Read the First 2 Chapters of Sleeping Truth
We Need You Now!

“The God Upgrade”

“One day our five-year-old daughter Sadie noticed [a manual typewriter on my husband Jeff’s desk] and asked what it was. Jeff explained it was for typing. Sadie walked over and easily typed ‘Sadie’, then her sister’s name, ‘Ori’, and then asked, ‘Now what?’ She was dumbfounded when he explained that was all it did. No touch screen, no mouse, not even a monitor. The point of the contraption eluded her and she returned to [a game] on Jeff’s iPad.

“As I watched her, it occurred to me that God, as explained in the Bible, fits into our modern world about as well as a manual typewriter from the 1960s does. That’s not to say great things were not created based upon the ideas presented in the Bible, just as the PC ultimately evolved from the typewriter. But the interface between our world and the biblical concept of God works about as well as trying to upload videos to YouTube on your typewriter.

“The typewriter was a great improvement on what came before it, just as the biblical God was a great improvement upon the God ideas that preceded it. For one, the new God banned child sacrifice, a practice often required by pre-biblical God.

“But let’s face it: despite the improvement from sacrificing children to sacrificing animals to please God and stay on God’s good side, the whole biblical idea of God rewarding and punishing us based on our obedience is not longer believable to many of us. We look around our world and see that bad things happen to good people all the time. Certainly the equation cannot be so simple as God takes care of those who please God.

“Fortunately, there have been numerous upgrades to our God concept over the centuries. But all too often the people with whom I interact don’t know about them and think Judaism still subscribes to the God in the sky who writes down our deeds and rewards and punishes us accordingly. Who can blame them? That is what our prayer book says on Yom Kippur, the only day many Jews step foot in a synagogue. Why would they know about other theologies? By the time the rabbi gets around to the sermon when he or she might explain modern God concepts, all too many of the congregants are bored, busy counting ceiling tiles, or too tuned out to listen.

“My aim is…to remind you that you are part of a long line of people who have interpreted and reinterpreted our tradition to make it their own. I don’t advocate throwing out our meaningful history and tradition. Rather, let us build on the thousands of years of wisdom we have inherited. Let us reclaim and interpret our Judaism so that our tradition can help us make sense of our world and our lives. In this way, Judaism is far more like an iPad than a typewriter; Judaism is interactive, urging us to move beyond the limitation of typing static words on a page, to engage deeply with our narrative in myriad ways.

“The act of reclaiming our religion and updating it is a very Jewish concept. …[it] has long been the Jewish tradition to upgrade our God concepts as we learn more about the world around us. Through learning, discussion, and debate, we can shed some of the baggage the term God has collected over the centuries and come to understand God in a way that is relevant to our modern lives.

“Not surprisingly, once we have reclaimed the word God and redefined God in a manner that makes sense in our world, Judaism itself is altered; how we live as Jews and how we practice as Jews required redefinition. Once God changes, Judaism changes.

“Why bother bringing Judaism up to date so that it can fit into our lives? Why bother recreating this archaic culture that has its origin in animal sacrifice and fear of a wrathful God?

“[We] need not toss out all of Judaism simply because the God concept we hear about in the Torah doesn’t resonate with our worldview. We just have to get the upgrade.

“It pains me when I see Jews jettison their Judaism because they have not experienced anything beyond cookie-cutter bar or bat mitzvahs, Federation fundraising campaigns or the 30-Minute Seder. Judaism offers us so much more.

“[My] goal as a rabbi is not to keep people Jewish for the sake of maintaining Judaism. It’s not to get more members for synagogues. My goal as a rabbi is to keep people Jewish because I believe Judaism can make our lives better: more meaningful, fulfilling, and peaceful.

“Judaism has so much to teach us about how we treat ourselves, each other, and our planet. What Judaism is about is teaching us how to build community and how to be good companions, how to cultivate our courage and our compassion, how to be content and kind. Of course, you can learn these values elsewhere. But as a people, Jews have thousands of years of experience turning this kind of stuff over and over. We’ve made hundreds of upgrades and have had millions of users working to debug the system. Rather than look to other sources for guidance, let us turn to our own people’s past to discover what it has to say about our present and our future.

“Our people used to talk about a covenant with an almighty deity. I don’t think we have that kind of covenant anymore, but we do have a covenant with each other: to learn with each other, to look out for each other, and to care for each other. Judaism helps us understand what being part of that covenantal group means.”

––Excerpts from the Introduction by Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold in her book, The God Upgrade: Finding Your 21st-Century Spirituality in Judaism’s 5,000-Year-Old Tradition (2011).

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