Responses to the Elephant in the Room contest have taken us on quite a trip, from the ballpark to the circus to the birth of the universe. Whether you are working on your own entry or just discussing among friends, these visualizations of Judaism may help on your own trip:
“The Big Bang occurred 13.9 billion years ago; the Bet that begins the Torah. At that moment everything was an undifferentiated colloid of infinite density and temperature. As the explosion unfolded in the first tiny fraction of a second, the laws of physics and chemistry became manifest and subatomic particles began their organized movement … The power that makes this all happen, that’s God.”
“Does this God have a human-like personality such that if we do things like pray or sacrifice goats or do compassionate actions God will be pleased and stick her proverbial finger into our daily causes and effects? I do not think so. As Jews, doing Jewish things, we insist that doing these things is good for us, that they sustain our community, that they ennoble us, that they tell our story and thus we participate in the God process. But God has no more first hand knowledge of our poor powers than we might have of an ant colony thriving in a distant corner of our backyard.”
– William Blank
“What does it mean to be Jewish without belief in God? I ask my students this question … I make the students draw extended metaphors for Judaism, placing God somewhere in the picture. For some, Judaism is a flower, and God the sun—without the sun, it wilts, and blooms no more. For others, Judaism is a car, and God the engine—without the engine, no movement, only idleness and rust. One student, a budding Humanist to be sure, drew Judaism as an onion, with God as a layer—without this layer, many other rich layers remain.”
– Matthew Lowe
“When I was a child – before there was a State of Israel – I was taught that Judaism is more than a religion, it is a peoplehood. I learned that we Jews are part of a great civilization that has endured for millennia despite numerous attempts to destroy or change us. As an adult I have learned that internal divisions have threatened to tear us apart many times in our history. When I think about how the Jewish people have endured despite forces within and outside our community, I consider our survival as a distinct people nothing short of miraculous.”
– Marge Kravitz
“Being Jewish is a passive genetic a state, over which I have virtually no control. Being a Jew is an active state. Using my years of interest/study of Judaism I have set three standards that I have to meet to consider myself to be a Jew. These apply only to me. Each person must set his/her own standards. I judge no one else by my standards.
- Religions have a basic tenant of the faith. In Judaism it is a belief in god, as stated in the Shema, which I do not do, so the umpire calls STRIKE ONE!!!!!!
- Of the Ten Commandment given to Moses at Mt. Sinai nine are moral commandments. One is a religious commandment, i.e. that of shomer Shabbat, keeping the Sabbath, which I do not do, so the umpire calls STRIKE TWO!!!!!!
- All religions have traditions, rules, laws, etc. In Judaism these can be found in the massive Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. In the 1550s Rabbi Caro in Safad condensed them in to the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, which I do not follow, so the umpire calls STRIKE THREE, you may be Jewish but you are NOT a Jew!”
– Howard Sands
“Who needs a god, or even ‘the God,’ when you have a good story. A good story is a current that can carry along a person, family, or tribe for a long, long time, providing entertainment, instruction, and identity. And for Jews, our tribe has an amazing story. It is full of magic and mystery, tragedy and triumph, heroes and heels, poetry and prose, and even some lively licentiousness.”
“I like the idea of god, even “the God.” It somehow makes the story grander. I like to imagine this character even sits, unseen, by our campfires, listening to the story of the Jews. I imagine the character getting great amusement from the story. I have even heard a yarn about ‘the God’ choosing the Jews — maybe that would be like picking out a favorite serialized TV drama. If so, I hope the show gets its contract renewed; I would like to hear a few more seasons of it myself.”
– Michael Chusid
“Forgive me dear friends, fellow Jews, religious some, atheists other. If you haven’t yet figured it out – being a Jew is like taking part in a circus. The Jewish circus is a one ring circus. … The acts call themselves Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Elephant.”
“Is it so strange that I take what I need from within the Jewish tradition and say ‘this is what makes me a Jew?’ Isn’t that what you who worry about the Elephant in the Room have also done in the past; selecting, discarding – deliberately forming that which you now consider the immutable holy books?”
“In Yiddish we talk about “di golden keyt” – the golden chain of Jewish history. The elephant has always been one of the links in the chain. Do you dare continue to try to break the links? You need the elephant. He is strong. He is loyal. The circus is in danger of becoming a side show without him.”
– Gerry Kane