Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Time to Socialize?: Some Thoughts about Conversations during Shul/Rituals/Ceremonies

A (non-Jewish) co-worker of mine was telling me about an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah she attended over the weekend. Her observation: the congregants seemed much less respectful of the rituals taking place than she’d expected from such a religious ceremony. All around her, everyone was talking to each other – regardless of whether the Bar Mitzvah boy was reading from the Torah, the rabbi was giving a speech, etc.. She found it appalling.

I have to say, I was less than shocked. Though, admittedly, I haven’t been to shul in quite a while, when I used to go regularly to my parents’ MO shul, the chatting was so loud and constant, it required more than a few “shush”ings from the gabbai. Indeed, several years ago, the shul sent out a letter to all families requesting that everyone be quiet during services.

My favorite of such moments:

When I was 19, a bit more religious than I am now, I was sitting in shul next to my mother. During the entire Torah reading and davening, two women in front of me were chatting away, rather loudly. Then, the president got up to read the announcements and the two women to their right began to talk (quietly). One of the first two (chatting-during-davening) women quickly got annoyed and turned to the newest chatter with a loud, “Shush!”

Back to the general topic of talking during ritual/ceremonies: While I haven’t attended that many yeshivish-type shuls to discuss their in-shul chatting or lack thereof, I have been to numerous yeshivish (as well as MO) weddings. And one thing I can say: although there have been a few exceptions to this rule, generally speaking I’ve found that the more religious (/to the right/yeshivish) the wedding, the more (and louder) the chatting.

[I can’t confirm if this is true in shuls, too? Anyone else?]

It seems so paradoxical: why would the more fervently religious have such a propensity to talk at these seemingly sacred rituals? The first thing that popped into my mind is that the more “religious” (scare quotes deliberate) you are, the more weddings / bar & bat mitzvahs / services / rituals you’ve been to. (The number of wedding/bar & bat mitzvahs one is invited to tends to increase in Orthodox circles. See previous post for more on this.) Thus, each one becomes less special/sacred, as it were.

Maybe, though I’m not sure. Other speculations?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On Intermarriage

I'll start with a little context: a week ago, I attended my cousin's wedding. He married a lapsed Catholic who will not be converting. I celebrated with him. I was as happy for them as I am when I watch two Jewish friends get married.

So, intermarriage: It's one of the biggest taboos I can think of. When, as a teenager, I started to "rebel" and hang out with the non-Jewish kids in my neighborhood, my dad sat me down for a dramatic talk about why I shouldn't date the non-Jewish guys. A lot of the focus was on past Jewish suffering - especially the fact that my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and that all her family had been killed in the Holocaust.

This, my father communicated to me without actually using these words:
If all these people died in the name of being Jewish, it's wrong for you to just give it up by inter-dating (presumably followed by intermarrying).

This lesson sunk deep. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, it was compounded by the statistics I would hear in school, at Shabbos tables, in newspapers. "Intermarriage and assimilation are the new genocide," they would say, "Today we are submitting ourselves to a Holocaust-by-choice." And then, the resulting fever: "KIRUV! KIRUV! KIRUV!"

I can remember my own feelings at the mention of someone who was intermarrying - it was this deep ache, this feeling of loss, an almost-panic.

Well, it's been a long road, but here I am, now 29 and not even phased by the idea of my cousin's intermarriage. A few relevant details: he was raised all but completely non-religious (my mom's a baal teshuva), he's currently even less religious than he was growing up. His wife, though brought up Catholic, is similarly non-religious. They share the same values, the same understandings of life, and they make an adorable couple. They dated for six years and have been living together for nearly two.

Of course, my sisters (who are both ultra-frum) didn't come -- even though my cousin & his wife came to their weddings. My parents came, but I recently found out that they came only because my aunt threatened to stop speaking to them if they didn't.

Like I said, having once been theologically closer to where my sisters are now, I know what they feel. That said, I really don't understand the line of thinking anymore. It's so strange to me to disapprove of a marriage simply because of the religious affiliation or lack thereof of one of the parties. My cousin, in many ways, is like a brother to me and I just can't imagine not being happy for his happiness.

One other note on the whole ceremony: I've never been to a secular wedding before. Never, really, even been to a non-Orthodox wedding before. (I will be going to a Christian wedding at the end of the month, though! I'm sure I'll blog about that one, too...) The ceremony was amazing in that it actually involved equal, vocal participation from the bride. This is one thing I absolutely cannot stand about Orthodox weddings - the bride shows up, circles, accepts a ring, drinks from a glass, and never speaks. Also: I (as well as 4 other men & women) was given a poem to read at the ceremony. So cool to actually participate!!

It was also just so much more intimate a ceremony. While large weddings aren't part of the Jewish law in any way, if you were ignorant of that fact, you'd be justified in believing that they are. I've never been to (or heard of) an OJ wedding that had an invite list smaller than 200. My cousin's wedding, with an invite list of 110, was large for his circles. What this meant? I actually got to talk to and celebrate with the bride and groom.

In contrast, I attended an OJ wedding this weekend where I got about five minutes dancing and a quick hello before the bedekin with the bride. And she was my good friend! If nothing else, the OJ community needs to do something about the sheer size of these weddings. They are nauseatingly large. I'm personally prepared not to be offended when I don't get invited to a friend's small wedding.