Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a function as “the normal or characteristic action of anything.” They list several definitions for religion. For our purposes we’ll use the second definition. It states, “religion is any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.” You’ll note that this definition does not include a belief in a creator, ruler, or Divine Being. This is because for some of us, that is not a function of religion.
So what is the function of Judaism in your life? What are the normal characteristics? What purpose do we expect this religion to have in our lives? Is the function to give us a system of belief? Is it to give us a way to worship? Is it to give us a code of ethics and a philosophy, or a method of giving recognition to a creator, ruler, or Divine Being? For those of you who are not sure, let’s step back in time.
Early adulthood, those years between high school graduation and settling down, is often a time of flux. It’s not uncommon to be unaffiliated with a religious institution at this time. Very often, religion is not an obvious factor for many years. What about you? What religious memories do you have of early adulthood?
Do your memories include time spent in observing Jewish holidays? Were you a member of a synagogue? Did you share your holidays with friends at home? Did you participate in any programs or classes at the JCC? Take the time to write your memories down with as much detail as possible. Be sure to include the emotions associated with your memories. These will be important.
Adulthood for our purposes is defined as the time when you are either became established in your career and/or committed to a relationship through marriage or some other means.
If you are married, take a look at those memories. Marriage is a time when religion looms large for many of us, not only because of the upcoming ceremony, but because there are decisions to make about the practices you’ll have in your shared home. What was your experience? Do you have one or two religious memories from this time? Be sure to include in your memory the parts that were felt by you versus the parts that were felt or especially important to those around you. It may be that the experience was important to all the involved parties for the same reasons. It may not. This is an important thing to note because it will bring you closer to an understanding of the function of religion in your life.
Perhaps you’re not married but have a partner you plan to spend your life with. What religious traditions do you follow? What are your clearest memories? What feelings are associated with those memories? Who played a part and what was it? Write it all down in as much detail as possible.
Perhaps you choose to remain single. What role does Judaism play in your life? What are your religious memories? What do you celebrate? How do you celebrate? How does it feel? Write it all down.
Another time when religion often plays a large role is when you have children or are involved in the lives of children you love. What are your religious memories during the time of their childhoods? What was important for you, or to you, in their religious experiences? Make sure to include the feelings you had and as much specific detail as possible. Parenthood is a milestone in your life. It makes you the custodian of traditions and conventions that will go forward into future generations. What you remember and how you felt during those times is important.
Once you have your memory and related feelings on paper, make a list of the normal or characteristic actions. Was it the ritual of the observance that you felt strongly about? Was it the food? The people who were there? What was the part that you felt most connected to? This is important because it gives you insight into the function of religion for you when you were in your teens.