For people who don’t believe that God can intervene in our lives, and why Judaism is still important.
“Judaism has so much to teach us about how we treat ourselves, each other, and our planet…. Of course, you can learn these values elsewhere. But as a people, Jews have thousands of years of experience turning this kind of stuff over and over. [We’ve] had millions of users working to debug the system. Rather than look to other sources for guidance, let us turn to our own people’s past to discover what it has to say about our present and our future.”
—from the Introduction
For some people, the biggest stumbling block in religion is God—even for an ordained rabbi who admits her rational mind “can’t buy into a God in the sky who writes down our deeds and rewards and punishes us accordingly.” But not being sold on an intervening God shouldn’t bar you from living a vibrant and fulfilling Jewish life. The God concept has seen many upgrades over the centuries and it is these reinterpretations that have kept Judaism relevant.
In this provocative look at the ways in which God concepts have evolved and been upgraded through the centuries, Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold examines how our changing ideas of God have shaped every aspect of Judaism. With enthusiasm and humor, she shows that by aligning our understanding of God with modern sensibilities, Judaism can be made more meaningful, accessible and fully compatible with twenty-first-century life.
“Will produce a fresh view of God.... [Korngold’s] powerful message can resonate with people of all faiths as they struggle to reconcile science and religion.”
—Publishers Weekly starred review
“Funny, honest and passionate … a provocative, intriguing and always interesting exploration of Jewish theology that will grab you from the first page. God-wrestlers, this book is for you!”
—Dr. Ron Wolfson, co-president, Synagogue 3000; author, God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth
“Clear, accessible … will serve as a safe entry point into serious conversations about Jewish theology and spirituality for a new generation.”
—Rabbi Daniel Freelander, senior vice president, Union for Reform Judaism
“Courageous! Grapples with religion with such honesty, wisdom and humor.”
—Harold Grinspoon, founder, Harold Grinspoon Foundation
“Offers a way into Judaism that doesn’t require adherence to a stale and rigid theology. [A] powerful and compelling articulation of Judaism.”
—Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder, IKAR
“Offers terrific examples of how creative and innovative Jewish educators can link millennia-old traditions with the natural world to inspire young Jews to chart their own course through our rich heritage.”
—Lynn Schusterman, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
“Provides all of us—primarily parents and teachers—with a thoroughly accessible resource for introducing a younger generation into the riches of Jewish theology. Particularly unconventional and noteworthy is the author’s use of nature as another revealed ‘text,’ parallel to Torah and the synagogue, where God can be experienced.”
—Rabbi Neil Gillman, PhD, emeritus professor of Jewish philosophy, The Jewish Theological Seminary; author, Doing Jewish Theology: God, Torah & Israel in Modern Judaism
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- What do you imagine is the biggest stumbling block to Judaism for others?
- What do you think is the biggest stumbling block to Judaism for yourself?
- Rabbi Korngold suggests that the biggest stumbling block to Judaism is God. Discuss your reaction to her statement. What do you think she means? Do you agree or disagree? How do you think others might react to her claim?
- Rabbi Korngold presents a myriad of Jewish theologies. Which Jewish theologies are you familiar with, and which are new to you? Which resonate with you most? least?
- What do you think most Jews believe about God?
- What ground rules do you think a group should have in order for people to feel they can safely share their concept of God? Agree on the atmosphere you’d like to set for the rest of this discussion.
- What do you believe about God?
- How does it feel to hear other people’s theologies?
- Why do you think Jewish people might remain Jewish even if they donít believe in a God who can come down here and make things happen or who responds to prayer?
- What is the place or time in which you feel the most spiritually connected? What is the connection between that place or time and your God concept?
You write about reclaiming and redefining the word God. Many people will say there is nothing wrong with their understanding of God.
If people have a clear faith and belief in what God is and that works for them, I don’t want to mess with those peopleís faith. I envy their faith. I used to have that faith.
But now I look at CNN and I see good people suffering, I see terrible people being rewarded, and it doesn’t match with the concept of God that I had, with the idea that God is looking over us and taking care of us. If people have that belief, God bless them, they shouldn’t read my book. My book is a plea for a conversation with the rest of the people who don’t believe in a God that intercedes in lives and therefore feel religion doesn’t have a place for them. They are the people I don’t hear in the religious conversation. All I hear are the people who are completely confident in their faith.
If we don’t take on this God issue, if we allow religion to be something where we have to check our rational mind at the door, then all those people I am talking about are just going to leave religion because there is no place for them.
You write about the things that keep people from religion, and you conclude the biggest problem is God.
I think religion has gotten more and more and more conservative. The voice that is heard in America has gotten more extreme. But we have upgraded our understanding of how the world works. We no longer think that drought is caused by God punishing us; we now know it is due to climatic fluctuations. We no longer think that strokes are caused by demons. We know there is a medical reason for it.
Religion has changed, too. Divorced people are now allowed in church. Women are allowed to be rabbis. Religion has so many relevant things to teach us that can make our lives more meaningful. We have upgraded our understanding of everything else in religion—why not upgrade our idea of God?
You write, “We need not be tethered to the God concept that does not jive with the world as we know it.” Some believers might say just the opposite, that they need not be tethered to a world that doesn’t jive with the God they know in their hearts.
Part of the difficulty of this conversation is that nobody knows what God is. None of us do. We just don’t know. There are people who are sure they know. I think they are wrong. Not necessarily that their God concept is wrong, but their surety is wrong because you just can’t know. God is unknown, so it makes sense that as we have come to understand things differently, we come to understand God differently.
This seems like it could be a book written by an atheist, not a rabbi. Do you believe in God?
I believe in God in the way in which I believe in God. (Laughs) Yes. I believe in God, and God is a powerful part of how I live my life and why I live my life the way I do. I’m not an atheist. I have a belief in God that differs from what is being taught by mainstream religion. I know there are a lot of people who share my concept of God, so why are we still teaching this stuff that we read and listen to but think is bunk? I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “That is exactly how I feel; but to hear a rabbi say it makes it okay.”
Given your take on religion and God, why bother being Jewish, or for that matter a member of any other religion?
The tools that I use are Jewish. When we are talking about the Divine, the language that we use is different from the language Christians use. It doesnít mean that my religion is better. It’s not. Half of my hate mail comes from Orthodox. I hope that someday there is a time when we don’t need religion, but right now Judaism has some really important things to teach us that our culture doesn’t teach us, that Islam and Christianity doesn’t teach us.
What is your concept of God?
In simple terms, my concept of God is “the connectivity between everything.” Itís not a force you can pray to, it’s not a force that will look over you, it’s a connection that lets me live my life the way I do.
Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, the Adventure Rabbi, has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today and many other media outlets for her innovative work in Judaism. Founder and spiritual leader of the Adventure Rabbi Program, she is a popular retreat leader and speaker on the topics of Judaism and Jewish life. She is the author of God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors.
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, one of the most respected spiritual leaders and teachers of his generation, has been a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, for close to forty years. Rabbi Schulweis is the author of many books, including Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey (Jewish Lights), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.