13 Things I Like About Judaism

13 Things I Like About Judaism October 5, 2010

Ah yes, it’s time again for another 13 things post and I’ve really been looking forward to this one. Once, many moons ago I was married and wanted wee babies of my own. It was important to me to raise the child in a religious tradition. I had no interest in Christianity and my husband wasn’t thrilled about the idea of Pagan kids. So I began to research Judaism. In the end the marriage dissolved, no babies, no conversions to another faith. Although I am Pagan to the core, a part of me has always been a little in love with Judaism.

13. The Number Thirteen

Judaism considers the number 13 sacred, as do Pagans. In fact, the supposed “bad luck” of the number 13 is a Christian tradition, partially to do with the Templars. Rambam has 13 principles of Jewish faith, Maimonides has 13 foundations of Judaism, there are 613 mitzvot and many Jewish writings outline 13 points of this or attributes of that. This is probably because the Jewish calendar is built on the lunisolar year, just like most Pagan calendars.

12. Hollywood

Some of the most famous and influential people in showbiz have been Jewish, which is why words like putz, schtick and schlep are in this Baptist-bred girl’s vocabulary. So here’s a quick list of my favorite Jews in showbiz:

The Marx Brothers, Ed Wynn, Keenan Wynn, Theda Bara, Jack Benny, Douglas Fairbanks, Mae West, Al Jolson, The Three Stooges, Edward G. Robinson, George Burns, Lee Strasberg, Peter Lorre, Mel Blanc, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, Hedy Lamarr, Danny Kaye, John Garfield, Red Buttons, Kirk Douglas, Lee J. Cobb, Jerry Stiller, Ben Stiller, Don Rickles, Carl Reiner, Paul Newman, Tony Randall, Walter Mattheau, Jerry Lewis, Harvey Korman, Jack Klugman, Judy Holliday, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Curtis, Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks, Lauren Bacall, Ed Asner, Beatrice Arthur, Gene Wilder, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Nimoy, Michael Landon, Harvey Keitel, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Arkin, Adam Arkin, Woody Allen, Henry Winkler, Jeffery Tambor, Paul Simon, Barbara Streisand, Rob Reiner, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner, Frank Oz, Bette Midler, Kevin Kline, Andy Kaufman, Madeline Kahn, Dan Hedaya, Goldie Hawn, Christopher Guest, Art Garfunkel, Harrison Ford, Bob Dylan, Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Crystal, James Caan, Albert Brooks, Nell Carter, Annie Sprinkle, Jane Seymour, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Saget, Paul Reubens, Ron Perlman, Mandy Patinkin, Judd Nelson, Steve Guttenberg, Jeff Goldblum, Carrie Fisher, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rosanna Arquette, Jason Alexander, Jon Stewart, Ally Sheedy, Kyra Sedgwick, Liev Schrieber, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Sean Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rob Morrow, Debra Messing, Camryn Manheim, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Lisa Kudrow, Darryl Hannah, Jennifer Grey, Melissa Gilbert, Gina Gershon, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Garrett, Matthew Broderick, Jack Black, Hank Azaria, Patricia Arquette, Lisa Bonet, Sarah Silverman, Winona Ryder, Keri Russell, Pink, Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Idina Menzel, Kate Hudson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Seth Green, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Corey Haim AND Corey Feldmen, Oded Fehr, Jennifer Connelly, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Emmy Rossum, Natalie Portman, Shia LeBouf, Scarlett Johannson, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, Sacha Baron Cohen….

And you get the idea…

11. Hebrew

Once I helped my sister move and she had hired movers who happened to be Israeli. I had heard Hebrew in the movies but to hear these guys speak in such a fluid casual way was a different thing. It’s a truly gorgeous language and one of the most beautiful in print. It’s truly lovely.

10. Music

I LOVE klezmer, from traditional klezmer to the punk klezmer in the movie “Dummy” to “Fiddler on the Roof” and great modern Jewish music.


9. Keeping Sabbath

I’ve seen this ritual in films but I don’t understand it. I find it deeply moving though.

8.  Channukah

As a child I found Channukah secretly fascinating. It seemed more mysterious and less stressful than Christmas. I suppose it seemed more religious. While I celebrate Yule now, I still buy Channukah candles when I find them.

7. Tribalism

Being Jewish is a strong sense of identity. I think sometimes we form religious communities because we do not want to be alone in the world. It is good to have a community that shares your values, your joys and your trials. If Judaism teaches us anything, it teaches us community.

6. God Being Interested In The World And In Us

While monotheism is generally regarded as having started with Akhenaten, Judaism brought monotheism to the world. If monotheism has a gift, it is that God has no peer and is therefore very interested in the world. I do not know what lay in the hearts and minds of ancient Pagans but the legacy they left us doesn’t have the sense of personal relationship with the Gods that Judaism brought into the world. I think for many of us Modern Pagans, the sense of personal, intimate relationship with our Gods has some influence from Judaism. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

5. Acknowledgement of Other Gods

Sure, Jews believe their God is the one true God and all others are false, or at least have nothing to do with them. It’s a small thing, not even a very flattering thing, but it is nice that at least one Abrahamic religion acknowledges my Gods exist. You wouldn’t believe how much that one small thing means to me. I suppose it is similar to Israel, and how some countries refuse to recognize it as a legitimate state. That tiny ledge of goodwill fills me with hope. We are different tribes, strange to each other, but that does not mean we are against each other.

