When I started listening to Dennis Prager on KABC radio in 1988, I quickly came to see Judaism as a step-by-step system for making a better world. In late 1989, I decided to convert. I thought that by observing the law, joining the holy community, and immersing myself in Torah that I would morally transform myself.
It didn’t work. My corruption, my emotional addictions, my psychological baggage destroyed almost everything I tried to do.
On the other hand, I think I’ve made some moral progress over the past year as a result of a decade of psycho-therapy, three years of Alexander Technique teacher training (which retrained my reactions to stimuli) and 18-months of 12-step work. This work has allowed me to get more benefit from Judaism. I’ve cleared away some of the junk that was getting in the way of my becoming a decent person.
It’s far easier to become religious or spiritual or observant or saved than to become decent.
I used to hold by all these moral guidelines for myself that I learned from Torah and from my upbringing, and then when the rubber hit the road, I was more often than not in moral free-fall, just falling, falling, falling and feeling that there was no one to catch me and knowing that I should catch myself but waiting nonetheless for others to intervene to stop me from myself and curious to see how much I could get away with, and then when others intervened and put a halt to my shenanigans, I hated them for stopping me from my fun. I react badly when others put strict limits on me. I don’t like feeling like a child again even though I know I’m acting like a child.
When I was a little boy, my parents would put me down for a nap after lunch. And every day they did this, I’d scream and rage. I hated it. I hated being told what to do. And then I’d fall asleep.
Q: Do you have rage against God?
L: I don’t have a relationship with God. Or if I do, it is distant. I am not conscious of having any emotions towards God, except some awkward gratitude for being alive. I’m cognizant that God judges. That He is the lawgiver.
Q: Do you obey God?
L: I try to.
Q: How does that play out in Orthodox Judaism?
L: Orthodox Judaism is primarily a set of practices. It doesn’t matter practically whether or not you have a relationship with God. What you need to have to be a part of Orthodox Judaism is fidelity to a set of behaviors.
Q: So you don’t have to deal with God?
L: Not really.
Q: What about the rabbis?
L: I’m wary of rabbis. I used to get close to them but then they expected too much from me in return. So now I usually keep my distance so I can have the freedom to say what I want.
Q: Do you rage against authority now? Against the rabbis?
L: At times. I have less rage in me than I used to have. Through 12-step work, through psycho-therapy, through age, I’ve calmed down and have greater maturity than I did. I’ve learned to let go of resentment and much of my fear. I no longer build cases against people in my head.
Q: Is there any spirituality?
L: I’m not a spiritual person.
Q: Do you keep that private?
Q: Spirituality is not part of Orthodox Judaism?
L: For a few. For the Hasidim.
Q: You don’t consider spirituality a religious practice?
L: It can be.
Q: What about kabbalah?
L: I’m not interested in that.