A Quick Post About Shavuot

In Judaism on June 6, 2011 at 10:40 pm

It’s been a while since I posted about Judaism and conversion. Tomorrow I’m attending a Shavuot confirmation service, dinner, and class. I figured this would be the perfect time to whip something up.

Shavuot is when people of the Jewish faith celebrate the Torah being handed down at Sinai. By converting, I accepted this covenant and the Torah. However, once you get past this simple statement, everything becomes pretty complicated, especially in a modern, liberal context.

I’m a Reform Jew who attends services at a Conservative synagogue. This wasn’t as difficult of a transition as I was expecting. To a large extent, the problems the Conservative movement faces are similar to those of the Reform movement.

How does a modern movement that does not believe God literally handed down the Torah to the Jewish people engage its members in the text? How does a modern movement where many of its members do not believe in God as God was seen in the time of the Old Testament engage the text? Whose translations and interpretations should be used? The movement’s? The Rabbis’? Modern rabbis’? Modern religious scholars’? Modern academic scholars’? How inclusive should the language be?

Especially on Shavuot, all of these questions are important. As the holiday approaches, I’ve been pondering even more questions. What does the covenant mean to me as a convert? What does it mean to me when I don’t accept some of the traditional interpretations of the commandments and even some of the commandments themselves? What does it mean to me as a queer person? What does it mean as a feminist? Am I actually accepting the covenant, or am I just fooling myself into believing I am?

I know that there are plenty of traditionalists out there who would say that I have not accepted the covenant and am not really Jewish. However, in rabbinical tradition (and this may be a pretty horrible retelling of this story) it is said that the Jewish people was not the first people God brought the Torah to. There were other peoples who were previously approached who would or could not accept the commandments and passed on the Torah. The Jewish people did accept, and to me the rest of the story is like a classic bait-and-switch. The Jewish people accepted, and throughout the rest of Jewish history we read over and over again how they failed to live up to their end of the bargain, leaving God to figure out how not to smite the errant people who kept making the same mistakes over and over again.

While I enjoy the festivities and learning tomorrow, perhaps I’ll take some consolation in the fact that while I may have fallen short of what other people think I should be as a Jewish woman, I am in good (or maybe just crowded) company.

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