When one joins our congregation, when one becomes a member of Holy Blossom Temple, the form calls for name and address, how many children, Hebrew names, etc. But nowhere is there a request for a statement of faith, not even a check box. Belief in God is not a requirement to be an upstanding member of our community. If we asked the question, I’m sure we’d see a range of responses. The box most likely to be checked might very well be: “It’s complicated.”
Holy Blossom is a diverse community in so many ways, why not in faith? I admire the fact that we have among us Social Justice Seekers who do believe in God and feel themselves responding to God’s call, and also devoted Torah Readers who do not believe in God, but believe in the mission of the Jewish People. I admire that we have philanthropists who are determined to fulfill the God-given mitzvah of tzedakah, and also Zionist leaders who do not hear God’s call, but they travel to Israel again and again because the call of their ancestors shakes them to their core.
Some people introduce themselves to me by saying they don’t believe in God. It can happen at a gala event or in a grocery story aisle. I don’t know if it’s more a confession or a test. Sometimes it seems a sincere request for a real conversation. So I reply: “So what do you believe in?” (It’s always easier to articulate what we don’t believe in.) An answer: “I don’t believe God is a King on a heavenly throne making judgements of who shall live and who shall die.” My response: “Good. Neither do I.” And the conversation goes on from there.
Rabbi Professor Eugene Borowitz z”l
A great light has gone out. The Jewish world has lost one of its most beloved teachers. Known as the leading theologian of the Reform Movement of our time, Rabbi Borowitz taught for more than fifty years at Hebrew Union College. He wrote about the limits of human autonomy and where Covenant dominates. He challenged us to consider what mitzvah as commandment means in the context of modern liberal Judaism. He raised generations of rabbis not only to think, but also to reflect of their own belief and practice. Some may remember when he came to teach at Holy Blossom Temple. Rabbi Borowitz earned a Ph.D. in education and befriended his colleague Heinz Warshauer. I’m told Heinz brought young Gene many times to teach our teachers. What a gift.
Rabbi Borowitz was not afraid to teach and write in the first person. In the environment of the academy, this can be risky business, but he was fearless in faith. He did not model simple faith, but the pursuit of faith.
On an essay entitled “What God Still Does”: “God redeems. I therefore trust that, despite the tarrying, one day – perhaps today – human and divine endeavor will reach its climax and will redeem in the climactic way our tradition calls the coming of the Messiah. I would dearly like to know more about how God will do this and what the culminating divine act will be like, but I remain unenlightened. And I also cannot extrapolate from what little I know about God acting in history to how God will take us beyond it or to what. Yet this ignorance does not keep me from believing it so firmly that I base my life on it.” (Renewing the Covenant, p. 153)
If not here, then where?
Maimonides taught we cannot describe what God is; we can only describe what God is not. But when it comes to our own faith, we should be able to articulate more about what we do believe. It’s a challenge that isn’t posed often enough. The conversation can happen anywhere, but in Canada today it’s more likely to happen no where. Etiquette or law keeps God-talk out of the workplace, our neighbourhoods, our schools. So if not at our own Shabbat dinner table, then where? If not here in our own synagogue, then where? This is part of our mission as a sacred congregation. Let’s be fearless in our conversations in pursuit of the sacred and Divine.