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More from The Wandering Jew: A return to a place I visited 25 years ago, and some Jewish surprises there
One of the quirks of studying Judaism as an adult is there’s little talk of the G word. It’s so loaded and Jewish folks believe all kinds of things, or nothing at all. That feels complicated by the fact that I’m entering into Judaism from a different (or non-) tradition and into one that’s existed since before written history and defined most major religions and their various views on creation.
This also happened to be the one class in my Intro 101 that I had to miss so imagine my surprise when Intro 2.0 had a whole discussion on it: 3 different takes on what (a) G?d means and why we’re not spelling it.
But first! What does Judaism traditionally believe about the big man?
The G?d of the Torah would seem at once masculine and vindictive: angry, violent, petulant, and absent. Think any of the authors had daddy issues?
There are dozens of names for G-d in Hebrew and religious Jews don’t write out the name “God”, hence using references like Hashem (“the name”) or in English: G-d. Here’s where we can play.
If you read the very beginning of Torah there are actually two creation stories back-to-back. For anyone wanting to take the Bible literally, you can’t, by design—from the first sentence. These two accounts not just differ but totally contradict each other.
When Adam (“earth”) is created and Eve from him, it still says we were made in G-d’s image. That means G-d is both male and female both, or genderless altogether and therefore inclusive. Suck it, transphobes!
Some Christians are on to this, too. Carolyn Fitzpatrick writes:
The Episcopal Church has decided to revise its 1979 prayer book, so that God is no longer referred to by masculine pronouns.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things ever said about God in the Hebrew Bible occurs in Exodus 3 when Moses first encounters the deity and asks for its name. In verse 14, God responds, “I am who I am,” which is simply a mixture of “to be” verbs in Hebrew without any specific reference to gender. If anything, the book of Exodus is clear that God is simply “being,” which echoes later Christian doctrine that God is spirit.
In fact, the personal name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine. In light of Exodus 3, the feminist theologian Mary Daly asks, “Why must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all.”OK so this is a Christian source but I love it and its progressiveness
That’s a Christian source; I wish more Christians studied this. Christianity did the world a huge disservice here through translation, mistranslation, and gender politics, and then by breaking the Israelite rule of portraying G-d’s image. All of a sudden, He was a He and not just a man, but a white, bearded one, fathering the lone white dude in ancient Judea.
Don’t get me wrong, ancient Judaism was sexist and many Jewish cultures still are. But they don’t have to be.
So our Hebrew G-d doesn’t have a gender or one face. We all look like him/her/it. Mystically, G-d is unknowable this way. It makes us keep questioning, learning, and trying to be better, I think, as a result.
But wait, if G*d is so absent, faceless, and mysterious, isn’t that a huge drawback? Well, yes and no.
I’ve always been more agnostic than that. To me the Big Man is probably the universe, nature, all that combined. Mother Nature, science, and a dude with a white beard would all be the same to me.
I don’t know how some people can be so certain about G$d being a man, a human essentially, with a personality. The more you lean into that, the less I think you’re spiritually searching, or at least, you’re making huge assumptions about unknowns in one area, so you’re probably doing that elsewhere.
If we all agreed that we don’t know G^d or what exactly that is, I wonder if we’d get along better.
Entering any spiritual space I can have an experience. I don’t have to agree with a thing that particular sect or religion believes, but if people are entering seeking and trying to connect with things we can’t know or see, that’s beautiful. I feel that.
I’d feel the same category of things in a large cathedral (like I did at the Sagrada Familia) as I would say, on the surface of the moon. That’s very personal to me.
Who’s G*d to you? Here are some ideas I studied.
This is the first take: G?d is unknowable, unmoved he is everything and nobody, the original, Primary Being / First Cause. G?d is depth itself, as deep as the universe. This is the medieval, philosophical G?d of Maimonedes, a scientist. G?d is all-powerful here—the full power of the universe—but still not a being. We use a question mark because in science, in studying the infinitely small and large both, we constantly ask questions and shift our assumptions, but we can never fully know. Every scientific discovery leads to new paradigms or entirely new fields and more things to discover.
Science and G?d are infinite. Or G?d is science?
He Brews some mystery.
This concept of G!d is eminent, an Awesome presence, and this one’s a bit more mystical. We are all a part of G!d as in we are all made of the same stuff—literally stars. To me that harkens back to G?d, but to ancients it may have meant more of that G!d of the Torah. Able to break the laws of the universe It created, at least for awhile: long enough to get our attention (“chosen people”).
G!d is the creator, curator, the spark.
Fill-in-the-blank G-d. What is G-d to you? To me this may be more of a “why”. Why do we even do this? Is the idea of a deity antiquated, a throwback to men trying to explain science they didn’t understand? Are astronomers and philosophers and rabbis all seeking the same thing?
If “G?d” above is the universe and all its parts, then thinking of this way makes Jews the first environmentalists. We know we’re all made of exploded stars and everything on earth is, too. If every speck of that is part of the whole, then we must conserve and protect it.
This gets so goofy to me. All the recent portrayals I’ve stumbled upon—series where I didn’t know in advance there’d be a divine character—G*d was to various degrees absent, a buffoon, or outright awful. Yikes!
I’ll take Morgan Freeman, thanks. (Also makes a great president)
Shabbat shalom! — Bobby