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"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.

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