Monday, December 28, 2009

Jewish Education: Time for a New Approach?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who recently became a baal tshuva. I've known this guy since we were in middle school and I've never known him to be religious. He was always very spiritual, mind you, but also always turned off by Orthodoxy as he understood it.

This latest move in his life was due to his encounter with a more spiritual, musical, joyous version of Orthodoxy, of which he now considers himself a part. (Won't specify, so as not to give away any identifiying information.)

Anyway, we ended up having this whole conversation about why he only found religion now, in his late 20s, after so many years of looking for something. From his perspective, much of the blame goes to the Jewish education system. To him, the approach our school took to Jewish education turned him away from Judaism.

On my part, I can't blame my school for my current status as an "off-the-derech" adult. The reasons I don't believe and don't practice in an Orthodox way have more to do with the fact that I have serious intellectual (and a few moral) issues with Orthodoxy.

That said, I see my friend's point. So many of my other OTD friends, it seems, were turned off by the approach their Jewish day schools took in teaching them Judaism. (I know someone who feels sick just stepping inside a black hat-type environment because it reminds him of being forced to learn gemarah till the late hours of the night.)

By the approach the schools take, I mean that they make Judaism into a dry, academic subject that really doesn't have much of a joyous component to it. The tests, the grades, the rote-memorization (After 15+ years, I can still recite the first Rashi in Tanach by heart! WHY?!), the lack of innovation in topics and/or approaches.

And the way I see it, it's completely unnecessary and illogical. People are different from each other, have different strengths, different interests, and different ways they learn. I see serious problems with the way the secular education system is run in our country on this level, as well. But secular education is mandated by the government; Jewish education is not. It can be approached however a school wants to approach it.

For example, why do Jewish schools force all their students to take Chumash, Navi, Gemarah, etc., for hours and hours each day? In theory, they could allow students to approach Judaism in whatever way inspires or interests them. There could be classes in Jewish music (playing, creating, or studying -- whatever appeals), in the Jewish arts (whether that means learning calligraphy in order to become a sofer, designing ketubahs, or just generic art), in practical and everyday Jewish trades (checking for shatnez, kashering/slaughtering, checking mezuzot, etc.), maybe even in Jewish mysticism (although many schools might have problems with this one...).

Orthodox Judaism is a religion whose rules, regulations, and culture permeate every aspect of its adherents' lives. Why are its schools so narrowly focused, so obsessed with making everyone a gemarah/Tanach expert? Not that those subjects shouldn't be studied. They should! And everyone should be taught the rudimentary skills for learning them. But does every single student need to be forced to learn these subjects for hours a day? I say no. Especially when it turns so many people off.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's not that I stopped caring about the issues...'s that my life got insanely busy.
More soon...

Monday, October 12, 2009

But What About the Children?

On my last post, Rambling Jew commented:

"what will you do when you have children of your own? How will you educate them?"

The question brings up a really complex set of issues which has weighed on me with growing intensity over the last few years.

Of course, I'm still not sure if I want to have children. I've rarely written about my personal (read: love) life here, just because I feel like said topic might reveal my identity to certain people. Suffice it to say that having children is a possibility for me over the next few years.

That road, of course, would open up a pretty messy can of worms. I live my life outside of the bounds of any real Jewish movement. I feel attached to many of the Orthodox rituals and yet find some of the values/philosophies that undergird these rituals problematic for my own worldview (not to mention that I find some of the rituals themselves to be misaligned with my values). At the same time, I am inspired by some of the non-Orthodox movements, but don't really feel comfortable aligning myself with them.

I've already watched this play out for some of my friends. Some have cast aside their own problems with Orthodoxy, embraced the culture as "Orthopraxers," and begun to raise their kids according to the Orthodox way without really bringing up the issue.

For others, the issue seems not as easily resolved. One of my friends, in particular, is currently struggling with whether she should continue to send her nursery-school aged children to day school. It doesn't make sense to her, she says, to spend all that money educating her kids about something she herself doesn't really believe. Still, she says, when she sees the kids that come out of the public schools, it seems (to her) that they don't have a strong value system. Or at least not one that she'd like her kids to have.

For me, the question brings up so many issues:

Of course, should I have kids, I also want them to have a strong system of values that resonate with my own. That's a really hard thing to accomplish, especially when you're bringing said children up in a world that doesn't necessarily agree with those values. Still, if it were only on this level, I don't think I'd have such a problem.

