About My Heretical Year

Can an atheist ex-Hasid find meaning in a new Jewish context? Over the course of the Jewish year 5776, I will attempt to answer this question with one essay each month — 13 this year — exploring themes and questions that connect to the character of the month. As one who was once steeped in Jewish faith but has come to reject its foundational principles, I nevertheless feel the tug of heritage demanding that I reflect on its continued relevance. “My Heretical Year: An ex-Hasid explores the Jewish calendar” will reflect both my journey away from religious practice, and new attempts to find meaning within Jewishness.

Recent Posts:

Why We Must Transform Ourselves in the Month of Av

Some months ago, during an interview with a reporter, I remarked matter-of-factly, regarding my marriage of nearly 15 years, “ “I was a shitty husband.” The reporter looked alarmed, as if I’d confessed to hiding corpses in my basement. “Why do you say that?” she asked.

I hadn’t meant to be so self-denigrating; I meant only that I’d failed in my marriage the way we so often fail in relationships, especially when we’re young and selfish and have yet to learn the values of compromise and the messiness of other people’s feelings. My wife and I had married young, both of us 18. In a way, we grew into adulthood together, and sometimes we fumbled. We fought, lost our tempers, said things we later wished we hadn’t. My marriage ended nearly a decade ago, and it is only with hindsight that I think: I could’ve been a better spouse. I could’ve been a better human being.

How Tammuz Helped Me Find Meaning in a Godless Universe

In several weeks from now, given past patterns, I will get a call from one or both of my two brothers. “It’s Tatti’s yahrzeit today,” they’ll tell me. “We weren’t sure if you remembered.” The 25th day of this month of Tammuz will be the 29th anniversary of my father’s death, and this month has always had personal significance because of it. My brothers, who live fervently observant lives, will have led prayers that day in the synagogue, and recited the Kaddish. What is left unspoken is that I will not have recited the Kaddish, will not do so later, and have not done so in at least a decade.

Why Talmud Is the Way To Be Jewish Without Judaism

After a decade-long break, I am back to studying Talmud. It was my friend Ben who suggested it, about a year ago. “We should learn Gemara sometime,” he said, using the traditional term for Talmud. It was late at night, and we stood chatting near a Brooklyn subway station, both of us tipsy from a party we’d just left.

Why I Love Israel But I Am Not a Zionist

Last November, on tour for my book, I gave a talk at a temple in Cleveland, after which a man raised his hand: “What are your thoughts on Israel?” I hadn’t come to speak about Israel, so I kept my response brief. “I am not a Zionist,” I said. “And I don’t fetishize the idea of Jewish sovereignty, anywhere.”

We Were Aliens in Egypt — and I Still Am Today

The first time I felt a pressing need to visit a synagogue after officially discarding religious observance was less than a year later, in September 2008, while passing through Nashville, Tennessee.

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