christian men and couples, helping encourage them in their efforts to follow Christ.

                      The problematic point in the article, of course, is that in spite of a well prepared statement of their reasons for rejecting Jesus, I must ask: What if Jesus was right? What if he brought the true understanding of the Kingdom and his mission as Messiah? What if he really rose from the dead? (You’ll notice that the Jews, at least, accept the historicity of Jesus, and many Jews today have respect for him as a moral teacher.) If the answer to my questions is yes, then that will trump their faulty understandings of their own Scripture, just like many Christians really don’t understand their Scripture.

                      I suppose you’re right in saying that, since 2,000 years has passed, we don’t have to rush things….

          • You’re welcome Walt. I’ve not been to Israel. My husband has, for work reasons: he felt very “at home” there, enjoyed it tremendously. And we’re still trying to replicate the hummus he had there from some special shop; best he’s ever consumed. 🙂

            • If you ever come up with some hummus that duplicates what’s in Israel, let me know. I never cared for it much until we went to Israel, then at it eagerly. It may not be only Israeli hummus that’s so good. What I recall is that the Egyptian sort was not bad, and it was good in Jordan as well. (maybe they get it from Isael?)

              btw, if he knows the name of the shop, he might be able to find it on line……

        • I think it is a beautiful life when two people of different religions can raise a healthy family – thank you for sharing your thoughts with me on that!

          The link you provided is very helpful too in explaining Reform Judaism – I did know that there was a reform movement that began in Germany long ago, but really didnt think it was brought together until the 1970’s – I wasnt very much versed in on it but the link you provided has been very helpful in understanding the “how” !

  4. Hi Corinna: I’m looking forward to this part of your journey. I do hope you can also attend a Messianic fellowship. They are Christian Jews (or, Messianic Jews). There is very much a synagogue atmosphere to their worship, and a more joyous lot I’ve seldom seen, even dancing.

    I’m curious about what you said re Jews highly esteeming Jesus. This seems to be an evolving thing. Since they rejected Jesus as Messiah, many Christians have blamed the Jews for killing Christ and persecuted them savagely, the ultimate example being the Holocaust. That was not truly Christians killing Jews, but even Hitler originally claimed the authority of the Church and the Catholics and state Lutheran church did nothing to help the Jews (though individuals certainly did). I saw some of these Christians and other Gentiles memorialized on the Avenue of the Righteous beside Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel. When you walk into the museum, there is a lot of information about “Christians” furthering persecution of the Jews and there is still bitterness there, thought the US and Israel are strong allies, evangelicals here (including myself) are “fans”, and a lot of Christians go to Israel, not simply as tourists but as students at Hebrew University and other places. There is a lot of cooperation in Israel between Jews and Christians who want to study the Jewish roots of Christianity.

    btw, I don’t think Jefferson ever claimed to be a Unitarian, though he was sympathetic. He is generally considered a deist.

    • Walt, I have not done the research on the “never claimed to be Unitarian,’ but there certainly is evidence that he and several of the other foundational early Americans did attend the Unitarian church. But I think you may be right that they were deists…..without a church to attend! They would have been welcomed into a Unitarian congregation, I think…….having questioning minds, as Corinna says, and being free thinkers.
      Merrill

      • Merrill:
        Here’s some brief quotes I pulled out of Wikipedia: All they really show is that Jefferson didn’t strong assert himself as anything particular except definitely a non-trinitarian and did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

        “Jefferson was most closely connected with Unitarianism and the religious philosophy of Christian deism.”…..

        “…in private letters Jefferson variously refers to himself as “Christian” (1803),[5] “a sect by myself” (1819),[6] an “Epicurean” (1819),[7] a “materialist” (1820),[8] and a “Unitarian by myself” (1825).[9] Historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom associated Jefferson with “rational religion” or deism.[10]…”

        “While many biographers, as well as some of his contemporaries, have characterized Jefferson as a Deist, historians and scholars have not found any such self-identification in Jefferson’s surviving writings. In an 1803 letter to Priestley, Jefferson praises Jesus for a form of deism.[24] He expressed similar ideas in an 1817 letter to John Adams…”

        This doesn’t prove anything either way. He seemed pretty open to a seeing religion as a positive thing in a democracy. He actually did attend an Episcopal church for a time as President….Maybe that was just to keep people happy….

        • Thanks, Walt. Things were political even then, huh? I have not been familiar with the deists until recently……their theology speaks strongly to me. But my read on the founding fathers was that they were pretty sure that religion– any religion– not have an active place in the government that they were forging. And my guess is that we may have to agree to disagree on this!
          Merrill

          • there probably isn’t a real disagreement. I think that most of them–and I’ve done some reading on this–felt that religion was important to society, just not imposed on people by the government. They saw it–even Jefferson–as a stabilizing influence and a positive influence toward good morals. This last would have been Franklin’s thinking. Jefferson, who neither believed in the divinity of Jesus nor in the miracles, nevertheless believed that Jesus was a great moral teacher and made his famous “Jefferson Bible” (he cut miracles out of the gospels), but left the teachings in tact.