4. Old Testament Stories

I grew up on stories about Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Esther and Joshua. Even though I no longer claim them as my own heritage, I find the stories vibrant, compelling and useful for interfaith dialogue. In fact, one of my favorite animated films is “Prince of Egypt”:

3. Humor

Jews include everything in their sense of humor. Some of the most irreverent and provocative comics of our time have been Jewish. Sacha Baron Cohen may be the latest of these but Lenny Bruce and Mel Brooks pushed boundaries long before him. While Lenny fought for our right to really free speech, Mel taught us that if you can laugh at Hitler, he loses his power to intimidate.

2. The Jewish Literary Tradition

The Talmud, the Tanakh, the Midrash… The literary legacy of Judaism is vast and rich. Even I recognize some of the writings of Rabbi Hillel.

1. The Kabbalah

If there is anything about Judaism I truly love, it’s the Kabbalah. As a reality map, it’s divine. Studying it unlocks the hidden secrets of the tarot and adds layers of meaning to any spiritual system. It is the Dewey Decimal system of mysticism and an indispensable part of my personal practice. I know it’s probably annoying to see us Gentiles using the Kabbalah but we do it because we love it. We’re not pretending to be Jewish mystics but we love the symmetry and symbolism of the Tree of Life. It’s dang near perfect and that’s a fact.

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  • Yeah, I almost converted to Judaism in my teens, but fortunately I did not, as I’m too much of a heathen for it to have really worked well for me. Still, did give me a lot of insights into monotheism that are valuable. Still practice Hanuka, though I’m hoping in a few years to really be able to switch over to Yule, with it’s 12 days of celebration, rather than just 8 (though 8 is way better than one).

    You’d probably have an easier time finding someone in Hollywood that wasn’t Jewish, lol.

  • Kauko

    The ritual in #9 is the ritual that begins shabbat (the Sabbath). The candles are lit, traditionally but the mother of the house, she then circles her hands over the flames 3 times symbolically inviting their warmth to her. Then the blessing is said, “Baruch atah, HaShem, Eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitsvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel shabbat” (Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the world who sanctified us and commanded us to kindle the light of the sabbath). Once the blessing is said the Sabbath has begun and all of its rules apply. After this it is traditionaly for parents to bless their children (as you see in the clip), then the father and children would sing from the book of Proverbs, extolling what an ‘ideal’ wife and mother is like. This is followed by Kiddush, blessing God over wine and then the elaborate shabbat meal is eaten.

    I definitely miss observing Shabbat sometimes (I came to Paganism from Judaism). The ritual I described above it very beautiful and there is something deeply spiritual and satisfying about putting away all the stuff from the rest of the week from Friday night until Saturday night (which also has a beautful ceremony ending shabbat called havdalah, which means ‘seperation’). I think what led me away from Judaism and to Paganism, though, was that I came to feel like my attachment to Judaism was too academic and that I wasn’t going anywhere with it spiritually. In college I was a religious studies major, focused on Judaism and especially Biblical Hebrew. I was very observant, as in I always wore my kippah (what most people know as a yarmulke), I prayed 3 times a day (in Hebrew/ Aramaic), didn’t use any electricity on the Sabbath etc, basically the whole deal. But, as I said, I didn’t really feel fulfilled by it and I found myself yearning to explore other things, especially Paganism.

  • Religiously, I’m pagan inside and out!
    But I come from a Jewish family and your piece fascinated me! I love my Jewish heritage…I use yiddish, make kneidles and have an alter ego ….. a 80 year old Jewish woman that lives in Lauderdale! Seriously, Judaism is not offensive to most other religions because it doesn’t believe in proseltyzing… (why? because if you aren’t blood Jewish, you are a goy. Okay to date, not so good to marry!) Judaism is rich in many things! I love the culture, its part of me. Thanks for the fun post!

  • Interesting that your list of Jewish people in showbiz includes Leonard Nimoy but not William Shatner (yes, he is). He’s also Canadian, by the way.

  • I used a list of Jewish American actors to verify. I love Shatner. I also love Lorne Greene, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Seth Rogen, Leonard Cohen, Percy Faith, Peaches, Amy Winehouse, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sharon Osborne, Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry.

  • Peggy

    Thanks for sharing your love of Judaism, Starr. Judaism would have been by second choice for organized religion when I was leaving Mormonism, but Mormonism cured me of submerging myself ever again into any organized religion forevermore! I wanted a simpler, less ritualistic way to grow my spirituality. Hebrew is an absolutely fascinating, deep, rich language with all kinds of symbolic spiritual and very practical meaning. Jewish thought is so intelligent and their humor has an honesty to it that makes it unique and charming. I seriously toyed with joining a messianic community, but in the end I opted for no organized religion and adopted the Gnostic/Pagan way as my spiritual path. Come to find out that most messianic communities are beginning to meld with mainstream Judaism. I also like the Hawaiian Huna practices and their ideas about the nature of the soul, healing and prayer; they are very simple and elegant and they have only one basic commandment: Harm no one with hate.

  • Kauko

    “Come to find out that most messianic communities are beginning to meld with mainstream Judaism.”

    I have serious doubts about that. In my experience, Jews (as in the actual, non-messianic ones) have a pretty unwelcoming attitude (and for good reason IMO) towards messianics since Messianic ‘Judaism’ isn’t Judaism, it a form of Christianity disguised with Jewish stuff for the sole purpose of converting Jews to Christianity by making it more attractive and ‘Jewish’ seeming. Virtually all Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc Jews do not recognize messianics as a valid form of Judaism.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for sharing 13 things about Judaism, and your love about Judaism.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for sharing 13 things about Judaism, and your love about Judaism.