Skip to main content

"There were plagues! I know there were plagues!"

Our first seder after getting married. One bedroom apartment in married student housing, us and four guests: a Catholic friend from grad school and his fiance (also Catholic, of course), and a Jewish friend with his "significant other" (not Jewish, of course). We got the good hard-cover Union haggadas and had just finished the whole thing. Said all the text, sang all the songs (as best as we could...), and gotten all the way to the back hard cover. No plagues. No allusion to plagues. We had a JPS bible that my wife had gotten for her Bat Mitzvah. I found my way to the book of Exodus, then to the the Moses meeting with Pharoh. "Yes! Look! Plagues. I knew there were plagues."

In retrospect, I realize that that was the beginning for me; the first step on the journey that let to where I am today.

I'd grown up nominally reform. That is, at home we lit chanuka candles, didn't have a christmas tree. At my (paternal) grandparents house we had a passover seder. We went to sunday school. We went to a reform temple till I was about 10, then our family had some sort of falling out with the rabbi there and so we switched to a conservative temple till I was 14. We then moved to Lake Tahoe and my formal (such as it was) religious affiliation with temples ended. We still lit chanuka candles at home, of course; and more than "of course", we did not ever, ever, had a christmas tree. We were Jewish, after all! We also celebrated Thanksgiving and Halloween and July 4 and whatnot. And we went to my mother's family to celebrate Christmas (more about that later...).

So what, you are wondering, was the big deal about no plagues? I certainly didn't actually believe that the plagues happened; or any other bible stories for that matter. Oh, surely something happened or some things happened; but the stories as we had them recorded were certainly fabrications built on some long lost true event. So what, you are still wondering, was the big deal.

As I said, I had rarely attended a Jewish service since moving to Lake Tahoe. Until, that is, I met my wife. She was very religious. She and her mother went to Temple every friday night. She ate matzah on passover, heard the shofar on Rosh HaShanna, fasted on Yom Kippur, and had a seder every single year. So I started going with her to friday night services, and it brought back some of those warm feelings I had had growing up and going to temple. Moreover, getting married meant starting a family at some point, and I felt is was important that children have a strong foundation of good values. I used to say that just like a building needs a good foundation, we all need a good foundation of values. Just like it doesn't matter too much which particular foundation you have as long as it is strong and firm; so too, it doesn't matter too much what religion/value system you subscribe to, as long as it is strong and firm.

But Reform Judaism had done the unforgivable; they had openly and blatantly lied; seemingly without compunction. If there is an elephant in your living room, you don't just ignore it! If you don't like that plagues, you can try to explain that they are allegorical, or that they were a step toward away from paganism that we don't need anymore, or any of dozens of other ways they have been dealt with by the non-Orthodox communities. But you don't simply pretend that they are irrelevant to Jewish history and identity! This was not a philosophy or foundation of belief system that you could even start with.

I think I realized at the time that I was rejecting Reform Judaism. I did not, however, appreciate that my thinking about that haggadah and the blatant dishonesty it revealed about Refom Judasim would eventually leave me with no choice but to embrace Orthodox Judaism!


Joel said…
This is not too dissimilar to one of my watershed moments -- when I read the 3rd paragraph of krias shema, and realized that the reform prayer book deleted the inconvenient portion about not following after one's one mind and heart, right before l'ma'an tizkaru (which for some reason, they kept). The dishonesty stunned me.

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…