Sure, there are lots of people in the secular world who have values with which I strongly disagree; the same, however, could be said of the Orthodox world. In my nieces' and nephews' schools, for example, gender norms are steeped into every part of the curriculum -- and this is really not what I'd want my children to be taught. Of course, that's a more Ultra-Orthodox world, rather than a Modern Orthodox world. But even the MO world is full of people whose values I strongly disagree with. In my own MO education, some of my teachers espoused their racist, homophobic, and materialistic ideologies pretty consistently.

Mind you, that's not to say that racist/homophobic/materialistic people exist solely within a Modern Orthodox world. Of course not! They exist everywhere, in every corner of society. Nor are these ideologies intrinsic to Modern Orthodoxy. When you come down to the core of the values Judaism espouses, I agree almost all of the time. But at the same time, I see a lot of these values equally espoused in secular society. And, as I mentioned above, the same can be said of negative values.

In the end, I believe that if I choose a good community (i.e., town -- not necessarily Jewish community) with a good school district, and I practice the values that I preach, my children will grow up with a good and solid value system. The tens of thousands of dollars don't seem like a worthwhile investment if it's made for the sake of values alone.

Where the line does start to get murky for me is when I start to think about Jewish tradition. As my posts have reflected, I value my tradition strongly and I'd like to pass that along to any children I might have. But what happens when I don't agree with certain traditions? What happens when there's no school that mirrors what I believe? Do I shell out all those tuition dollars to send my kids to a school that doesn't really reflect my Jewish practices?

It gives me a headache to think about it.

This past Shabbat, I went to a Conservative shul (more on this later, of course!). That weekend, a girl was celebrating her bat mitzvah, was called up to the Torah, etc. There were a lot of positive things I took away from this experience, but one negative for me was seeing how uncomfortable the girl, her friends, and family (who were called up) seemed to be with the Hebrew.

That said, I'm very close friends with a Conservative family in the town to which I've recently moved, and while their kids may not be as comfortable with reading Hebrew as I was during my childhood, Judaism definitely pervades everything that goes on in their home. They do not have a strictly kosher kitchen, do not abide by Orthodox definitions of Shabbat, but they have Shabbat dinner & lunch every week, the holidays are intrinsic to their family life in the same way that they were to my family when I was a child.

Their daughter attended a Jewish school for a while, but is now in public school. That doesn't seem to make her any less excited about going to shul every week, saying brachot, making Sukkah decorations, shaking the lulav, etc..

It's nervewracking territory to venture out into bringing the Judaism you personally believe in into a house without a day school as a support network, but I think it's do-able. If I can bring to my house the enthusiasm that I feel for Jewish traditions and be honest about what I believe and don't believe, maybe that's enough? I'm not sure.

For 15 years (if you include nursery & kindergarten), I went to an MO day school that cost my parents tens of thousands of dollars. I did gain a valuable spectrum of knowledge about Judaism from this (though I'm not sure I can say the same for secular subjects; in high school, at least, the academics at my school were rather pathetic).

With all that education, though, the feelings and attachment I have toward Jewish traditions comes from my parents and my home. So many of the OTD/skeptic friends I have talk about the negativity they feel toward Orthodoxy because of what they experienced in their homes -- their parents screaming and panicking before Shabbos, their being forced to learn and go to/stay in shul in spite of their nature that would have them do otherwise, the emphasis their parents put on the "don't"s, the lack of any excitement in celebrations.

Maybe it was because they were Ba'al Teshuva, maybe it was because of their personalities, I don't know -- but in my house, the emphasis was always on the excitement -- the screaming and panics before Shabbos were minimal or non-existent. For me, growing up, my parents made Judaism feel like something beautiful, something fun, something I wanted to be a part of.

When I got older and became, for intellectual reasons, an agnostic, it was the memories of my parents' practices of Judaism that made me want to stay Jewish in any way at all. When you're dealing with religion and tradition, I really think it's what's in the home that counts more than anything.

I'm still not sure that means I won't send my kids to a Jewish day school. It's something I'll think about when I'm there. But I don't think it's the end-all-and-be-all.

Furthermore, I don't think that Orthodoxy in the home is the only way to raise kids who will feel something for (and continue) their tradition. In fact, if you're Orthodox and don't want to be, your home is more likely to look like the negative OJ home. A positive, inspired, finding-your-own-path Judaism seems like a better, more productive, and more sound way to go.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mumbling the Words: A Note about Prayer

When I went to my friend's Christian wedding last year, one of the differences between their wedding service and Orthodox wedding services that I liked was the fact that I could understand everything that was going on because it was in English.

