Monday, February 16, 2004

Yeshiva was cancelled this morning, the dregs of yesterday's snow enough to mean we didn't have to be in until afternoon Hebrew lessons. I really need to get a sturdy pair of boots to supplement the sole pair of trainers I have here. This afternoon in Midrash, my feet turned purple.

More thoughts on Leibowitz. He says every time you do anything associated with religion and aim to derive spiritual, social, moral or indeed any other benefit, for either you, society or the world at large, you are not really engaging in a religious act. Rather you're using religion for essentially non-religious ends. Spiritual, social and moral concerns are by nature secular. Interesting, perhaps, but secular. You could just as well use self-help books, Shakespeare or therapy.

That's all very well. But what if I deny that those things are secular? What if I deny that anything is separate from God? Leibowitz depends on the idea of a God who is entirely detatched from the world, one who is in fact so much holier than anything here that when we call something in this world inherently sacred or divine we tarnish His name or become idolaters. But if I believe that God is immanent and omnipresent, that in fact nothing exists but God ("ein od" - there is nothing else - as the Jewish liturgy puts it) then everything is holy. Shakespeare, art, therapy, self-help, the lot.

So we ask instead - why call some things holy but not others? Why treat religious texts as any more sacred than King Lear, Hamlet or, for that matter, Jilly Cooper? I think it comes down to the way we approach these things, to our explicit purpose as regards the text or activity. And at the end of the day, yes, it's about whether we want to use these things for our own ends, looking at them for their utilitarian value, or rather see them for what they really are, instances of God, looking through them towards the One.

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