            • I still cant get over that slave owning thing…so I am always left shrugging my shoulders over any belief that Jefferson may have held and giving it weight in a religious setting…

              • I understand your shrugging, Janice. I love our history (my first love and first degree), and Jefferson was indeed a fascinating man. I’m getting ready to read more of his bio, which I hope, might give me some insight on that. It seems puzzling, sad, and hypocritical…but I’d like to get into the mind and culture that would allow it–I think there’s some valuable lessons in there. In the meantime, I’ve made a conscious decision not to throw the baby out with the bathwater… 😐

              • Hi Janice. Just today I was listening to Jon Meacham, who recently released a major bio on Thomas Jefferson. Meacham is a Christian who is one of the most respected historians of American history. His remarks were given at the Commonwealth Club in CA. He faced the question square on re Jefferson’s having slaves and his connection to Sally Hemmings. He spent quite a bit of time on this, and paints it as his most signal hypocrisy, especially since it directly contradicted much else of what he said. One anecdote he told: Jefferson’s wife died when he was 40. He was in Paris later with Sally. She was quite a courageous woman, and stood up to Jefferson who, by all accounts, was really a stubborn man. She told him (after their affair started) that she would not go back to America with him (he was to be Washington’s Secty of State) unless he promised to give freedom to all their children whenever they turned 21.

                Since Jefferson is not living today, we can’t confront him….but we CAN learn from him, and that’s the point, I suppose.

    • Hi Walt, I got the information about Jefferson being a Unitarian from a book…I can dig up the title. However, it might be that he just went to Unitarian services and Unitarians claimed him more than he claimed them. Perhaps he was the first “None”–ha!

      • Okay, I found the book that makes reference to Jefferson having been a Unitarian. It’s here: Backman, Milton V., Jr. Christian Churches of America: Origins and Beliefs, Revised Edition. Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1976, 1983. This is the first book about the Christian denominations that I cracked open at the very early stages of this exploration and I highly recommend it. In the Unitarian section, the author explains how many of our early presidents were Unitarians and I think I know just the church they most of have attended in Washington, D.C.

  5. Ah but indeed Jefferson’s deism would have been as welcome in the modern Unitarian Church as are all religious beliefs. During “Rights of Passage” our 8th graders study as many world religions as can be fit into the church year as a means of discovering what rings true to them…so it is possible to announce deism as a personal belief as a UU. Our 3rd Principle (of 7) is: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. I, on the other hand, tend toward a more Hindu belief system. The Seven Principles define what we believe in but no where in the Principles will you find the word God (or god).
    Nancy

    • As a Torah-observant Jew, I suspect Jesus would be completely mortified to see that a sect had sprung up based on his life: Christianity represents the result of the blending of Judaism with heretical pagan beliefs that the Tanakh repeatedly and explicitly warned against allowing to happen, and which faithful Jews took steps to defend against within their Jewish community in order to protect Judaism, YHWH’s “true” religion. History shows that the likes of Saul/Paul fought against the newly-emerging religion, but earned immortality in history after eventually deciding “if you can’t beat them, join them” was a better strategy.

      The concept of syncretism being a threat to the status quo is not unique to only Judaism: the blending is a fundamental concept of human nature, and fighting against it is a losing battle since to do so is to stand in the way of change, an ultra-conservative stance. As usual, Jesus was contradictory on the point: he said that the Torah was perfect and would stand forever, while he also commanded his apostles to violate it’s most basic principles (eg the symbolic eating of his blood with the flesh in the Last Supper, violating the very spirit of Genesis 9’s long-standing prohibition against eating blood with flesh, which YHWH clearly stated was an EVER-LASTING prohibition for all generations, ie no expiration date).

      • Dave; throw me some bread crumbs 😉

        Where does Reformed Judaism come into play in what you have experienced in following the Torah?

        and thank you ahead of time for your reply – I am very interested in learning what I can – hence following Corinna’s writings!

        • Hi Janice,

          I think Jesus WAS a would-be reformer of Judaism who wasn’t born into the right Levitical tribe, and hence was killed as a heretic, an apostate of Judaism.

          Although he WAS a Jew, he was an upstart, an outsider of the power elites who were allowed to influence the direction of Judaism. As the old saying goes, opinions are like belly buttons, and here was just another malcontent offering an opinion amongst the literally hundreds of thousands who were offering a solution to the threat of a loss of lifestyle that Jews faced.

          Remember that Jews weren’t the ones calling the shots in Palestine: the real power was held by the Romans. As all potentiates do, the Romans were a small group spread thin that tried to keep things under control throughout the Empire via intimidation and fear. That approach works, until it doesn’t.

