Rabbi Danny Newman

Rabbi Danny Newman

This week’s Progressive Judaism column comes from Rabbi Danny Newman

Ed Miliband recently declared himself to be a Jewish atheist. I felt like saying to him: “Ed, the God you don’t believe in – I also don’t believe in!”

I spend much time talking to people of all ages about spirituality, divinity, universal consciousness, God, the ground of being, YHWH, ultimate meaning, the life force and universal energy.

I have discovered that some people have a limited and childlike understanding of what is being hinted at by the English words I have just listed.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Many people, especially in the Jewish community, do not continue theological education beyond their early teens. Can you imagine how the world would look to you if you had not been educated beyond the age of 12 in the disciplines of science, geography, history or the arts?

The English word “God” often conjures up for people an image of a person (almost always an old man with a beard), with tremendous power, who inhabits a place that exists somewhere above our universe. A bit like how Superman would be if he became a grandfather.

The word “God” is not a Jewish word. Because of the image it conjures up, I would like to ban that word from our prayer books, our educational programming and our discourse about what we mean when we attempt to talk about spiritual ideas that are, by definition, beyond the limitations of human language.

In our spiritual tradition, and others, great theologians and philosophers have articulated sophisticated, nuanced and deeply meaningful ways of speaking about and relating to the idea of the Divine, the existential questions of the purpose of human existence and the ontological questions about what it means to exist and to be a finite human being.

I encourage you to explore these ideas in the writings of, among others, Arthur Green in Radical Judaism, Judith Plaskow in Standing Again At Sinai, Rachel Adler in Engendering Judaism and Jay Michaelson in Everything is God.

Danny Newman is a rabbinical student at Leo Baeck College and founder and director of HaMakom