Wait . . . Rabbis Are People Too?
I picked up the book Joy Comes in the Morning , written by Jonathan Rosen, for a couple reasons. One, I knew the book had won the 2005 Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction award. Two, I am always intrigued by the notion of a man writing from the perspective of a female (Wally Lamb’s She Comes Undone is still the best I’ve seen). In this case, Rosen writes from the perspective of Rabbi Deborah Green, an attractive, smoking, complicated Reform rabbi.
Although the book started to lag for me about three-quarters of the way through (I was ready to have everything wrapped up already), what kept me reading was the intriguing idea that Rabbi Green—while extremely connected to Judaism and its beautiful traditions—was not without her religious doubts.
In one powerful passage, she visits an older woman in the hospital who almost died but was “brought back” from beyond. With fear and sadness, the woman tells Rabbi Green that while she was “dead,” she saw nothing, felt nothing—just a big dark void. The conversation devastates Rabbi Green, who suddenly starts wondering if her faith has been for nothing and whether there is a God.
I have never thought about a rabbi having a crisis of faith. Naively, I presumed that the very act of choosing to become a rabbi would somehow safeguard one from the religious mental wrestling so many of us go through at some point in time: Is there a God? If so, does God listen to us? Is there anything after death?
In the end, I think, what gives many of us the deepest connection to our religion is that we keep purposefully finding our way back to it, in spite of our doubts and lingering questions. It is easy to follow religion if we swallow everything as truth and never push back or admit uncertainties. It is more meaningful, I believe, when, like Rabbi Green, we dig deep, ask tough questions, learn what we can, and opt to stay connected even when we don’t have all the answers.