When German Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig was asked whether he performed particular mitzvot, he did not give a simple “yes” or “no” answer. He was known for replying “Not yet.” Rosenzweig recognized religion as a process, something living and capable of change.
When people find out that I’m studying to be a Reform rabbi, they often ask me if I’ve always been “religious.” This is another question to which there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer. I grew up with a Jewish identity, the other members of my family are Reform, I attended religious school, had a Bat Mitzvah, went on a teen Israel trip, and even continued my Jewish education through High School. Perhaps that list alone would seem to tell you that yes, I have always been religious. I could however, argue that plenty of American Jews have grown up with all of these things, and wouldn’t self-identify as “religious.” I think the question is an impossible one to answer because there is no one definition of what it means to be “religious.”
I have always been Jewish, but my Jewish identity and practice have been a process, ever changing and evolving throughout the course of my life. The one thing about my Judaism that has remained consistent is that it changes; sometimes over a period of years, and sometimes depending on what day it is.
When I was applying for rabbinical school, the question I was most anxious about answering had to do with my personal theology. The truth was that while I knew I wanted to be a rabbi and serve the Jewish community, I just wasn’t sure how to approach answering this question. When the question inevitably came, part of my answer was that I looked forward to exploring and developing this throughout the course of school. Essentially, when asked if I had a concrete view on how I understood God, my answer was “Not yet.”
I still would not attempt to sit down and write an essay about exactly who or what God is. I’m not sure anyone can. Theologians throughout the ages have been asking this very question. Part of being Jewish is the struggle for meaning and understanding. In the Bible, we see different manifestations of the Divine, each of which we can relate to differently depending on where we are at the time that we approach them. The Talmud shows us that our rabbis did not presume to have one single answer to a question, but rather argued multiple avenues of understanding and practice, making sure to record even the minority voice.
One epithet that has been assigned to God is “Chei Ha’Olamim” meaning “Life of the Universe.” I believe that we experience the Divine in the moments that we are most alive, and being alive is all about changing. Being settled in our Jewish identities comes from the freedom that we give ourselves to question and adapt. Are we settled or unsettled? Our Judaism is evolving and dynamic. We give ourselves the freedom to say “Not yet.”