Editor's note: Laurel Snyder is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a poet and author of many books for children. Follow her on Twitter at @laurelsnyder.
By Laurel Snyder, Special to CNN
(CNN) – A few years ago I was invited to my local Jewish Community Center to do a reading of my picture book “Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.” It was going to be a child-friendly event, so I took my kids along.
Now, “Baxter” isn’t really a book about being kosher. It’s about wanting to be accepted into a community. But I always like to make sure my listeners know what the word kosher means before I read it, since the joke at the center of the book depends on that. So as usual I asked the Jewish Community Center crowd if they could define the word.
Before anyone else could answer, my own son Mose, who was 5 at the time, jumped up and shouted out, “I know! I know! Kosher is us! We’re kosher!” Then he sat back down again, beaming proudly.
And I might have been proud too. Only, you see, we’re not kosher.
On the drive home I tried to figure out what to say to Mose about his mix-up. I wanted him to know what it means to be kosher, to live by a rigid religious dietary code, day in and day out. But I also needed him to understand that we’re not.
How could I show respect for this part of our Jewish tradition while also suggesting that it doesn’t seem relevant in our own household? Should I just blame it on my own parents, who didn’t raise me that way?
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It’s not easy to explain something to a kid when you haven’t yet figured it out for yourself. One of the most helpful/terrible things about having children is that they require us to think things out explicitly. That often means they make us face the very things we’ve been avoiding.
Sometimes, as a result, kids challenge us to become more mindful or observant. I hadn’t been a member of a synagogue for years when I became a mom. I hadn’t hosted a Passover Seder or found the time to light Shabbat candles.
Even though I worked for a Jewish agency and wrote about religion professionally, when it came to my home life I was almost completely unobservant. Judaism was something I thought about more intellectually than personally. Religion was an interesting idea more than a belief system.
Now I light candles each week and say the blessings. I belong to a havurah – a cohort of local Jewish friends who get together for monthly potluck dinners – and also a synagogue.
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Because there’s something about having kids that makes me want to be a better version of my Jewish self. I want something special to pass on to them. Something more than “You’re Jewish because I’m Jewish.”
But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes my kids help me recognize the limits of my faith.
In truth, I do not keep kosher and I don’t really want to. My husband is not Jewish, though we’re raising our family to be. So, yeah, we eat tacos for Shabbat dinner most weeks and usually skip Friday night services.
This is the truth and I have to own it. I can only shift my life around so much without feeling inauthentic. Lying to my kids about my religious life is no way to model the value of faith.
So when, after the “Baxter”/kosher fiasco, I set out to write my new picture book, “Good night, laila tov” (laila tov means “good night” in Hebrew), I wanted to paint an honest portrait of my largely secular household.
I wanted my kids to recognize the family in my story as Jewish, but also as, well, like us. Which is to say, not exactly kosher.
On some level I was reacting to the fact that most of the Jewish picture books in my home feel like they’re about someone else. They’re usually set in a Polish village a century ago, or on the Lower East Side of New York City, where mothers cook and fathers pray.
I wanted “Good night, laila tov” to be a sort of lowest common denominator. Contemporary and universal. It’s not about Jewish history, and it doesn’t have a single rabbi in it. It won’t teach you new Hebrew words or show you how to say a certain prayer.
It’s just a story about a Jewish American family going camping, experiencing nature, love, work and rest. In writing it I hoped to capture something typical, something natural, something simple.
And it does present, to my mind, Jewish values: Nature is spiritual, and takes us beyond ourselves. Time spent with family is sacred.
The family in the book plants trees and picks up their campsite, because caring for the earth is part of Judaism, I think. Along with caring for each other.
But as I wrote, I found myself a little afraid that, in attempting to write a picture book for everyone, I was letting the Jewish particularity go. Aren’t family nature, and environmentalism tenets of faith beyond the Jewish world, in every religion?
What did it say about me, my choices, my household, that the Jewish life I was choosing to depict looked like it could be any household at all?
Then I come back around to that moment with Mose, that moment of realizing I’d somehow misled him. Because whatever I’m unsure of, whatever I don’t know about faith, I do know this: if it isn’t honest, it doesn’t count.
The purpose of faith, as I understand it, is to infuse life with greater meaning. To make it more real. Not to dress it up. Not to pretend.
