Hi, I’m Nathan. As part of the 20SB Blog Swap, I’m posting on Jon’s blog today while he posts over on mine, L’histoire de sa vie. A quick introduction: I’m 22, I’m from Houston but live in NYC, I work in IT and am a Computer Science student, and I recently started listening to a lot more Bluegrass music. I’m also a self-titled Apikoros, as I’ll explain below. The term Apikoros is aptly described in the Daniel Bell quotation above.
I grew up in a typical Texas Jewish home, which meant that the extent of my religion was going to synagogue each Saturday for a couple years before my Bar Mitzvah. After synagogue, we’d often go to a restaurant where I’d have a cheeseburger or some other definitely un-kosher meal. Like most Texas Jews, I didn’t follow any of the commandments that Jews believe are required.
When I got to high school, I wanted something more. I wanted to feel God in my life, and I wanted to fulfill the mitzvot (commandments) that make Judaism special. I began keeping Kosher (no more cheeseburgers) and Shabbat (no more driving around after synagogue) and I began to find meaning in my life as part of the observant Jewish world.
I began learning a lot more – I hadn’t known a lot about my commitments before I made them, but after I made them, I sought to learn. After high school, I spent a year in Israel, studying at the Conservative Yeshiva of Jerusalem. And then I went to college, a student at the joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
While in Israel, my faith began to shake. I learned about Documentary Hypothesis (the idea that the Bible is not written by God but rather by four men) and I also began to study more philosophy, especially Jewish philosophy. By the time I got to college, the groundwork was laid for my own rebellion.
Eventually I came to the following conclusions: There probably is a god, that is, a higher being that created everything. That god doesn’t interact with our world or even care much about what’s going on – that is, he created the rules, set them into motion, and then stepped back to let the system run itself. Organized religion is both an attempt by mankind to explain the system when no explanation has been found and to control groups of people in a variation of social contract. The god I painted above couldn’t care less if I eat bacon or if Muslims make hajj or if Catholics take communion or about any other caveat of any other organized religion.
Thus, I started to become less religious. While in Israel, I would daven (pray) often, approaching the three times a day required by strict Judaism. When I got to NYC, I started davening only on Shabbat, specifically on Friday night and not Saturday morning. I enjoyed the community though, and maintained my practices regarding the sanctity of Shabbat and Kashrut for communal reasons.
Eventually though, I became a full Apikoros. An Apikoros is an ancient term for a Jew who rejects the authority of rabbinic law. A ‘heretic’ if you will. What is interesting is that like Chaim Potok’s Apikoros in The Chosen, I do believe in God, and yet don’t follow any of the mitzvot.
I’ve thus returned to my roots as a Texas Jew. I go to synagogue when I feel like it, which is very rare, and I often joke that “I pray when I want to, and God listens when he wants to.” Even though I live in a building with many who are still very observant, I spend Saturdays watching Texas football, and I often enjoy un-Kosher food.
And yet I keep learning. I continue my studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, learning and absorbing more and more about Judaism. I find it fascinating and love to learn about my religion, even as I simultaneously reject it. Thus I am an interesting form of Apikoros – the kind that knows the term and understands what it means, and yet would self-apply it.
“All Israel has a portion of the world to come … [except] who says there is no resurrection of the dead in the Torah, that the Torah isn’t from heaven, and the Apikoros.” – Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1