Sunday, July 12, 2015

Simmy Richman - Losing my religion

Religious people have their Damascene moments, but atheists often have only the vaguest recollection of the point at which the scales dropped from their eyes. Me, I can trace my disbelief in God back to two distinct childhood memories. To understand those events in context, you’ll need a little bit of background.

Where to start?

Here’s the problem when you talk about anything to do with Judaism. It’s a religion, sure, but it’s mostly not that for many people who are born into it. In the main – and I’m going to try hard not to generalise here – the kind of Jews I grew up around called synagogue shul but didn’t go to it, called the sabbath “shabbas” but did not observe it and did not, strictly speaking, keep kosher. Neither did they show any of the outward signs that would allow strangers to identify them instantly as Jewish. If they want you to know they are Jewish, they will  proudly tell you. They’re not hiding anything. It’s just not fundamental to their everyday lives. You’re on a need-to-know basis, and when you need to know (perhaps when they invite you to, say, a son’s bar mitzvah), they’ll tell you that, yes, they are Jewish, but no, they’re not  really that observant.

I have no idea what the statistics would tell you, but from first-hand evidence gathered unscientifically from my immediate surroundings and beyond, I’m going to guess that around 75 per cent of Jewish people are not the kind of Jews who go in for the religious observance/outward signs (yarmulkes, dangly hair bits) thing. It is widely accepted and understood that the vast majority of Jews will go to synagogue maybe two or three times a year (Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur are the biggies) and will make a show of keeping kosher at home only to dine out at their nearest McDonald’s as and when the next Mac attack strikes.

We are, I prefer to think, a complex and conflicted people and for reasons too complicated and boring to go into, most Jews are of the pick-and-choose variety, selecting the laws they wish to keep and finding endless excuses to dispense with those that are too much bother. There are, precisely, 613 commandments that the observant Jew must live by and, as with so many other aspects of the religious code, it feels as if most of these are to do with food. Don’t eat this, do eat that, don’t eat this until this much time has passed since you ate that, and so on. The upshot of all this madness is that my mum did what she could to run a kosher home and my dad interpreted the texts to suit all practical purposes. read more: