Raising Free Thinking Children Keeps Judaism Strong And Vibrant

In an article written recently in the Jewish Journal, my son Ari said he engages in interfaith gatherings, uses reason and logic to formulate his beliefs, ponders the universe and the miracles that take place every day with awe and wonder, warns of the dangers of religious fundamentalism, believes the Torah contains “a plethora of beautiful lessons and ideals” and observes that Judaism must evolve to remain relevant in the world, which are all consistent with Reform, Reconstructionist and progressive Judaism. Yet because he chooses not to use the word God to refer to his transcendent feelings of awe and wonder, he has received severe rebuke and I have been branded a bad father by some readers.

While I appreciate the concerns about my son, please forgive me for sharing some of Ari’s fine qualities to defend him, as well as free thinkers everywhere. Ari founded the Student March to Stop Gun Violence, has spoken out on many social issues, attends synagogue, gets great grades, never plays video games, is a very healthy eater and athlete, treats people with respect, including those who disagree with him, and helps lead the resistance against a president who threatens our planet and his ideals. I could not care less what Ari calls the inspiration and calling that drives him to do these things. My dad taught me to focus more on deeds than creeds, and in his book “Explaining Judaism,” he wrote that God should be viewed as a hypothesis, and if the concept doesn’t stand up to reason and logic it should not be accepted. For Ari, the concept of God doesn’t pass this test and I applaud him for using his rational mind to arrive at his own conclusions.

News flash. Most kids Ari’s age don’t believe in God either, or don’t even think about God. They just don’t tell you their true thoughts and stay away from the synagogue. The word “Yisroel” means “one who struggles with God” and if we encouraged free thought, rather than condemning it, perhaps more kids would embrace our heritage.

Ari follows in the footsteps of Abraham. Prior to Moses, God had not yet revealed his true name, and was a force that allowed Abraham to transcend himself and feel connected to everything else, gave his life purpose, motivated him to be a blessing, and to share his vision of peace, justice and love in pursuit of his Promised Land.

When his descendants began to give different names to this power and claimed all truth regarding this power was contained in their book and no one else’s, based on faith not logic, they began to fight over whose book was true, whose heavenly father was best, and who was blessed and who was cursed. This fighting about God has led to the death of millions of people, and has been particularly costly for Jews at the hands of Christians and Muslims, who persecuted us due to a deadly form of celestial sibling rivalry, and played a factor in the Holocaust.[More from the Jewish Journal] Celebrating Jewish pride overshadows hate | Opinion »

If Ari chooses to forego such conflict, and gives no name to the miraculous powers in the universe, relies on reason rather than indoctrination, and warns others, especially Jews of the dangers of blind faith, that’s fine with me. As for me, I choose not to throw out the concept of God with the holy water and I believe in a Creative power at work in the universe that was real to our ancestors and has been handed down L’Dor Va-Dor, albeit in an evolved form, to me.

As we approach Father’s Day, I fondly remember many joyous Sundays trying to solve the New York Times crossword puzzle with my father.

We did the puzzle in pencil so we could erase our errors and discover the correct answer. Unfortunately, for many religious believers, their answers are not written in pencil, or even pen, but etched in stone, in the form of ancient tablets, which keep them from the truth and over which they may fight forever. For them and their victims, the blessings of the Bible have become curses.

I agree with my dad who taught that the Torah is sacred, not because it was written by God, but because it was written by man in search of God, which some understand as ideals of truth, justice and peace. Let us all unite in this quest.

Silver is spiritual leader of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Boynton Beach. This article appeared in the “Jewish Journal”