My kids and I are on a journey together. We’re setting out for parts unknown.
And while we may find ourselves changing as we trek along, there is a sacred quality in simply being who we are today. Of stopping on the trail and taking a deep breath. It’s enough, I think, to be exactly who we are, kosher or not.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Laurel Snyder.
So long as our fall from grace happens slowly (generationally as it appears to be happning in this story) it is sure to go on for some time.
Moral relativism and religious relativism... such poisons.
Hate to ruin the effect of Holly in CA's and momoya's words, but the God of Islam is exactly the same God that Christians worship. Allah is the Arabic word for "God." Simple as that.
I guess the only requirement for writing an article for CNN's Belief Blog is that you have to be an idiot. I guess I'll never get to write my article.
This family is just one generation from abandoning religion. It can't happen soon enough.
Myth. Religion throughout the ages has centered on myth. God created Adam from dirt, then Eve from Adam's rib. No mention of where their kids' wives came from and Lilith, Adam's first wife, is rarely mentioned or known.
Nicely done, Laurel.
The contemplation of religion and how it unfolds in your lives will be interesting to hear about.
Journey on, girlfriend.
6) As with many, he is a religion profiteer...
Religious but not too religious- religious mediocrity. I agree. I prefer humanism where the masses bow down to another person with more money or anther manner of causing mass fear and submission. That is much more real than believing in a higher authority that will punish us if we do not treat each other better than we would. We will get what we want. As the saying goes, I hope they really want what it is they are asking for.
Be religious but not too religious is a little like saying "Be truthful but not too truthful." Is truth bad if we get too much of it? The presumption of the author seems to be that most people can't determine truth from error very well, so play it safe. She might have a point there. But one is left with the conclusion that its not possible to find truth in the field of religion. I would reject that extreme.
Careful there, your making a straw-man argument, the author said nothing considering "Truth". I agree that small doses of religion is good but not to go to the extremes (such as the westboro baptist church and others who hate and discriminate based on a few lines in a "holy" book.) and that is how i viewed the article. Religion is great....within reason
Its like you read my mind! You seem to understand so much approximately this, like you wrote the e book in it or something. I feel that you simply can do with a few % to pressure the message house a little bit, but instead of that, that is excellent blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.
Well we've got Emergent Christians why not Emergent Jews? Proud of inauthenticity because owning up to it is SO authentic. Reading this is like a mind numbing journey of yea and nea, truth and error, faith and doubt all rolled into one unspiritual spirit of unkosher Judaism where the precociousness of a child teaches us how immature we are in religion. I'm not sure what you think you've accomplished other than having you kids spot the inconsistencies but hey you've making money selling these thoughts so maybe that's worth all the openness about journeys where one doesn't know where they're going cause they aren't sure where they came from. Doesn't that about sum it up? Oh and kudos for candles and potlucks. That's gotta be the epitome of learning that we are just after real. Really in the dark and really hungry.
humans are at a point where we are finally beginning to see the relationship between our cultures, our histories and our cultural beliefs in the beyond. every time a 'believer' answers someone's opinion with some form of 'in the end, your going to hell and i'm not', that person is still holding on to a cultural pattern. if there is a god, if there is a heaven and hell built on the christian view of the universe, i know extraordinary, good, kind, compassionate people who will be in hell.. i will go find them and enjoy their company for eternity...for me much preferable to eternity with the 'believers'. our stories...be it christian, jew, islam and so many others are too small to even begin to explain the truth of the universe.. we must come to a point where we include 'all all and all nothing' into a far bigger thought, a far bigger belief which basically keeps our cultural wisdom and throws out our cultural hates, fears, prejudices and our holding onto the thought of a big HE... all all and all nothing... all male all female all other all none.. it can't be anything less. we need to move on to a bigger conversation.
Just for the record: Judaism does not and never did require that people be Jews or they will not go to Heaven. In fact, Judaism teaches that the righteous of all nations will go to Heaven. Judaism never wanted converts and those people who want to convert according to Jewish law (halacha) are told that the righteous of all nations will go to Heaven and that they need not and should not convert. G-d gave all mankind seven commandments to do, and those who observe them are called righteous and will go to Heaven. They are: to believe in One United G-d, not to blaspheme Him, not to murder, not to steal and kidnap, not to do adultery, etc., not to eat the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty) and to set up effective courts of justice. There are books that go into more detail about it for those who wish to practice these laws in their details. There are websites that one can look at as well.
