An article I read about an interview with Noam Chomsky inspired me to write this blog. Before I knew anything about Noam Chomsky, I was introduced to the work of his father William Chomsky through his book Hebrew: The Eternal Language. It contains a wealth of knowledge about the culture behind ancient Hebrew words. It wasn’t until I returned to college and began taking linguistics courses that I learned about Noam. He is a professor at MIT and is considered the “Father of Modern Linguistics.” In an awards ceremony at MIT, he was introduced as the “world's most cited living scholar.” He is also known as “the world's leading political dissident,” which often makes him an unpopular figure to those on the right and left.
In a December 14, 2016 interview with Daily Mirror, Noam Chomsky was asked: “And your views on religion, you were born into a Jewish family and raised . . . .” His answer brought back some old memories for me. I grew up in a town that did not have a synagogue and I did not personally know any Jewish people until I began my research on the Jewish Jesus in my mid-30s. The first Jews I met practiced ultraorthodox forms of Judaism. Since I came from a fundamentalist Protestant Christian background, it seemed to me that we shared a lot of things in common – belief in one God, belief in the Scriptures, etc.
Later, I got to know another group of Jews who made it clear to me that they were atheists. Now I knew a lot of “former Christians” who were atheists, but this group did not identify themselves as “former Jews;” they made it clear they still Jews. But even though that gave me something to think about, what they did simply did not compute – they kept the Shabbat, went to synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and did other “Jewish” things!
Why would people who didn’t believe in God do those things? It took me a long time to finally understand. Chomsky’s response to the question above reminded me of that period in my life and that’s why I decided to share it with you. (I added underlines to highlight points).
“Well, remember that Judaism is fundamentally a religion of practice, more than belief. So, say my grandfather, who was basically still living in the 17th century Eastern Europe was ultra religious. But if I had asked him, did you believe in God? He probably wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. Judaism means carrying out the practices. My father was basically secular, but deeply involved in Jewish life. If you go to a New England church on Sunday morning, you would find people who are deeply religious, but not believers. Religion to them means community, associations, helping each other, having some common values and so on. Religion could be all sorts of things. But to me, it doesn’t happen to be a value; if other people do, that is their business.”
Judaism is “fundamentally a religion of practice.” Keep that in mind when you read about the life and teachings of the Real Yeshua. His message and movement was about what people do, not what they believe.
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