Editor’s Note: David Ingber is spiritual leader of Romemu, a popular congregation on the Upper West Side whose motto is “Judaism for the body, mind and spirit.” Rabbi Ingber grew up in a Modern Orthodox home and attended a number of yeshivas. His long and diverse spiritual search led to his ordination by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Renewal Judaism.
Q: Why there are so many spiritual seekers?
A: I think that we are all seeking, and if we stop seeking it is only a matter of time until we feel empty. There is something innately human about seeking. The mystics in the Jewish tradition make a claim that the healthiest state of human beings is in their yearning. It is a bit of a frustrating posture but it is a healthy state to be in — wanting more and more of God, wanting more and more spirituality, wanting more and more connection.
Why is God seemingly so difficult to be found? Is God hiding? Are we blind?
God isn’t hiding and we are not blind, but often institutions refuse to serve God as part of their meal. They think that people have been so wounded, so hurt, and so scarred by experiences with Judaism, and especially relationships with God, that they have what I call “post- traumatic God disorder.” So most of our institutions create programs around God. We offer everything but God because God is very touchy, scary, intense, personal and intimate. We can all get on board with such safe topics as Torah and Tikkun Olam, but a direct conversation with God, which is an absolutely core component of what is to be a human being, is institutionally avoided.
Then why do Jews have such a complicated relationship with God? We were God’s first love but we seem to need marriage counseling.
We have been burned, we’ve been scarred, and we’ve been wounded. It’s hard to imagine a people who have been more persecuted and who have had greater faith in a protective Divine presence. So to some degree in the aftermath of the Holocaust we are uncomfortable with the theology of God’s intimacy. We are also uncomfortable with what we perceive to be Christian language such as “love.” Though the love of God is absolutely part of our tradition we have unfortunately relinquished it from the Jewish conversation.
But are you finding at your congregation that there are many people looking to reignite the connection with God?
Absolutely. And not only that, I think Romemu is making a claim that God won’t go away; it doesn’t help us to imagine that something can fill the God void. We need to have safe spaces where God is present and we are evoking the Divine and allowing people to heal their tarnished and torn relationship with the Divine, whether by substituting the Divine with a new image, or by being angry with God, or by refusing to pray. We need to create a space where we don’t avoid the conversation with God because some people will be uncomfortable, but we actually allow it to rise up, allow the healing to take place..
Can you then be Jewish without being Godly?
The problem is that reasons such as “you should be Jewish because if not nobody else will,” or because you otherwise would be insulting the memory of those who died in the Holocaust, are strong and significant — but they are insufficient. At some point the inner spiritual yearning calls you. That thirst can be only quenched by the nutrients of a 2,000-year-old spiritual tradition.
How do you relate to the sometimes ruthless and violent God of the Bible?
Thankfully, I don’t go to the Bible for my theology. Thankfully, I believe that men wrote the Bible, and as such I believe that God has been evolving. The God of the Bible is interested in sacrifices, the God of the First and Second Temple is interested in animals, the God of Isaiah is interested in the heart, the God of the rabbis is interested in sacred time and deeds, and the God of the chasidic masters is interested in sacred intention and interiority. All are important stepping-stones in the evolution of our tradition, in the evolution of God.
For the full conversation, visit www.thejewishweek.com.