Purim and Religious Freedom

Franc Kavcic’s “Esther Before Ahasuerus”

We’re coming quickly to Purim. Yay, noisemakers and parties and costumes and drinking ad lo yada (until you can’t tell the difference between blessed be Mordecai and cursed by Haman), right!?

As an introvert, Purim as a big party is pretty hard for me to get into. I’m thinking about wearing a suit and saying I’m dressed like a rabbi. (Get it?!) But Esther, the book many communities read on Purim and which almost all communities at least talk about during the holiday, is an interesting read. (There’s always some way to make lemonade from lemons!)

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What is religion?

Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, who blogs as The Atheist Rabbi, has a new post responding to an article by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former head of the Reform movement.

I have very little to add to Rabbi Falick’s specific critique, so before you read what I have to say, tze ul’mad (go and study) what Rabbi Falick says. Go ahead–I made that link give you another window so you won’t lose your place.

You’re back? Okay.

Rabbi Falick makes the point that as Jewish humanists, we don’t reject religion–rather, we reject the confirmability and necessity of a vertical dimension to a separate divine being. Some humanists are atheists. Some are agnostic (don’t know) or ignostic (don’t think the question is relevant). Those answers all tend to lead to the same conclusion.

What is important is that the question of the existence of a divine being has, for us, no normative consequences. That does not mean that we reject normative principles–ethics are important, and independent ethical inquiry is even more important for humanists than for non-humanists because we don’t accept divine command-theory accounts of ethics and morality.

Religion is not only about the vertical connection of individuals to a divine other; it needn’t be about that at all, in fact. Spirituality is also not about that kind of connection. We are “vertically” connected to the entire universe beyond ourselves and other humans. We appreciate the glory and beauty of all that is, in all its varieties. We recognize the role of natural processes in the world and marvel at their power and complexity.

We don’t impute into them or derive proofs from them of the existence of a separate divinity. But we organize communities around appreciation of them, and we recognize their power and our power to shape and live within them. We believe in and appreciate the importance of our own role in that broader order.

As Jewish humanists, we look to the entire spectrum of Jewish life to help us infuse all this with greater meaning. We look–very often first–at Jewish texts, practices, and principles in forming observances.

All of this is religion. It is also all faith. It is all spirituality writ large. And it is participation in cultural and ethnic life.

What it is not is theism.