What’s so scary about Hashem?

Non-Orthodox Jews have the right to explore and establish their own personal relationships with the divine

There’s been a lot of talk about Hashem (God) in my house recently. Hashem enters many of our conversations, whether it be a discussion regarding who invented bubbles to a deeper discussion regarding why we need to be nice to our sisters and not grab their tablet without asking.

My 5-year-old twins are attending Kindergarten at Rudlin Torah Academy – Richmond Hebrew Day School a local Orthodox community Jewish day school and Hashem is a daily part of their classroom lessons and discussions. Now, as a liberal, academic, transdenominational Jew, married to a Conservative Rabbi, who rejected her Orthodox upbringing in favor of a more feminist, and “Open-Tent” approach to Judaism and Jewish practice, you would think that all this Hashem talk would be making me cringe — but in fact, the opposite is true.

There is not a single part of me that believes that one needs to be Orthodox to develop and nurture a relationship with God. I personally feel very blessed that through Aleph-Bet Preschool, our local Chabad preschool, and our Orthodox community day school, my children have been given a wonderful foundation in theology, divine language, and an invitation to develop their own personal relationship with God. I do hope that as they get older they will continue to further expand their spirituality and spiritual practice. That might very well be within the Orthodox world, or it might not be within a totally different community, like Jewish Renewal, but either way the foundation is set.

As an academic and Religious Studies/Gender Studies professor, I see no contradiction in being spiritual, fostering/finding a personal relationship with God, and believing in science. No one has the right to tell me, or my children, HOW to create my own theology. The Orthodox world does not hold any more ownership of God than we do. Just because they (well some of them) say that you have to choose between God and science, or God and liberal intellectualism doesn’t make it true.

The same goes for Torah study, if you want to talk about the Bible and how God is presented or understood in the Torah, but the Orthodox understanding doesn’t sit right with you, it would behoove you to truly look beyond traditional Orthodox interpretations/explanations. There has been much modern and inspirational scholarship that has been done on how to read the Torah in a totally different (and often times more historically accurate) way. It is right there for you to explore and it’s your right as a Jew to claim an ownership over your own beautiful heritage in a way that makes sense for you.

Whether it be mindful meditation, chanting, drumming, deep Talmud study — it’s all holy and it’s all yours to claim. This is the gift that we are tasked with passing onto our children — but they won’t even know to look for the gift if we don’t invite them into the divine conversation — even from a very young age.

So let’s let go of the fear and let Hashem into our homes and into our hearts. Together with our children we can explore, develop, and create our own relationships with the divine. There truly is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being spiritual and exploring spirituality does not need to make you Orthodox, but it can open your world, deepen your connections to those around you, and transform your life in ways that you never thought possible.

Now please excuse me, my kids will be back from school in 15 minutes and I haven’t gotten in my daily meditation yet.

About the Author
Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin is a highly energetic and engaging speaker, writer, career Jewish Educator and Jewish Professional. She is the Executive Director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, served on the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies and Women's Studies at Randolph-Macon College and currently serves on the faculties of Humanities, Religious Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of Texas-El Paso. Originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, Shoshanna is a graduate of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. She earned her Bachelors degree in Anthropology and Jewish Studies from the University of Maryland and a Masters Degree in Jewish Studies with a focus on Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary where she will begin pursuing an Ed.D in Jewish Education this Fall.
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