A Religious Better Fit for 2022

(photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Millions of American millennials learned the hard way from the 2008 great depression, real estate bubble bust, that, as the Talmud states; those who were certain that they ‘could grab it all, didn’t grab it at all’. And we all learned the very hard Covid-19 way the meaning of the Yiddish dictum that, those who are sure they could ‘plan their own future on a graph, only make God laugh’.

Meanwhile millions of American Roman Catholics, especially those with children, have left their church in the last two decades due to sex scandals by priests and cover-ups by bishops. And more recently, millions of Protestants, especially Evangelicals, have left their churches due to their pastors anti gay marriage and strong support for Donald Trump’s views and policies.

I believe that in the next two decades many of these people, especially those with young children, will seek and find other religions that better fit their moral and spiritual values.

Some people will become Buddhists, but those with children are very likely to desire a more family friendly religions like Islam and Judaism.

I think many of the reasons Ex-Trinitarians will find Islam and Judaism to be attractive are very similar; especially the Jewish and Muslim concepts of God’s unity; the warmth of Jewish and Muslim extended family life; and the importance of being part of a unitarian monotheistic religious community.

I have taught Introduction to Judaism classes (Reform-Liberal) for more than thirty years in Los Angeles, California, and during that time I got to know hundreds of non-Jews who were interested in learning about the Jewish religion, culture and history of resilient survival.

Most of these people had been raised in Christian homes, but had drifted away from the Church in their teens or 20’s. For years they considered themselves to be Christian only by tradition or culture.

Those raised as Catholics were alienated by the Church’s opposition to divorce and birth control. Those raised as Evangelical Protestants objected to the anti-evolution and the ‘only Jesus saves’ anti-religious pluralism sermons of their preachers.

They still believed in God, but they did not believe that Jesus was the Divine Son of God. Indeed, some of them, even in their youth, while they were still attending church, prayed only to God, the father; and not to Jesus, the Son.

Most of them also still believed in the value and importance of religion for themselves and their future children. When they found themselves involved romantically with a Jewish person they decided to learn about Judaism as a good way to unify their marriage and their family.

Not everyone who took the Introduction to Judaism class decided to become Jewish. Some realized that they were not ready to actually join a religious minority, or that they were not willing to give up having a Christmas tree. Others found that while they had not been actively Christian for years, they still believed in some aspects of Christian salvation.

Shayna Estulin, who wrote a master’s thesis on singles converting to Judaism, found that most Ex-Trinitarians did it because they felt Christianity didn’t give them the answers that Islam and Judaism did.

Others reverted to Judaism because a parent or relative was Jewish and they wanted to reconnect to their heritage; like one man she interviewed who converted to Judaism after he discovered he had an ancestor who had been a Jew who was forced to convert to Christianity many generations ago.

But each reason had the same underlying theme: All these people experienced a deep connection to Judaism and to Jews. As an example Estulin writes about Kelly. “She told me that she had wanted to be Jewish since she was a little girl growing up in Canada.

“The homes of her Jewish friends seemed like warm, loving places, where everyone got along, and holidays were always being celebrated.

“Her home was very different. The house felt cold, her parents distant. That feeling of coldness followed her into the neighborhood church that the family attended occasionally. “I was always freaked out by Jesus on the cross. Aesthetically it’s just dark and scary, worshiping a dead man on a cross,’ Kelly said.

Muslims will find many similarities to Muslim converts in this account. But there are also some practical differences that need to be understood.

The majority of non-Jews who marry Jews do not convert to Judaism, so in the case of almost all converts to Judaism; marriage is the occasion but not the cause of their conversion.

Those who did decide to become Jewish usually felt they were coming home (reverting). Their own beliefs already were closer to Reform Liberal Jewish values than traditional Christian values.

All they needed to do was to add a love of Torah study and debate and the many Jewish Holiday celebrations and traditions to their life; and push their way into the Jewish community.

I say push their way in because unlike the Muslim community, which since its inception has eagerly welcomed outsiders into the Muslim Ummah, some Jews are ambivalent about converts to Judaism.

This is because more than sixteen centuries ago, when the Church became strong enough to influence the Roman government, it got the government to outlaw conversion to Judaism.

For many centuries prior to Christian rule, the Jewish community welcomed large numbers of converts into the Jewish People. Recent genetic studies have provided strong evidence of this major influx of Mediterranean peoples from North Africa to the Middle East, into the Jewish People.

All this changed in the generations after Constantine. By the fifth and sixth century, converts to Judaism faced death, as did those who helped them become Jewish. These laws remained in effect in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century.

For example, Count Valentine Potocki, a young Polish nobleman went to Paris to finish his education, There he found a Jewish teacher to teach him Hebrew so he could study the Bible in its original language. After some time Potocki decided to become Jewish. He went to Amsterdam, where it was safer to convert to Judaism, and then went to the Land of Israel, where he lived for several years.

Eventually Count Potoki became homesick, and took the dangerous step of returning to Poland. He settled near Vilna, posing as a born Jew, and spent all his time studying Torah. When the police learned he was a convert, he was arrested. In 1749, Count Potocki was burned alive in the center of Vilna.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are still wedded to Medieval ways of thought, prefer to avoid non-Jews in general and potential converts in particular. Reform and Liberal Jews who are wedded to Modern ways of thinking, are much more open to welcoming, and some even encourage converts.

In addition to being more welcoming to Non-Jews who want to become Jewish, Reform and Liberal Judaism are not as hard to observe as Orthodox Judaism is, although becoming circumcised does discourage some men.

Jesus and Muhammad are not officially called prophets in the Jewish tradition, but one can see them both as prophets of Reform Judaism.

As a Reform Rabbi I believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai.

Although the Torah of Moses prohibits adding to the commandments (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) over the centuries Orthodox Rabbis added many restrictions to the laws of prohibited activities under the theory of building a protective fence around the Torah’s laws.

Also, whenever Orthodox Rabbis were in doubt if an animal had been slaughtered correctly according to Jewish law, or if one could eat a new species of bird, it was ruled prohibited. Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis still believe that stricter is better.

For those people who believe in God but cannot fit into a Trinitarian church, and for those people who do not need, or want, statues and pictures of God; the Mosque and the Synagogue are the right place to worship.

Islam offers its believers: a world wide, multinational monotheistic community, yet all praying in one language and facing the same holy place.

Judaism offers those who belong to it: a monotheistic community with a very long tradition of overcoming national adversity and adjusting to international cultural change, yet all praying in one language and facing the same holy place.

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