A few weeks ago I was filling out paperwork to see a new doctor for a checkup. The questions seemed straightforward, until one stumped me: Are you religious?
My gut reaction was to answer "no," but there were two problems with that. One: I had already listed my profession as a rabbi. And, two: I am religious.
So, why would I be inclined to say no?
Because, what people commonly think of as "religious" doesn't always resonate with me.
Unfortunately, "being religious" is often forced into a narrow definition that involves belief in God or another supernatural being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and willing to intervene on my behalf.
If this is the definition of "religious," I am not religious.
If being religious means being frozen in time, I am not religious. If being religious means that I take so much pride in my religion that I look down on others', I am not religious. If being religious means that I am more worried about the world to come than the world we live in now, I am not religious. If being religious means that I ignore the reality that bad things happen to good people, I am not religious. If being religious means thinking that my values are superior, I am not religious.
I am proud that I grew up with Jewish stories and traditions that helped shape my value system. But, I do not believe that Jews have a monopoly on good values. And I know that just as I can find good values in Jewish tradition to celebrate, I can find terrible values in Jewish tradition to reject. I embrace my Jewish religion, tell its stories, and learn from it- but I do not accept it blindly or think it is perfect and/or superior to other religions.
If being religious means that I am deeply committed to the Jewish people, I am a religious Jew. If being religious means that I embrace modernity, I am a religious Jew. If being religious means accepting my responsibility to be part of the ongoing evolution of Judaism, I am a religious Jew. If being religious means that I value having a community of people with whom I ask questions and struggle with issues, I am a religious Jew. If being religious means embracing personal responsibility, intellectual honesty, and a commitment to social action and social justice, then, yes, I am a religious Jew.
So it depends on the definition of what it means to "be religious." When we simply check a box or think of being religious as a yes or no proposition, we miss so much of the beauty that religion- Judaism in my case- has to offer.
I am a religious Jew. Maybe not by your definition, but definitely by mine.
This blog post is based on a longer sermon I delivered on this topic during Yom Kippur services. To view the YouTube video of the sermon, click here.