It's this way with almost all Christian services in contemporary times - they're conducted in the language that the majority of congregants speak. There's a great advantage to that - when congregants understand what they're saying, it opens the door for a greater reverance and meaning on their part. They feel like they're actually praying.

Contrary to what you might think, I'm not about to go onto a rant about how Judaism should follow suit. Oddly enough, I kind of like the fact that prayers are in Hebrew. When I've been to (non-Orthodox) Jewish services where parts of the prayers were said in English, it felt inauthentic and cheesy to me.

That said, when I was in (my parents') shul for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur davening, I couldn't help but get the feeling that 95% of the people in the room didn't understand what they were saying and were, in effect, just mumbling some words that they felt obligated to say. It didn't feel like there was a whole lot of feeling behind the prayer in the room.

Sure, every few minutes the congregation would burst out into song, but even that seemed more about the beauty of the tune than the words they were saying. After davening, in fact, an Israeli friend pointed out that the chazzan had picked a really upbeat, happy tune for a particularly ominous and depressing passage. Often, it feels like people are just as (or more?) enthused to sing the "nay nay nay"s after the words of the prayer are finished as they are the actual prayer.

I'm not sure I really see the point in this type of prayer. I suppose there's a certain amount of desire to be a good Jew involved in just being there (especially on Yom Kippur), but when the prayers themselves have little meaning for those who are praying, what exactly is being accomplished?

I don't know that I really have an answer to this. Maybe if prayers were shortened -- only the most powerful prayers chosen instead of 120+ pages of what seems like all the piyyutim written in the last 2,000 years? Maybe there needs to be more activity involved in the prayers -- people seem to get a lot more out of the "ashamnu, bagadnu," the Rosh Hashanah Aleinu where everyone bows down on the floor, or even Birkat Kohanim. Maybe day schools just need to put more effort into understanding Hebrew and the prayers themselves?

I'm not sure. All I know is that these prayers -- supposed to be the crux and most meaningful part of the holidays -- seem to have lost their resonance with the people saying them.

Case in point: I see way too many people in these minyanim who, like myself, flip to the end of the machzor to see how many pages are left (over and over again).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

(Some of) the People Who Go the Other Way

While I became less (read: not) Orthodox than I was raised to be, all of my siblings took the reverse course. I am the black sheep of my family.

That said, I am happy for my siblings. They seem happy, well-adjusted. And while, of course, the dictates of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism sometimes stress them out, overall they are mentally healthy, of sound mind. I really don't think they were pressured into Ultra-Orthodoxy; I think it made sense to them, that the customs were things that they enjoyed doing, and that they chose it willingly on their own - not because others were doing it. (This doesn't make me less concerned about the choices that my nieces and nephews will probably not have, but that's another story.)

Every once in a while though, I'll cross paths with someone who looks so miserable with the Ultra-Orthdoxy they've chosen, it just makes me want to cry for them.

I was once at a wedding where a girl I barely knew (she was probably about 22 at the time) literally cried to me for half an hour about how she hated wearing her sheitel (she said it pulled her hair out), how she felt like she'd thrown away her life, etc., etc..

More recently, though, on a trip back to my hometown, I bumped into a different girl two times. She didn't open up to me at all, but the misery was all over her face. She's about six years younger than me but looked years older. This was a girl who, in high school, was on every sports team the school offered, was full of energy and excitement about life, was always healthy, smart, tough and independently minded.

As she - I'll call her Rivky - stood before me in her snood, shlumpy clothing covering a slouching and unhealthy looking figure, telling me in a monotone voice about her kids and the yeshiva in which her husband is learning, I got this flashback I'd almost completely forgotten about.

About seven years ago, I was at my parents' house for Shabbat and Rivky's family came over for lunch. The topic inevitably turned to what Rivky would do after graduation.

"She's going to Israel, to [seminary renowned for turning out really, really frum girls]," said her sister, who (like my sisters) had attended said seminary.

"I'm not going to Israel," said Rivky, "I'm going to college! I don't want to get all frummy!"

Then she turned and looked at me.

"Actually, I want to turn out like you,*" she said, "Where'd you go to seminary?"

Well, my seminary no longer existed, but that was beside the point. In truth, my seminary had turned out as many frummy girls as [seminary x] of which her sister was so fond. It wasn't about what seminary you went to, I told her, it was about how much you understood what you wanted out of life and stuck to that. She looked at me doubtfully.

Well, in the end, Rivky went to [seminary x] like her sister said she should and she turned out exactly like her sister and my sisters, just with a lot less joy.