The Seven Laws were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the 1991 bill that established Education Day in honor of the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement:
"Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws...
One pair of hands working to solve a problem does more good than 10 million pairs of hands clasped in prayer.
There is no valid evidence that any god has ever answered any prayer. Put on some courage for a change, get past your sky fairy myths, get off your fat butt, and help someone solve a problem. If there's even a god and she's a good god, she'll appreciate that more than you constantly whining to her to solve your problems for you, you wimp.
What a great word for all of us.
it's ironic that the author says faith doesn't count unless it's done in truth when the article is all about truth being basically, well, relative. It's an op ed peice basically an endorsement for religious pluralism.
Wow!! Truth as defined by this author. Good luck raising your "not so religious kids! You are a very wise woman according to this world. Keep hammering that into your head until you become an atheist and make the lies of this world part of your life. You either follow God or you don't. There is NO in between.
Every religion is a faith, a set of beliefs that can not be proven. On the other hand, it is not possible to DISPROVE these principles, either, at least for as long as the religion exist. When most people were convinced that the ancient Greek and Roman gods did not exist it was the end of those particular religions. A more important fact, however, is that every religion evolved from attempts of us, humans, to explain the world around us, how it came into existence, what are the rules and the rulers governing this world and what will happen to the world in general and to each one of us in particular in the future.
Today almost all scientists are convinced that the worlds we live in, the Universe, had a beginning 13.7 billion years ago commonly called Big Bang. It's up to each and every one of us to decide what sounds more plausible; either this Universe was CREATED by someone having the knowledge and power to create Universes or, alternatively, the Universe came into existence all by itself from nothing.
@thinker23 if you where to actually read your bible/qaran/torah, then you would realize that every major religion proves ITSELF wrong
I'm sorry @md2205, but that is all opinion. Nothing is fact until it is proven. Yes, you may have faith that what you believe is true, but someone else may have faith in what they believe, and their beliefs are entirely opinion as well. This article, and all other statements before this one in the comments section, are simply opinions.
Now, @momoya, that's just plain rude to tell someone to, "Quit pretending". Again, it's your opinion, and to plainly insult someone in that way is uncalled for. Do you see this article assailing your own personal beliefs and how you live your life? No, I didn't think so.
Handsdown, that's just your opinion, and md and I have a history if not a tenuous relationship.. I am confident that he understood my words exactly as I intended.. All opinions aren't equal, and some are downright stupid–in my opinion.
In Quran God speaks to the whole humanity ....
“Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]
“They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]
“The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]
“No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]
It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]
God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]
(they are condemned) for disbelieving and uttering about Mary a gross lie. [4:156]
Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.
When My servants ask you about Me, I am always near. I answer their prayers when they pray to Me. The people shall respond to Me and believe in Me, in order to be guided. Quran [2:186]
"In Quran God speaks to the whole humanity .." Why can he only speak through a book written by men? A voiceless god that can only speak through the actions of others is no god.
If this is your definition of evolution: "Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations," which is from wiki, then there is nothing wrong to believe it because it is provable and true. To jump from this and insist that all life arose this way and new species did and do still arise this way, is what is much too much of a stretch and what my posts earlier explained. (Please see my earlier posts.)
The issue is important. The importance of G-d is self-evident that since He created the world, He must have wanted something of it, or else He wouldn't have "bothered". There is something very important about the world that G-d wanted it.
Ask a physicist: The more we examine matter–we see that it's not there. Getting down to the smallest of the small, all that's really there is events: waves, vibrations, fields of energy. There is a flow of being and this is how you find G‑d. In Hebrew, that is His name. G‑d's name is a series of four letters that express all forms of the verb of all verbs, the verb "to be": is, was, being, will be, about to be, causing to be, should be –all of these are in the four letters of G‑d's name. As G‑d told Moses when he asked for His name, "I will be that which I will be."
In our modern languages that doesn't work. We slip into the trap of thingness. We ask, "What" is G‑d? We answer, "He is One who was, is and will be."
G‑d is not a thing that is or was or will be. G‑d is "isness" itself.
