Yesterday, 29 Iyar, Day 44 of the Omer and thus six days from Shavuot, I emerged from the mikveh a member of the People Israel. For some of you reading this, the only surprise is that I was not already a Jew. Others may not even care; you come here, after all, for the Fruits and the Votes and not for “religion.” Fair enough. I won’t tell my life story here, or even delve much into the reasons for taking such a momentous and personal step. My wife of 15 years is a Jew and I have identified with the Jewish People for some time. Now the Jewish People formally identify with me, as well. And Judaism is a communal religion (and much, much more than a religion) and thus a public declaration is part of the process. Or so it should be. And what better public forum than my blog?
An interesting aspect of my profession is the relative lack of interest among its practitioners in the religious, the spiritual, in God. I know significant numbers of Jews in the profession in the sense of their having Jewish heritage, but very few who are, at least to my knowledge, “observant” in any way. I can also think of very few colleagues who are active or observant in any faith tradition–again, to my knowledge. (Maybe there are many whose religious activity is simply unknown to me.) I certainly do know a few who are devout Christians as well as scholars, but they are indeed few. I see no contradiction in being religiously observant and being a good scientist, political or otherwise. Yet my sense is that my profession–and I am speaking only of political science here–is overwhelmingly atheist or agnostic. I won’t attempt to explain why that might be so. It is an interesting question, but I will leave that for another day (and most likely another forum, unless readers care to discuss it in the comments). From my perspective, religion and science (political or otherwise) are separate pursuits, and one does not validate or invalidate the other. Thus while keeping them separate certainly makes for good secular professional ethics, being serious about one should not prevent one from being equally serious about the other. And yet the most serious scholars seem rarely to be serious about belief in a higher Source. It is my personal opinion that Judaism–especially its progressive streams–is more consistent with science than any other faith tradition, but saying so is not an attempt to spark a debate. It is just a personal statement. Your mileage may vary, and rest assured that I have no intention of “converting” this blog or its readers just because the blogger has converted.
The following words, from a liberal Jewish prayer book, capture about as well as any could my reason for making this transformation (not that anyone does, or should, do this for “reason” alone; one must have–and I do have–a deep emotional connection):
I am a Jew because my faith demands no abdication of the mind.
I am a Jew because my faith demands all the devotion of my heart.
I am a Jew because wherever there is suffering, the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because wherever there is despair, the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the message of our faith is the oldest and the newest.
I am a Jew because the promise of our faith is a universal promise.
I am a Jew because for the Jew, the world is not completed; people must complete it.
I am a Jew because for the Jew, humanity is not fully created; people must complete it.
I am a Jew because the faith of the people Israel places humanity above nations, above Judaism itself.
I am a Jew because the faith of the people Israel places above humanity, image of the divine, the Oneness of God.
I will be known among the People Israel as Matityahu ben Avraham v’ Sarah.
One of my favorite biblical quotes–because of not only its message, but also its fruit-growing allusions–concerns the Messianic era. The very concept is difficult for some, so it is worth prefacing with a note that the Messianic era is understood by Jews (at least liberal/progressive Jews) as the days we ourselves help bring along, not by faith, but by what we observe ( “let them [the commandments/ mitzvot] be a symbol between your eyes”) and what we do ( “bind them as a sign upon your hand”)–that is, what we observe about the world around us and what actions we take to make it better. It may be a stretch–perhaps a very big stretch–but my “observance” of the rules of organic agriculture (and my evolving interest in Eco-Kashrut), my academic efforts to understand better how democracy works (and why it too often does not), and my advocacy of electoral reform as a means to enhance the voice of those who are not otherwise powerful are among my tiny and insignificant contributions to what Jews refer to as Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). That is, while I have much more to do, now that I have accepted the responsibilities of the Covenant, in many ways, this is a “confirmation” of what I have been striving for in my secular life for some time. We all have our work cut out for ourselves, but one day:
… all shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree, and none shall make them afraid… (Micah 4:4).
Ken yehi ratson.