I don't know what will become of her and I hope she's able to feel fulfilled with the life she's chosen. I do hope she doesn't live the rest of her life out miserably because she thinks she has to.

And I do sometimes have a *little bit* of contempt for these seminaries / yeshivot that promote a singular path as the only authentic way to practice Judaism. I would never expect them to promote my version (or more liberal versions) of Judaism, but certainly there are other legitimate practices, there are ways to bend these traditions, so that people can be themselves and live there lives happily, instead of feeling forced into a mold.

*Note: At the time Rivky said this, I was more religious than I am now -- probably close to what would be called Modern Orthodox (but toward the more liberal side of that category).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


The Jewish Press (!) recently published an article called, "Orthodox Women Clergy?"by Michael J. Broyde, in which the author contends that the times in which we live warrant the Orthodox Movement both training women as clergy and giving them recognition as such.

To be honest, this seems way more radical than anything I expected to see in the Orthodox world during my lifetime. But really, really exciting. Yes, he says that women shouldn't be called "rabbi" because of "reasons ranging from formal authority (serarah) being limited to men, to the title being given only to those who can serve as witnesses or function as chazzanim, to it simply being a matter of tradition," but I still think that it would be a huge step for the movement.

I am ridiculously excited that some in the Orthodox movement recognize that women today are capable of holding and should hold clergy positions (and that, in truth, women already perform the duties that warrant them being labeled as clergy). And that this is true to the effect that an Orthodox newspaper like the Jewish Press is willing to publish an editorial to that effect!

This is a huge step from the (Modern Orthodox) world in which I was raised where, a mere 15 years ago, my school gave the girls cooking, sewing, and typing classes while the boys took gemarah and mishnah.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Three Weeks/Nine Days and Jewish Superstition

When I was in middle school, my doctor told me I needed a relatively complicated surgery. As a 13-year-old girl, this seemed like the end of the world.

I was sure something terrible would happen; and yet, the doctors assured me and my parents that if I didn't have the surgery, something terrible would happen. Catch 22.

After we exhausted all other options, my parents had decided that surgery was a must. And, of course, since they didn't want me to miss any school, they insisted upon a summer surgery.

But when the nurse opened the big book of summer surgery dates, the only available options were during the three weeks.

"But it's the three weeks!" my parents said to each other, alarmed - which, in the process, alarmed me even more.

Well, it was one of those dates or during the fall, said the nurse. And she didn't recommend waiting for the fall (more because of my medical condition than the school year).

So from the doctor's phone in the waiting room (people didn't have cell phones in those days), they called our rabbi. Thankfully (in retrospect), the rabbi said it was fine to have the surgery during the three weeks if need be. And so we scheduled the date.

As a child schooled in the terrible details of everything that had happened during the three weeks, I was now completely terrified. The surgery was sure to be a failure in some way. As I researched and read the details of what could go wrong in the surgery, I became increasingly convinced that I would die on the operating table or else come out paralyzed.

Well, lo and behold, although the surgery did have some slight complications, everything went fine -- the medical problem was resolved and by the next fall, I had completely recovered and was back in the school hallways with my friends.

Alongside all the teachings during my childhood about the high likelihood of tragedy during the three weeks/nine days, I was also taught this one magic phrase: "In Judaism, we do not believe in superstition."

This was something to be proud of, I was told. "We are not superstitious, not superstitious, don't believe in those superstitions, etc., etc., etc."

What's funny is, many Orthodox Jews I know really believe that they are not superstitious. Really. Even with all the talk of the nine days, three weeks -- to say nothing of the "b'li ayin hara"s, "poo poo poo"s, and hamsas.

Yes, Tisha B'Av commemorates a lot of terrible events to have befallen the Jewish people. Yes, some of those events (not all!) are believed or known to have happened during the three weeks/nine days. But let's not kid ourselves; there are lots and lots of terrible things that have happened (to the Jewish people as a whole and to individual Jews) during the rest of the year, as well.

If we want to say we will not go on a rafting trip during the nine days because said period is a time of mourning and rafting is fun, I can hear that argument (although I don't follow that line of thinking). But to say, we will not go on a rafting trip because rafting is dangerous and it's the 9 days and something will happen (I've heard many such arguments) is definitely superstitious and borders on absurd.

People should live how they want to live - sure. I would never get up and tell any Orthodox person that they are wrong not to do something they deem dangerous on the 9 days.

