Who knew what "covet" meant anyway?

One thing I always liked most about having been brought up in a conservative Jewish home, was that the religious services I was forced to attend were conducted in Hebrew. Therefore, I was able to sit beside my father for hours, daydreaming and braiding the long tassels of his prayer shawl between my fingers while he mumbled incomprehensible moral precepts in a language I didn’t understand.

This enabled me to grow up guilt-free, since other than the Ten Commandments, I never had the faintest idea of what any of it meant. As far as the Big Ten went, I got the points about stealing, killing and lying with relative ease. The Commandments dealing with God never seemed particularly relevant to me, and as for “coveting,” who knew what “covet” meant anyway? I had never gone down to breakfast and heard either parent tell me not to “covet” my sister’s pink party dress. Nor was adultery a big problem with the pony-tailed pygmies in my Girl Scout troop.

So in a strictly moral sense, my religious upbringing, although time consuming, was intellectually non-intrusive.

I did, however, have to spend a lot of time being Jewish. There was Hebrew school after real school, and there were religious services on Friday night, as well as on Saturday morning. And there was Sunday school. Every Sunday. We celebrated religious holidays for two full days and spent the entire time in synagogue (or on the grounds of the temple, if I managed to sneak out of the sanctuary). My parents kept a kosher house, and it wasn’t until I was seventeen years old that I ate my first piece of pork, which was served to me under the pseudonym “fish” at a reform-Jewish kibbutz in Israel. Initially, my parents even kept separate dishes for foods made from dairy and from meat. Time, a sense of humor, and a lot of dropped plates cast that particular tradition to the wind.

Nevertheless, the household in which I grew up was unmistakably Jewish. There were no “Chanukah bushes” in our living room, nor were any pine trees on our front lawn decorated with colored lights in and around the vicinity of December 25th. On Friday nights, we were expected to eat dinner at home (our friends were always welcome), at which my father and brothers said the Friday night prayers and my mother blessed the candles. Goblets of Kiddush wine were always carefully diluted for us children, and the end result was an eighth of a glass of Mogen-David to seven-eighths water. Not exactly an inebriating mix.

When I was growing up, I disdained all religions; I considered the Bible, begats included, unutterably dull, and thought that all rituals, practiced either in ancient or contemporary times were irrational and barbarian. It made me miserable that my father wouldn’t allow me to rake leaves on Saturday, because the Sabbath is “a day of rest.” I hated rest. I hated Hebrew School. Mr. Herschfeld, my Bat Mitzvah teacher, told me apoplectically that I was the worst student he had ever had. I believed him. The stories I learned in Sunday school annoyed me to no end. What kind of a Deity would want a man to sacrifice his own son to prove his love? I never, never forgave God for asking Abraham choose. Nor was I all that wild about God drowning all of those innocent children during the course of Noah’s flood. What if I had been a child at that time? I pondered in Sunday school. Would God have killed me, too? Nor would I have made it out of Sodom and Gomorrah alive, even if I’d been as innocent as a babe.

All throughout Hebrew school and Sunday school, I didn’t like God. But I still believed in him. At least until I was sixteen years old. Theist or atheist, though, nothing affected my acceptance of my father’s Judaism or of his belief in God. Samuel Reuben’s religion was as benevolent as a warm, firm handshake, and it both served and enhanced everything that made him who and what he was.

Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com

Copyright © 2009, Shelly Reuben

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