Monday, November 19, 2007

A Feminist Orthodoxy

This post is inspired by a conversation I’ve been having in the comments thread on XGH's blog.

This is not going to be about my struggles with gender and Judaism. Believe me, I’ve struggled with these. In my teenage years and adulthood, I’ve become painfully aware of what the “separate but equally as special” dictum that many traditionally minded OJs hold really means for women.

But that story and analysis is for a different post and a different time.

This post is about potential and the future.

I’ll reiterate one point first: my problems with OJ (which, granted, I haven’t gone into in any real detail here yet) are NOT limited to gender-related issues. They stretch far beyond this.

That said, if my problems were limited to gender, I think that in 2007 I might have some hope.

It is still quite far from solving everything for me, but I see a lot of promise in the recent introduction of feminist ideology into OJ. Organizations like JOFA and women like Blu Greenberg and Tamar Ross, to my mind, are pushing in the right direction and making much needed advances.

Whether or not they are directly influenced by feminist theory, many OJ women feel a divide between their lives in the secular and religious spheres. These are educated, intelligent women who want to participate more actively in their religion – in addition to their mitzvot they are already performing as women.

Furthermore, they are women who see a real benefit in having a more active female presence in OJ overall. The ordination (?not sure if that’s the right word?) of yoatzot is one example of how this is true.

In the aforementioned conversation that I was having with “Dude” on XGH’s blog, “Dude” said that a feminist OJ is silly/childish, goes against the historical Jewish perspective, and ultimately makes a mockery of halachic flexibility.

I argued that there are precedents for this kind of female role – think Devorah, Bruriah – but they have just been downplayed. With the story of a female judge in Tanach itself, how can anyone argue that there can’t be any place for a woman in Judaism outside her home?

What I find most discouraging is that fact that Dude’s attitude isn’t an anomaly; rejection and disparagement of a more feminist OJ is widespread. The only reason I can come up with for this is knee-jerk sexism; these people feel afraid – like their world, religion, etc., is going to fall apart if such changes are made.

The craziest thing to me about this attitude is that feminist OJ’s changes don’t (in general) violate halacha. In fact, these women have such great respect for halacha that they really only institute rituals that are okay by halachic standards – after speaking with rabbis – when some of them would really want much more radical changes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Judaism in a Void

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to dream of taking off and moving to one of these remote (rural?) towns in the middle of the country. I grew up right near a big city, spent my college years in an urban environment, and really, I just wanted a change.

Anyway, my parents' and OJ friends would always react to these dreams with a standard line: "Well, as long as there's a Jewish community there..." And since I wasn't out about my skepticism, I would always mumble something about Chabad.

And then I went to graduate school. Unsurprisingly, I chose a program that was out in a small college town with a tiny OJ population. In fact, the entire OJ population consisted of the Chabad rabbi, rebbetzin, two families (college profs), and a smattering (maybe 10?) of students - most of whom had become OJ through Chabad.

Funny thing about this, though, was that while I was one of two Jews in my entire department (the other knew next to nothing about Judaism), I actually got more religious during that time period.

Or maybe religious is the wrong word. Because my level of OJ observance plummeted in many ways and I continued to be skeptical of OJ and question many of its assumptions. But for the first time in a long time, I felt Jewish and proud to be Jewish. Not only that, but the traditions themselves became a lot more meaningful to me. And I went to Chabad nearly every weekend (yeah, yeah...I know they're theologically sketchy). This, even though I had a good social life with the other non-Jewish graduate students.

It's now been several years since I graduated and I've moved to NY. Here, with my very sincere MO roommate, my OJ friends, and OJism all around me, I find so much of my enchantment and pride that I had in graduate school is gone. Of course, there are still aspects of OJ that I value and connect with, but they are fewer and the level of connection is weaker. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. At the very least, it means my intellectual processes and my feelings are (relatively) on the same page.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Figuring it Out (Or Trying, Anyway)

So here's where I am.

I'm 28 years old. It's been more than 14 years since the first time I intentionally ate non-kosher (unless you count gum, in which case it's been about 20 years). It's about 12 years since the first time I broke Shabbos.

Back then, it was different though. While I questioned the idea of God, the idea of religion, these acts were more about rebellion...and occasionally even about fitting in. I was brought up in a Modern Orthodox home, with ba'al tshuva parents and, at about 14 years old, it started to feel like my life (in more ways than just religiously) no longer fit me.

When I was 18, I went to seminary (like so many others from my circles) -- and while I never became really frum per se, I did stop eating non-kosher, started keeping Shabbos, perhaps more significantly, started believing in the premises of Orthodox Judaism.

Of course I always still questioned. In seminary, for example, I tried asking my rabbis & teachers about things that still bothered me -- the fact that our religion commanded us to commit genocide, most specifically--the fact that the Torah seemed to talk about women like second class citizens. Again and again, I was told that this wasn't the time for these questions (especially about Amalek!) or given explanations that didn't really work for me (women are different, special -- and the Torah understands that about us; but I didn't feel very different).

Slowly, through college and later through graduate school, I began questioning even more -- reading, talking to other Ortho Jews, people of other faiths, etc. -- and what had seemed to make total sense a few years earlier, no longer did. It got to the point where I couldn't even reconcile the idea of God's existence anymore (I'm currently an agnostic).

But it was more complicated than just that. Because for all the theological, philosophical, and feminist issues I had with Orthodox Judaism, I have mixed feelings about it. That is, many of the beliefs it espouses are ones I (sometimes vehemently) disagree with. But I often feel a strong emotional connection to its traditions and community. And I don't, for the most part, dislike day-to-day existence as a Modern Orthodox Jew. (The phrase "for the most part," of course, is problematic when you're dealing with Judaism.) So I've been living -- outwardly, anyway (occasionally I've moved into the more Conservative/Conservadox realm) -- as what others in the blog world have called "Orthoprax" for a while now. This is because of the aforementioned emotions, as well as the fact that I don't want to alienate my parents and siblings.

I guess none of this would be such a problem if I didn't have these nagging ethical/intellectual problems with OJ...and if I didn't have to qualify the above emotional justification with the phrase "for the most part." Lately, these issues have become more problematic as I read and experience more.

This blog is in response to a few months of reading other OTD or skeptic blogs, specifically a recent entry by Going Going Gone in which she noted the lack of female bloggers on this topic. Hopefully, like it has done for others before me, this blog will help me sort out my thoughts.