But it seems more than disingenuous to me to live life that way and then claim that they're not being superstitious.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Kosher Kitchen: the ways in which I surprise myself with my traditionalism

So when I lived in [unnamed big city with large Jewish population], I always kept a kosher kitchen. I ate in non-kosher restaurants, it's true, but I felt compelled to keep kosher at home nonetheless.

This seemed like a very reasonable decision to me. After all, many of my friends and most of my family lived nearby and kept kosher, and I wanted them to be able to eat at my apartment.

Also, in said area, kosher food -- both in the supermarket and take-out -- was really easy to come by.

Well, in [small city with very small observant Jewish population], kosher food is not quite as easy to find. There's *some* kosher meat (frozen) and other frozen kosher products in the supermarket, and there's a(n expensive) kosher store about half an hour away, but that's about it.

And since I'm still looking for a job here (in this economy!), I'm not exactly "rollin' in the dough" at the moment. So, as a trial, while I've been living in a sublet (for a month), without my dishes (which are currently at my parents' house and which I plan on bringing out here when I move into my permanent apartment next month), I've stopped keeping a kosher kitchen. I have a few cheap cooking implements that I got at Target, and that's what I've been using for the meanwhile.

In a lot of ways, this has been fun. All those products on the shelves that were off limits just for years? Into my refrigerator or oven they go! It's definitely also a lot cheaper.

As the prospect of moving into the more permanent apartment approaches, I found myself considering whether or not it was necessary for me to even have a kosher kitchen at all. I mean, the people I've met here don't know me for very long, so it wouldn't be awkward to tell kosher-keeping folk that I have a non-kosher kitchen. Nor do I have a whole lot of friends out here who won't eat out non-kosher. And I certainly don't have to worry about family coming over all that often. (If they did, I could theoretically kasher my kitchen for that time period.)

But for some reason, the answer I keep coming back with is that, yes, I must have a kosher kitchen. That this was a fun few weeks, but when it comes down to it, I can't see myself really living in any permanent way, in a non-kosher home.

I don't really know why this is the case. It seems silly (and expensive) in a lot of ways. But somehow, inexplicably, the kosher kitchen, more than any other staple of Jewish life, seems like a connection to where I come from that I can't sever.

Perhaps, in some ways, I'm more traditional than I thought.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The new living situation, so far

So, as I said in the previous post, I've moved to a place where the Jewish community is much more open-minded, much more progressive, etc..

The first Shabbat I spent here was awesome. I went to a (really small) Chabad. In the middle of davening, they took time to read a section of the parsha out loud in English. What was really cool about this is that they moved the mechitzah, and invited the women to come sit by the table in what had been the men's section so that we were a part of things, too.

Now while I've been to a lot of open-minded Chabads, I found this to be way more progressive than any Chabad experience I had thus far.

After that and after davening was over, I got invited back to this young family's house for a really awesome lunch. The family themselves were probably Conservative-ish in practice level, but what's been so interesting here is seeing the way that it just doesn't matter. The wife was super-spiritual, telling me about all these Jewish women's activities that go on here, but not really Shomer Shabbat. (They did ask me to make sure their kashrut level was okay for me before inviting me back.) At the same time, she was best friends with the rebbetzin of one of the Orthodox shuls (there are three, if you include Chabad).

From what I've seen so far, the Jewish community here is really, actually that: a community. Sure, there are a bunch of different shuls - each which practices mostly according to one branch of Judaism. But everyone hangs out together! This Shabbat, they had a community dinner, which people from all of the different "denominations" (it feels almost silly here, to use that word; I almost want to substitute it with "viewpoints" or just simply "synagogues") attended.

There aren't an abundance of kosher restaurants, it's true. (Although for me, at this point, that's not really an issue.) But there's kosher meat in the stores (I do still have a kosher kitchen) and a really large support network who don't seem judgmental at all.

When I lived in a really large Jewish community, I felt alienated from it all -- really, almost, like I wasn't Jewish at all. I'm not going to jump and say that this will definitely be better; I have, after all, only been here for two weeks. But, right now, it really feels like it might be.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Quick Update

I've been bad at updating lately, but this time I have an excuse!

I moved! a place that seems to have a much more promising brand of Judaism (i.e., less separations between denominations, less stress on the externals, more willingness to be progressive, even among the Orthodox!).

This is, obviously, very exciting for me. I will update this more frequently with everything that's been going on.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Being the Anomaly

Fortunately (perhaps!) for my parents, not all of their spawn turned out to be quite the skeptic that I am.