          But when it came to forcing religious changes, although an outsider, Jesus succeeded in forcing policy changes in mainstream Judaism (eg allowing doctors to heal on the Sabbath, since avoiding a needless loss of life trumps observing Sabbath) decades AFTER his death, and no doubt was a concession to legitimate murmuring that occurred amongst Early Christians coming from Judaism. If Christianity hasn’t been seen as a threat to Judaism, it’s hard to imagine that Judaism would’ve been forced to change. Jesus succeeded by losing: that’s the power of martyrdom for the lucky few who actually succeed by dying.

          But realize that Judaism was in a state of crisis under the prior five-six centuries of foreign control, faced with the challenge of resisting infiltration by immersion in Persian and then Hellenistic and Roman culture, losing their identity. Of course, the Jews finally experienced the near-fatal blow of destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

          Jews not only lost their holiest of holies with the desecration of the Temple, but they lost the ability to offer sacrifices to atone for sins. To a people who survived the Babylonian/Assyrian exile and subsequent diaspora, they were no strangers to overcoming adversity, and the role of sacrificial atonement of sins had to be downplayed and replaced with other means to obtain forgiveness (studying the Torah, works of charity, etc). There’s midrashim that can be read that document discussions amongst rabbis of how to deal with the challenges faced during the 400 years BEFORE Jesus arrived, and that’s a more potent lesson to humanity than simply saying, “God dun it”.

          We have examples of historical syncretism, and it’s a phenomenon that survives to this day (even in this thread, with someone sharing their attempts to fuse Hinduist beliefs with Judaism: that’s something that ultra-orthodox Saul/Paul would’ve tried to KILL a few Jew for doing, if you lived in 20 CE).

          Dave

          • well, im glad that isnt the case for acorporatewife – apparently humanity has evolved after all 😀

            See above – answered you earlier, and I think it still may apply… I do appreciate your explanations as you do seem to be well versed in order to do so – and its good to learn these viewpoints from a perspective, that unless you live near a Jewish community, you may not even realize it exists…

  6. Walt said: ”
    He actually did attend an Episcopal church for a time as President….Maybe that was just to keep people happy….”

    Hi Walt–
    I think Jefferson went to the Episcopal Church because it was close to the White House–LOL! I believe that’s where President Obama attends as well, although to my knowledge, he’s never declared himself a member of a specific denomination. Which is fine with me. Like Merrill, Patti, and others, I believe politics and religion are a toxic mix.

    Corrina, I’m looking forward to hearing more. I know relatively little about modern Jewish religious practices, and I can’t wait to hear your take!

  7. Dear Corinna,

    Greetings!!! I am a bit confused. Since it is mid-July, I don’t understand the reference to Sept.

    Churches do not share with synagogues. They charge them rent. This has been going on since FOREVER. (I know this from experience.)

    The word TORAH, in Hebrew, means LAW. It encompasses the first five book of the Hebrew Scriptures, often referred to as the Old Testament. This is the message which Moses conveyed to the Israelites, as well as the section we call the 10 Commandments, or the Decalogue.

    The “Hebrew Bible”, as you call it, starts with Genesis and ends with Malachi. It includes the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and the Prophets. All of it, by believers, is considered the word of God.

    I have never heard of a service which included food during the actual activity. Perhaps there was a gathering or party beforehand? The idea of having something sweet to eat in order to start the New Year off on a positive note, is a tradition and not part of the Law Code.

    • I’m not Corinna, but in another post (Transitions) she explained that the series of articles on Judaism and Buddhism are based on visits she conducted last year; hence the time-shift.

      Dave

    • Hi Cheri, this particular Jewish celebration described above in the Unitarian church is not a regular once-a-week sort of worship service, but a once-a-year event. It’s possible that the Jewish community pays some sort of fee to use the space for this purpose. The food I describe is for after the service, but I was dropping off my contribution before going into the sanctuary. The bulk of the action I will be posting in this next big chunk of posts took place last year. You’ll see that I actually had to make a trip to Los Angeles to further my Jewish experience because there are no syngagoues where I live (hence using the church). It’s taken me until now to sort through my experiences and write about them in a meaningful way. Thank you for commenting!

  8. I regularly went to a synagogue with a Jewish friend on Friday nights when I lived in Los Angeles a few years ago. It was the oldest congregation in LA; very small. It was such a blessing to sit and chant Hebrew with them. (They had lots of grace toward me as I stumbled along!) The service was usually followed by food and the best was during the festivals. Each part was filled with meaning and Jewish people have a way of appreciating the bounty of the earth and the life it produces. I was embraced fully. There were a couple of other Christians, spouses of members, who told me they were there because they loved the connection between Judaism and Christianity (as well as their spouses!).