He is the place of the world and created it so that there will exist creatures that do not feel Him, cannot see Him, who feel themselves to be in a place without Him, and who will bring Him into it, a physical world that is low, actually the lowest, because it doesn't sense G-d. He wants to "feel comfortable" in a world like this, and the way He can is for us to act the way He wants us to act. He wants us to act like He does. He is infinite in all aspects – kindness, intellect, forgiveness, etc. He wants us to bring these into our lives by acting that way. In the beginning of the world, He spoke to man because He had to tell them who He is and what they are here for. He told them seven basic laws to follow that will make the world the kind of place He created it to be. Remember, when He created the world, He created it as a perfect world. Man would eat only from the fruit of trees and would exist in a world with revealed G-dliness all day. It would be a perfect society. But man did what G-d told him not to do: He ate from the only tree G-d told him not to eat. If he wouldn't have eaten from it, it would soon have been the Sabbath, the seventh day, as man was created near the end of the sixth day. On the Sabbath, the world would have become united with G-d and it would have been the Messianic age. But since man did what G-d told him not to and ate from that one tree, man became changed. The tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Good and evil were separate at that time. There was no evil in the world as G-d created it. The evil at that time was to do what G-d didn't want. Man brought that evil into himself when he ate from that tree, because he did what G-d told him not to do. From then on, evil and good were mixed, and are to this day. Man thought that if he would do what G-d didn't want, and eat from the tree, he would mix the good and evil in himself, and from then on, whenever he would choose to do what G-d wanted, it would be a bigger effort for him because he would have to overcome the desire not to do it, and he would get more reward for it. When the Messianic age would come, it would be a greater "light" and a greater good than if he had not eaten from the tree and only listened to that one command from G-d.
Really G-d did want this to happen because the harder it is to do something, the more effort you have to do, the more reward comes from it. However, we still are working toward that goal of making the world a better place. G-d gave us seven basic commandments that all people should do that will make the world the place G-d wants it to be. They are: to believe in One G-d, not to blaspheme Him, not to murder, not to steal and kidnap, not to do adultery, etc., not to eat from the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty) and to set up effective courts of justice.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said the Messiah is ready to come now; it is up to us to increase in acts of goodness and kindness.
You should quit pretending to know what god is and what he wants.. It's dumb.. First, prove god exists, then you can start looking into what sort of being it is and what it wants..
You can only ask for proof for something that can be disproven. You can't disprove G-d, and you can't prove Him. You can't demand proof. What type of proof would you accept? That you see G-d? Won't happen, because He is infinite and infinity is not physical, therefore not visible. That you touch, smell, hear G-d? Won't happen. He is not physical. That there is a historical record of His revelation to 3 million people? That you can have. It says in the Torah 24 times that G-d gave the Torah to Moses in front of the entire Jewish people at the mountain. There were 3 million people there watching. Historical facts are not discounted when 3 million people saw something happen. If 3 million people hadn't seen it, when they would read the book supposedly written so many years later, they would say no one ever told them that before. It would be hogwash and they would recognize it as such. If you discount that a book says that 3 million people saw that when it happened, you have to discount all the rest of any historical account in the world. Remember, the holy days of the Jews started when they left Egypt. They did the first commandments they were ever commanded by G-d to make the Passover sacrifice as a remembrance of going out of Egypt. They did so every year thereafter without interruption. If someone had tried to impose those holy days on them many hundreds of years later, by saying G-d told him to tell everyone to make the Passover sacrifice and wrote that the Jews did it already, as it is written in the Torah, and the people have never done it before, he would be exposed as a crackpot. The only things we know of the past were what is written in history books for us to read. If we believe any other history book, which contains history in it that much less than 3 million people experienced, then we have to use the same standard with this "book" as well.
Other religions started when one person said G-d spoke to him, but no one saw. Logically speaking, when one person tells you something, you could have doubt whether it happened or not as there was no one to verify it. But you have billions of people believing what he said. Here we have in the Torah written 24 times that Moses received the Torah on the mountain in front of the entire Jewish people, 3 million of them. Why would anyone doubt that? If someone would come later to say that happened, if it hadn't happened, no one would believe him. If 3 million people say they saw something happen, it happened. Judaism is the only religion that claims a revelation to the entire nation at once.
I am not pretending to know what G-d is or wants. I am writing what I try to understand from Jewish teachings. Perhaps I misunderstand, and if so, that is my fault. But I am not making anything up out of my own imagination.
