I had a conversation with a 10th grader at a coffee shop about God. He wondered if he shouldn’t be Jewish if he didn’t believe or doubted God. He wondered if he was being untrue to Judaism or an insincere Jew.
This is a big issue that starts to hit kids are 5th or 6th grade and they often feel that they do not have the space to disagree, argue or doubt God. There is a hidden message in our curricula that says that Judaism is tied to a firm belief in God.
There is no law in Judaism that says you have to believe in God, only a law that says if you do believe in God, it can only be one God.
No matter how often we say, “I don’t care what you believe” or how many Jews are atheists, or 30% of American Buddhists are Jewish, kids and teens feel that “we’re just saying it.” If you go to any Conservative or Reform service, God is mentioned in every prayer, praising God, thanking God, thanking the God of our ancestors . . . so where is the room for me to pray and doubt God at the same time?
We as educators need to do a better job teaching about Yisrael – or in other words, wrestling with God. We can wrestle with God, the idea of God, the concept of God or we can wrestle alongside of God, but either way, right when the brain starts to become super rational and logical around 6th grade we need to give more tools to our students.
I want to give the space for people to question and doubt God. I want to give the space for others to create their own definition of God. I think when people say they don’t believe in God they are saying they don’t feel comfortable with other people’s definition of God and therefore don’t want to say they believe in God because they don’t want you do think that you believe what they think you believe.
NO . . . you do not need to believe that God exists to be Jewish, to be an active Jew, to be a knowledgeable Jew, to participate in services or Jewish ritual. You do need to be able to articulate your beliefs about the relationship of things in the world and your relationship to the world.
One of the reasons that I am creating Tzedek America is to help teens articulate their personal beliefs before they head off to the abyss of academic pressure and the pressure to make money, before they are force to put on tefillin without knowing why or sheepishly look away when asked, “are you Jewish?”
It is time to raise up a generation of non-apologetic Jews who can articulate their Jewish beliefs and practices.