Friday, October 13, 2006

"Wrestling with God"

Whenever I talk to my parents about religion, I get the impression that they blame themselves for my atheism – that they see themselves as having failed me somehow. My mother has often told me that she does not understand what happened, that she raised me to be a “good, Jewish boy.” in response to some particularly heretical statement.

Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that no amount of Hebrew school would have made a difference, for the bedrock of my atheism is a fundamental tenet of Judaism itself – the idea of “wrestling with God.”

Growing up, I attended Shabbat services at my synagogue on a pretty regular basis. My family observes most of the holidays, including plenty that even my Reform Jewish friends had never heard of – Sukkot, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av – and went to synagogue for all of them. And despite my present lack of faith, I actually paid attention while I was there.

My Rabbi frequently sermonized about the importance of wrestling with God. The concept comes from the story of Jacob (Genesis 32:24-32), who was attacked by a strange man. Jacob fought back, and refused to give up, despite injuring his sciatic nerve. In the end, he subdued his opponent, who was revealed to be an angel. The angel renamed Jacob – from that day forth, he was known as “Israel,” which translated literally means “to wrestle with God.”

We, the Children of Israel, have inherited Jacob’s legacy. Judaism is not a religion of blind faith, but a wrestling match. We are encouraged to question, to struggle with our religion – to fight through pain in the pursuit of knowledge. It was neither a love of gefilte fish nor the ability to chant the ancient Hebrew prayers, but this challenge to find my own answers that I took from Judaism, more than anything else.

I spent a long time wrestling with God, and I think my match was more intense than most. I take my ontological commitments as seriously as I take my commitments to other people (and probably even more so). What my parents still fail to realize is that the echoes of the final bell ending the match have long since ceased to ring. They cling tightly to the hope that they may yet help influence the outcome of a match that has been over for a long time. I am no more likely to begin worshipping the God of my ancestors than to begin worshipping the gods of ancient Sumer.

Much of my parents’ hope, I believe, stems from the fact that they are not nearly as philosophically-minded as I am. This is no mark against them – after all, they are far more practical-minded than I am. However, my theological views are nuanced and complex, and they have never seemed to have the inclination to listen to what I have to say – or simply refuse to actually hear it. Perhaps most ironic, as I recently discovered, is that the basic structure of my “theology” is very similar to Kabalistic ideas about God. And though the conclusions I draw from that structure have irrevocably separated me from my People in many ways, I will always be linked to the Children of Israel – heirs of the man who wrestled with God.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honor your honesty, brother.
I , too, wrestled with and am wrestling with God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I would like to communicate with you. I promised to come back after the bar exam and here i am. Sorry about the delay. I was mindful about you all long though. (Not that you needed me :) ) would you drop me a line?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 7:55:00 PM  
Blogger The Atheist Jew said...

interesting post.

Sunday, March 08, 2009 4:43:00 AM  
Blogger Chicko said...

Lovely post.
I felt deep identification of with this post.
I grew up as a religious Jew from an orthodox family (still in a orthodox religious family and surroundings) I was confused with what they teach me at the yeshiva and the outside world which held different values and views of the world.
My curiosity led me to a long voyage where eventually I found myself defining myself as a non-theist.
Today I'm 21 serving in the IDF in Israel where I grew up.

Sunday, April 19, 2009 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger proswet654 said...


Tuesday, February 02, 2010 11:39:00 PM  
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想像力的力量比知識更加巨大。 ..................................................

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:56:00 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

good~ keep sharing with us, please....I will waiting your up date everyday!! Have a nice day........................................

Thursday, April 08, 2010 2:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan Brook said...

Please check out My Jewish Atheism at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 4:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jews wrestle with God. That's what Israel means. But Jacob wanted God's blessing and indeed received it. An atheist rejects the God of Abraham and will certainly not be blessed. I am Messianic and am indeed blessed. Having received Yeshua as Savior and Messiah I have peace I never knew before. I wish for others the same peace. Shalom

Thursday, September 04, 2014 5:02:00 PM  

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