It is almost the Sabbath and I will have to go off the blog for the day. That is why in case you ask another question, I will not be able to respond until Sunday or maybe Saturday night.
I just saw your earlier post where you state: "The Egyptians were excellent record keepers.. That huge number of Jewish slaves would show up in the archeological record.. "
I just want to point out that the Egyptians, like many other nations of the time, did not keep records of what was demeaning to them. For example, if they lost a war, that wouldn't be in their records. Categorically stating that it would have been in their records – I am not sure.
However, there are some things found in Egypt that could be viewed as possibly corroborating what is in the Torah. I only have time now to write a couple of things. Maybe I will write more another time.
There was a writing from one the Pharoah that he is afraid of a certain people because they have become so numerous in his land and he is afraid they could attack Egypt. This is stated in the Torah as well.
The account in the Torah says that the Jews left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, and the Egyptian soldiers in their chariots pulled by horses followed them and were drowned in the receding waters. A wheel from a chariot of the type that Egypt used during that time period, along with human and horse bones, were found in the Red Sea. This is after 3,000 years.
There is enough information to even name the Pharoah who ruled at the time of the Exodus. His statue which archeologists found in Egypt looks exactly the way his appearance was written in the Torah, as strangely distended and with badly misshapen facial features. The body of his firstborn son, who died in the plague of the firstborn, was found to have a broken leg and a blow to the head, and the forensic archeologists said he died of malaria. Before the firstborn males died from a plague of illness, they rebelled against Pharoah and fought him. It could be that this son was wounded in that fight as well as from the plague.
Here is my point: You can take these and other findings any way you want. You may want to say it doesn't add up. I am just pointing out that there is enough to say it could be looked upon as corroboration of what is written in the Torah and that is one valid viewpoint among many.
Where did you get all of this information from? You discuss very important and specifc events in the progression of humanity as a whole, but what is your source of information? Is this all from the bible and what your parents and church have told you? Or is there any other source that you can cross-reference any of your "facts" against?
So God is The Force?
I think that is great because Star Wars is an awesome story and it does pit the good guys against the bad guys (AKA- Evil Empire- AKA GOP). The good guys do eventually win. Also, initially the best guy doesn't believe in the Force, but when it is shown to him by the little green guy (Save you, I will) then he gets it.
So, I will believe in God when the little green guy comes and shows him to me and then I'll save all your a$$e$ with my awesome light saber... until then, I'll pass on the religion.
Prayer changes things ..
And other living things?
Are you suggesting that fish need to pray?
Atheism has its problems (the largest being a lack of community) but saying that it is *unhealthy* is uncalled for.
Glass houses and all...
@Conservative Atheist. Thank you. While I still believe in God, it is refreshing to see someone take a civilized approach in the opposite direction. All too often, these comment threads devolve into mindless attacks and insults. And good on you for the glass houses comment. We all need to stop the judgement and get on with our lives and let others do the same.
4 billion years of sustained life without religion, maybe 6 to 8 thousand so far with it. The test is not over.
I don't live my religion because of family tradition, ethnic background, or social customs. I believe the doctrine my religion teaches is true. I'm in it 100% and I'm teaching my 4 children to do the same. I do not subscribe to the ideas presented in this article that one can be wishy-washy when it comes to practicing religion. Faith in God is not a pastime, an excuse for religious holidays, or a reason to hold a festive meal.
I don't doubt your sincerity, but I urge you to consider what you might say where you raised in Saudi Arabia.. I bet your words would be nearly the same, but you'd be talking about a different god.. I feel about your faith the way you feel about Islam.. It seems all a bit silly and you don't worry one minute about your judgment if it were to fall to their god and not yours.. Bingo.
I am not in a position to judge what god a person worships. But, worship your god wholeheartedly. As we Christians say, one foot in Zion and one in Babylon, is no way to raise a child. If you believe your religion is truth, teach your children to obey all the laws and commandments of that religion. Every religion preaches love, peace, worship of a supreme being, etc. Imagine a world like that. Obviously there are radicals in every religion who interpret sacred texts out of a desire for destruction. They are the exception.
Holly why do you call them radicals for practicing parts of the bible you don't agree with? Are the Christians in Zimbabwe wrong to kill suspected witches? I think so but who am I to judge, it is written in the bible so god must want it since it is his word.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.