    Speaking of that connection, Christianity fulfills the Scriptures of the Old (or First) Testament. The New Testament describes it like this: “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). That’s a great passage if you want to read about the connection.

    The day Jesus was resurrected, he showed up on a road outside of Jerusalem, and joined two men as they walked along. Those men, not recognizing him, began telling him about, well, himself—and that they felt he had been sent by God, and that they all hoped he was the one to redeem Israel, but, tragically, he had been crucified. And, they said, rumor had it that his tomb was found empty that morning, but they related, they personally had not seen Jesus.

    Then Jesus said this to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27).

    Anyway, I’m glad, Corinna, that you found the very same thing – food, celebration, and hospitality. They also really see to it that their children are educated and included in all they believe and celebrate.

    • I guess we shouldn’t be surprised there is food after the service, whether is Jewish, Christian, or whatever. Few things are as life-affirming as eating, and eating together probably goes back to our most ancient social roots. The Old and New Testaments are infused with stories linked to eating, both positively and negatively. There’s Eve and the infamous apple, of course. But in 2 Samuel, David signals his desire for peace by taking in Jonathon’s disabled son Mephilbosheth and seating him at the king’s table; the father’s great banquet upon the Prodigal son’s return; and the crowning meal, the Last Supper. What better way to celebrate God’s bounty and the gift of fellowship than by sharing a meal?

  9. Ginger said:
    “Speaking of that connection, Christianity fulfills the Scriptures of the Old (or First) Testament. The New Testament describes it like this: “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). That’s a great passage if you want to read about the connection.”

    Wow–I just read that passage tonight as part of the Episcopal Daily Office, and had the same thought, Ginger! Coincidence? Maybe…then again, maybe not…

    • Cool, Tim! I read it in my Lectionary reading too. Just fit–God is good! I think He enjoys this discussion, and as you said, here’s His input. 🙂

      Welcome, Blair. And thank you for your nice comments. We all appreciate them.

  10. Corrina, your quest has attracted a wonderful group of “followers” who are eminently respectful to one another and quite knowledgable concerning various religions. What you are doing here is very unique and somehow seems to bring the best out in the participants. Your exploration has stimulated a very rich discussion of comparative religion as well as a sort of comradery among a group with diverse views of religion. Your blogs and the discussion that follows is always a joy to read. You are the “none” who gave us some of what we never expected. Thank you.

  11. Blair,
    Appreciate your comments. Occasionally people can get a bit testy….well, not me, of course, but I think we show a great deal of respect and restraint, too, at times! LOL Stick here with us?
    Merrill

      • Okay…

        Hey, Blair! Carmen and Patti tole me to tell you that you’re supposed to buy all of us bagles and cream cheese!

            • Oh, and just so the miners know. . .Patti & Dave have gone off camping for awhile to other parts of Nova Scotia – they’ll be back here on the 27th (in time for a community party!). . .it’s very quiet here now without all of us gabbing. . . we all went out to a restaurant on Sunday night and there was much laughing; even HOOTING, I’ll tell you!

          • Actually, I’m an agnostic speller. I know I have to type, but I’m just not sure there’s a right way… 🙂

              • Corinna, looking forward to this part of the journey. Know almost nothing, but consequently not overloaded with falsehoods. Worked as a (please pardon the ignorant phonetic spellings) Shabbish Goy in the 60’s, tape recording Bonds-For-Israel pledges because of stricture on congressional writing during holy day services. Vocal bids sometime became excitedly competitive but not always accurately remembered on fulfillment. Members of the congregation ran the spectrum of welcome to distaste for me and my job. Being backstage, cantors were frequently my pleasant companions; one I remember, giving me the wink as he sipped some supposedly restricted broth, saying, ” Gotta lube up and go play some shofar for the kids!” Reminds me of a backstage episode I had with a Notre Dame priest after mass who said, “You shoulda been here last week; we have the original crown of thorns which we display sometimes.” “My,” I said, “Aren’t you worried about theft or defilement?” He smiled, (laughed actually) and said, “That’s okay, we have 5 more.”

                Back to topic, just skimmed a bit about Hasidic movement. Interested to hear more of its history and shape and what’s with their Christmas Eve actions, or lack of actions.

            • OK, Tim, LISTEN UP! as we used to say in the Army…..There’s a RIGHT way….and there’s the ARMY way! So, if those are the only two choices, agnostic (or is it angostic) probably fits…but don’t feel badly, no one’s perfect….but then again, I’m not sure…..

                • True ture!
                  Perhaps you know that Vietnam vets, even though we were still in the Reserves after Nam, did not have to attend ANY meetings.
                  So, that means I don’t have to be right at all!! 🙂

                  ps: carried to its logical extreme, what I just said may not be right, either, therefore….never mind…

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