From the time I was young, one of the most perplexing figures for me in Talmudic literature has been Elisha ben Abuyah, AKA "Acher" (someone else).
Very little is said about him. Eventually, I intend to analyze some of the stories about him and give my impressions of them. But for now, here's the bottom line--Elisha was a skeptic who gave in to his doubts and became a heretic. Some say he became a Gnostic, believing that the God of the Bible was an inferior deity to a larger entity we could never understand. Others make him a flat-out heretic, going into the Yeshivot telling the students that they were wasting their time studying and that they should go out and learn a trade--something useful!
But if there's one story about Acher that I truly relate to, it's the one where he and his former pupil, Rabbi Meir (who would eventually become so prolific, that an anonymous Mishna is considered to be his words) were walking together on the Sabbath; Rabbi Meir by foot, Acher on horseback. Riding horses is not allowed on the Sabbath. Another rule about the Sabbath is that you're not supposed to travel 2,000 cubits past the town limits (Techum Shabbat). Acher realized that they were about to cross this 2,000 cubit boundary, so he informed his former pupil that perhaps he should turn back. Rabbi Meir asked Acher to join him. He refused, saying that he heard a heavenly voice saying that anybody can repent except for Acher.
The way the story was taught to me: It's Acher that can never repent. But Elisha ben Abuyah, he could repent! It is significant that the heavenly voice said that Acher (someone else) can never repent. He was Acher--somebody else! And as long as he remained that somebody else, he could never repent. He'd have to go back to being Elisha ben Abuyah to repent. In other words, he'd have to "check Acher at the door." After all, no repentance is true repentance unless the person has completely changed their mindset.
And this is why I've chosen to call myself Acher. It was the day of my 30th birthday. My mother and I were having a long conversation. During that conversation, she asked me why I don't go back to keeping the Sabbath. Now understand, I haven't intentionally kept the Sabbath since I was 24. In future posts, I will discuss my journey off the beaten path of Orthodox Judaism in more detail. But for now, let's just say that I work or Saturday, I do not attend synagogue, and I basically do not keep any of the ritual aspects of Judaism. My family, for the most part, is only loosely observant as well. But my mother, being the good Jewish mother she is, naturally worries about the Jewish education that had been wasted on me.
My immediate answer to my mother was that I had eaten the proverbial fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. I have seen a world beyond the veldt of Orthodox Judaism, and it has pleased me. I have willfully banished myself from the Garden--from being sure of anything. And like Acher, I have descended so far into my skepticism, I could never repent. There is nothing anyone can say or do to bring me back to thinking like an Orthodox Jew. That even if I tried following an impractically blind Pascal's Wager Judaism (just follow the damn rules, you have more to gain by doing them against your will than by not doing them at all), this would entail my being very dishonest with myself, the world, and whatever higher being is up there--and is probably not deceived by my tartuffery!
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen: I AM ACHER!
I am the silent scream of a confirmed, hardened skeptic. I have commented on many Jewish and OTD blogs for quite some time under many names (and pseudonyms). And now, here I am about to find my voice.
Some of this blog will be my musings.
Some will be pure nonsense
This blog is what it is.
And yes, as the name might indicate, this is an OTD blog:
OTD, for those unaware, is short for "Off the Derech", lit. Off the Path.
This is the stock term for Jews who have gone wayward. Those of us who no longer consider ourselves observant. This term is VERY broad. Some merely question. Others are flat-out Atheists/Nihilists. I personally identify as an Atheist. But as far as Atheists go, I am very soft. That is, I am not calling for the complete obliteration of religious institutions, or religions themselves. But I am very critical of them. I do not believe that any of the organized religions got it right. Because I was raised a Jew and Judaism is the religion I understand the best, most of my examples will be from the Jewish faith. But of course, if I see fit, I shall try to balance it out by including others as well.
Of course, in my perfect world, people will no longer need God to see good in others. That day will come. I don't know if humanity is ready for that yet.
In the meantime, enjoy. And thank you for checking in.