Immersing My Whole Self in Tradition

I wrote this article about the mikveh as a person with both a nonbinary body and a trauma history. I hope it will be of use to those of you who are worried for similar reasons.

A small booklist before bed

These are some books I have found useful. More context, reviews and deeper thoughts about them to be continued at a later date. But here are some that are worth reading.

As I remind people constantly, I am not a woman. However, I have found The Women’s Torah Commentary to be a gem for ridding some parsha of the patriarchal stink or, failing that, making it more bearable. Worth investing in.

As I am also constantly reminding people, I’m queer. No, queerer than that. WAY queerer than that. You get the idea. So what if I told guh there was a commentary by queerdos for queerdos? That would be Torah Queeries. It’s such a good way of queering Torah that I keep it by my tanakh for easy reach.

And, as everybody else will recommend to a potential Jew to be: Anita Diamont’s Living a Jewish Life. This is the update from Choosing a Jewish Life and it’s even more personable.

I have to recommend Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells. It’s so full of beautiful meditations and prayers and poems for the queer soul. You might recognize a few names from Twitter of soulful contributors.

For a more academic approach, Newbie Jewbies might be recommended Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice by Mark Washofsky. It has a lot of Jewish history in it and can be eye opening to people who had very white Christian-centric educations.

That’s all for the moment. I have more but the Ambien has kicked in and I’d like this to retain some degree of lucidity.

Why I Converted

Or: how I came to love the wilderness.

I’ve tried to write this several times and it’s always hard to find the beginning. The end is easy: in the end, I’m a Jew. But getting there was a journey.

I was brought up in an evangelical household, though my parents were of two differing denominations and the family itself settled on “one kind of Baptist or another; for Pete’s sake, just say Baptist.” We alternated between Freewill and Missionary flavours.

I have always been very into religion. I wrote Mr. Rogers a letter when I was 7 asking if I could preach, having been taught people of my assigned gender could not. Mr. Rogers wrote back a 3 page response and it’s one of my dearest memories of him. But I’ll write about that another time.

I read The Chosen when I was 11. It was a profoundly affecting book for me and I found myself re-reading it regularly. There was something about the Talmud study — I’d never heard of the Talmud! — and regular davening and all of it that really stuck with me. But I couldn’t be a Jew, no matter how much I liked the idea because I was Christian and Christian was right and wasn’t I lucky I was born into the right religion? So 11 year old me put aside the idea of being a Jew. Sort of.

As I got older and actually got into theology, I began to have more problems. I didn’t like Paul. I didn’t believe in the Rapture. I wasn’t sure there was a hell and maybe not even a heaven. I still believed in a soul, though. I was the bane of many a Sunday School teacher and later, many a professor.

I tried for a very long time to be Christian, but my love for the Hebrew Bible kept growing and my dislike of the Christian testament fermented. It wasn’t Jesus in the beginning. He was basically fine. But when you can’t stand Paul and Paul wrote 13 of the 29 books in the canon, you start to have problems.

The more I studied, the more issues I had with Paul. How was he a Pharisee hired by Saducees when they were basically having a massive religious schism? How was he a student of Gamaliel whose opinion on Christians was “let’s see — if it’s from God, you can’t stop it and if it isn’t, it’ll fade,” not “kill the Christians?” He had an unattested conversion story with variants told in his own letters that don’t match up and he used it to bolster his claim as an apostle while simultaneously disagreeing with the apostles who’d actually known Jesus. The man had an ego and I began to wonder if the thorn in his side was a propensity to lie.

So Paul was stinky cheese and I didn’t want anything to do with him. But once you take Paul out of the equation, there’s a lot of Christianity that doesn’t hold — he’s so influential that most of what’s practiced today is Pauline Christianity. Not believing what Paul said, not believing in an afterlife anymore, I honestly had to wonder why I believed I needed a saviour. If my sins are to be addressed in this life between myself and those I’ve harmed, between myself and my environment and between myself and God, and I don’t believe in a hell to be spared from or a heaven to be elevated to … what was Jesus for? And if I didn’t believe in an afterlife, how could I believe in a resurrection? If there was no resurrection, what made Jesus different from other nice guys who said some nice and some not so nice things in history?Eventually, I couldn’t hold the threads together. I had to admit the cloth of my Christianity no longer existed.

In grad school, my love for the Hebrew Bible only increased. My love of the way the rabbis played with the text and questioned God and even argued took on a life of its own. Over time, I realized I was developing Jewish theology on a personal level. When I finally shook free the vestiges of Jesus as someone other than a human who was on the whole probably a good guy, I had no reason not to pursue this path that had captivated me so long ago and proved to be such great comfort and joy even before I embraced it.

Long story short: Paul did it. And he’s still stinky cheese.

Obligatory intro post:

Every blog ever starts with the best of intentions and boundless energy and then it tapers off. I’m not saying mine will be different, but I do promise I have a few things to say and I probably won’t disappear until I’ve said them, if that helps.

I’m a 41 year old convert to Judaism who was formerly a Christian minister. Mayim Akiva is my Hebrew name. (My given name isn’t a secret; I just already have a site with that name.)

I have tons of thoughts on my former faith, my journey away from it and my home in Judaism. I have thoughts on books I’ve read along those lines and articles as well. I also have things to say about that Jewish actor you like. You know, that one who was in the thing with the guy? Yeah, them. I like them.

In other words, this is going to be exactly what it says on the tin: an unsolicited blog of Jewish thoughts. You didn’t ask for them; I’m just gonna tell you anyway. C’mon. It might be fun.