I’ve been thinking about sacrilege lately, about the repercussions of bucking religious tradition. It’s a bit of a puzzlement because the religion I grew up with, Judaism, doesn’t offer a clearly defined vision of the sinners’ afterlife. The fact that I had to google the term for the Jewish hell, Gehenna, to get a definition — and correct spelling — shows how vague a concept it is.
Wikipedia says, “According to Jewish teachings, hell is not entirely physical; rather, it can be compared to a very intense feeling of shame.” That sounds about right: Part existential torment created by other people, a la Sartre (as in “you’re killing your mother by [fill in the activity]”); part Woody Allen cliche, a world where we worry about who, including our dogs, we’re boring.
I bring up Judaism and its discontents because tonight is the start of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah — year 5770 according to a lunar calendar as arcane as Gehenna. It’s also the occasion of the first book signing and talk for Am I Boring My Dog, a two-part event at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. So it’s occurred to me that, if there was a hell, I would likely be consigned to it by those who believe in the strict observance of religious rituals.
No question: The Old Testament deity is a stickler for details — no mixing milk and meat, for example, or even certain fabrics — and much given to “thou shalt not” dictates. And an entire other book, the Talmud, was devoted to discussing what the first book meant. I come from a long tradition of parsers and hair splitters.
So I hesitated about scheduling my big event on that date, not because I’m observant (or even a believer) but because I didn’t want to seem disrespectful to those who are. But then I realized that I no longer have any patience for sticklerism. One religion’s deity says no fish on Friday, another’s dictates no work on Saturday, a third’s abjures equality for women (oh wait, that’s all of them). Would an all-powerful spirit really sweat the details?
My much blogged about best friend, Clare, is flying in for the book signing. Most of the other friends I wrote about in my book, several of them Jewish, will be there. Dogs, including Frankie, are welcome. 10% of the proceeds from book sales and from a raffle will go to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.
Good deeds, good friends, and good dogs (all dogs are good; some are just misunderstood). I can’t think of a better way, one more respectful of true values, to usher in a new year.