Welcome to Derech HaTorah. This is a simple site where I will write about my experiences of embracing a Torah life.
After a year of being pushed and prodded, at ten I decided for my parents’ sake that I would undergo baptism. On a Sunday morning the preacher would usually ask if anyone wanted to come forward and confess. “I’m a sinner.” “I want to be saved.” That kind of thing was the typical confession. So I decided to go ahead and confess to make my parents happy. The following week I was baptized along with a few of my friends.
Over the summer many of us preteens and teens became young missionaries. We went door-to-door handing out tracts trying to “save” people. By the end of the summer I was thinking that maybe I wanted to be a missionary and I wanted to “save people from hell.” But things changed later that year when my world had become expanded beyond the church and its teachings. By this point I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to be a missionary and I was very sure the church I was attending did not hold all the answers.
Around age thirteen my parents and I started attending another church which started out as an Evangelical church but actually became a non-denominational church. I was learning about Judaism from a Christian viewpoint and I knew that I no longer wanted to be a missionary. I started to really question the doctrines of the church but this was something that was looked upon with contempt. If I managed to get answers they were half-truths and made-up answers that never fully addressed my concerns.
As my world became bigger and I began to have more experience with people outside my own culture and religion, I began questioning if what I was being taught was right. I started to have a problem with the whole “believe as we do or burn in hell” scenario that I was being fed. How can a loving God want to punish people simply because they did not follow the belief system of one particular religion – or even a certain sect within that religion? How could my Jewish and Hindu friends be placed in an eternal hell by a loving God?
By eighteen my parents stopped fighting with me and I left the church behind. If asked, I continued to call myself a Christian but I was non-practicing. I really did not follow any religious doctrines at this stage in my life – except for the morality that I think is just inherent within most of society.
In my mid-twenties I became even more antagonistic toward organized religion and would have classified myself as an agnostic. I eventually became so angry at God and the world that I became an atheist. I knew there was no God. By my late-twenties I began asking myself where I was going in my life, what I really wanted to do, who I really wanted to be. I really began feeling a hole in my life. After doing some soul-searching I realized that I missed God and I thought maybe He might even miss me so I decided to look into various faith practices.
I started looking into Christianity first since it was the only belief system that I knew. I had contact with a lot of Catholics and even with the local priest so I started with Catholicism. But the idea of Jesus being a messiah born to a virgin and the existence of an eternal hell just didn’t sit right with me. The idea that the Pope was infallible definitely did not sit right with me. So Catholicism was out and if Catholicism was out the ideas of Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism were also out. I looked into Buddhism, Taosim, and Hindusim but the lack of God in the practices and the bowing down to statues meant that these religions were not for me. I studied Bah’ai which does recognize the One God but their ideas about their own prophets and their teachings did not bring me closer to God. I then began looking at Islam. I have a deep appreciation for Islam but the idea of Isa being the messiah – again being born of a virgin – as well as the existence of an eternal hell just didn’t seem correct in my sight. So Islam was also out for me. Next I started looking at Judaism but this time from a non-Christian perspective.
I contacted the local synagogue and requested a meeting with the rabbi. They didn’t have a rabbi but they did have student rabbis during the summer. I was fortunate enough to get in to see the student rabbi. I told him about my journey and he said he decided to study with me. There was no pressure to convert. He was just going to study with me. After a lot of studying with him and on my own – and asking about a million questions – he put me into contact with a rabbi in another city and I studied with him. After about a year-and-a-half I moved back to the other side of the country and continued my studies there. At 32 I went before a beit din –a rabbinic court – and I immersed in the mikveh. I became Rachel-Esther bat Avraham v’Sarah – a Jew.
Now, I know that there are many out there who would say that I was never a “real Christian” because a “real Christian” would never turn his or her back on Jesus. I am not the only ex-Christian who has experienced this nonsense. And that is what it is – nonsense.
My thought process at the time was asking such questions as “Why would I not choose to follow a belief system that intellectually makes sense?” Judaism offers a path to everyone who seeks to come near to God and follow His mitzvot as set out in the Torah. The internal consistency of the Tanakh and the emphasis on wrestling with the text makes Judaism a logical path for serving God. Why would I not choose to follow a belief system that has rightfully rejected Jesus as a messiah? I have studied – and continue to study – both Christian theology and Jewish theology. I have found that the supposed prophecies of the “Old Testament” that Jesus allegedly fulfilled have been high-jacked, mistranslated, misinterpreted, or simply made up by Christianity.
Please, get this straight. I reject Christianity but not Christians. I reject the theology and not the people.
My philosophy had steadily changed over the years. I continued to associate with the Conservative movement for many reasons (even though I did not stand behind some of the decisions of the movement). I called myself Masorti – traditional.
I used to be entranced with the Zohar, Tanya, and Kabbalah. I really believed that a mystical tradition was given to Moshe at Har Sinai and this tradition was passed down through the generations. However, the more I studied the more I realized that there were a number of issues with this mystical tradition that went counter to Torah. I understand the answers that are offered for these questionable teachings but I reject these answers. I began looking around within Judaism for answers to my questions and I stumbled upon teachings from Sephardi Jews. These teachings are authentic Torah teachings. I am not saying that Ashkenazi Jews teach anti-Torah or anything of the sort. I am just saying that the Jews who remained in the Middle East have a different history and different philosophy.
I gradually moved toward Rambam and his teachings. Rambam’s teachings for me are easily understood. Rambam’s philosophy is very Socratic and cerebral. As a person who has studied many various philosophies and philosophical works I can say that I absolutely loved Rambam’s philosophy. I studied Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and I followed some of the practices but I did not entirely embrace the Mishneh Torah just as I did not entirely embrace the Talmud or Shulkhan Arukh.
My spiritual path kept changing rapidly as my studies of Jewish texts, history, and philosophy had progressed. I began considering myself a Masorti Jew with Karaite leanings.
The more I learned and the more I studied I came to realize that after 11 1/2 years of being a rabbinic Jew that I no longer believed in the “Oral Law.” I rejected the ideas behind the man-made “laws” of the Mishnah/Talmud, Shulkhan Arukh, and Mishneh Torah. I believe that these texts can be used for commentary and for historical research but they cannot – and must not – be declared to be holy texts. I believe that we as Jews (and non-Jews) are to live by the Tanakh.
In the process of my search for God and truth I had decided that I was a trans-denominational Jew. I considered myself a Religious Jew who followed the Tanakh. I strived to follow the mitzvot of the Torah and the philosophy of the Nevi’im and Ketuv’im. I believed that while the Rabbinic writings could not be taken as anything other than traditions they offered a way for Jews to follow the mitzvot of the Torah and the philosophy of the Nevi’im and Ketuv’im. I personally attempted to follow traditions from both Rabbinic and Karaite sources as long as these traditions do not run counter to Torah.
I now believe that in order to be a “Light unto the Nations” I as a Jew must teach the truth of Torah to all who are open to it. I believe that mitzvot (Torah commands) are binding upon all Jews but the interpretation of the mitzvot is not stagnant – it must continue to evolve with each person’s understanding of the Hebrew text and the history/archaeology of Israel and the ancient nation-states. I believe that using Karaite texts and Rabbinic texts as commentaries can help one to perform these mitzvot.
I am a follower of Torah and the mitzvot of God. No one sect or denomination has all the answers. Only Torah has all the answers and we are commanded to seek them out. I believe there was always an “Oral Law.” There have always been rulings handed down by Moses, the Elders, and the Judges. This is absolutely supported in the Tanakh. However, what we now have as the “Oral Law/Mishnah” is only possibly these oral rulings. Therefore, due to the uncertain nature of these rulings, I do not consider them binding in any way. Halakhah (Rabbinic law/Talmud) is not binding law but is rather a guide for each individual Jew. I believe that each generation of Jews have the responsibility and authority to reinterpret Torah. I consider myself a Rationalistic, Tanakh-Based Jew.