In fact, all of my siblings became even more "observant" than we were raised to be (and more frum than my parents are now), which has made for some interesting table talk between me & said siblings/siblings' spouses.

But the wide gulf separating me and my siblings has never been quite so glaring as now, when their children are becoming old enough to become aware of said gap.

Today, I was informed by my three-year-old niece that I was still a "little girl" because I wasn't an "Ima." This is perhaps not as funny (can I call it that?) as my five-year-old nephew asking me why I was wearing pants if "only boys wear pants." He then proceeded to ask me if I was Jewish! (Probably the only explanation he could come up with for my outfit of choice.)

Of course, these are children -- and children, it's true, tend to think in absolutes. But my siblings are certainly encouraging those absolutes in the way they're raising their kids. Which makes my position all the more interesting. I am the one person in these kids' lives with whom they will have constant contact over the years who does not fit neatly into the way their parents want them to see the world.

Now my siblings wouldn't cut off contact with me (I think). But I do present this problem that requires an explanation. And in that way, my presence opens up the door to the potential of questioning the absolutes of Orthodox Judaism very early on in their lives.

Not sure what to make of this observation, but it's certainly an interesting position to be in...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kahane? Seriously?

So yesterday I find myself sitting in a room with a few people and one of them says something to the effect that he has spent time in Israeli jail.

What for, I wondered, but didn't ask -- partly out of an instinct to be polite, partly out of fear for what the answer was.

Well, later in the conversation, it came out that he'd been in jail for his activities linked to Kahanist philosophies. Hmm. Not my cup of tea. And then, another person says, "Well, we're all Kahanists, we just haven't all done anything about it." The tone in which he said this was one of profound respect.

Yeah, I voiced my dissent, but I really appeared to be the only one in the room that felt like the ideas Kahane espoused were immoral or even mildly wrong. I'm kind of amazed/disgusted by this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

...But I Still Like Tradition!: The Conundrum

On my last post, an anonymous commenter asked that I write about resolving the “‘I like the social parts of Jewish traditions/holidays, etc. but that's it’ conundrum.”

Well, the statement is not completely accurate (is that an actual quote from my blog? If so, oy!), nor am I sure I’ve really resolved that conundrum, but here goes nothing…

I’ll make sure to get my actual feelings on the subject out first.

The phrase “social parts” is sort of vague and I’m not sure it actually describes what I like about Jewish traditions and holidays. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm traditional, but not a traditionalist, in that I don’t think tradition trumps all. For example, if a tradition violates my deeply held moral/ethical beliefs, I’ll have a big problem following said tradition.

In other words, I do like and have a respect for tradition as a whole. That's partly because I have a respect of my ancestry, my heritage, my fascination with the history of the Jewish people...

But it’s true that many of the Jewish traditions and holidays include rituals, etc., that don’t fit with my worldview. It’s also true that I’m an agnostic, don’t believe in the divinity of the Torah, and have issues with the values of some of the rabbis who constructed the Halachic code by which Orthodox Jews live today. So yes, I’m definitely not Orthodox. And in a lot of ways I’ve stopped even acting as such in my daily life. Though I’m still not fully “out” to my parents, siblings, and certain friends of mine. (They know I’m less religious then them now, but don’t really know to what extent.)

That said, I do want to keep as much Jewish tradition in my life as possible (as discussed above), so long as it does not contradict my values. And since the Modern Orthodox tradition is the one in which I was raised, it is in many ways the one that’s most comfortable to me (though I’m not necessarily sure comfort is a good way to determine how I should live my life), and therefore is the one that I tend to look toward first for a traditional element in my life.

And I do enjoy what you might call the “social” aspect of it. It means something to me, not only because it’s part of my ancestry, but because it’s part of my life to an even greater degree than American cultural events like July 4th or New Years (after all, if my family happened to be out of the country on July 4th, it would go nearly unnoticed; the same can obviously not be said for Jewish holidays). It is, in effect, part of the makeup of who I am.

And I do love it. I love the feeling of sitting in a Succah on Succos…of smell of the etrog…the crazy dancing on Simchat Torah…lighting menorah and eating latkes with my family on Chanukah. And, like I’ve said before, the non-Orthodox versions of these rituals often feel strange to me, almost devoid of “realness."

So what to do? The agnostic, quasi-practicing Jewish girl has an affinity for (some) Orthodox rituals!

Well, like I said, I’m not really sure I’ve solved the conundrum, but here’s what I’ve done in the last year:

I’ve tried out Conservative services. This, as I blogged, was nice in some ways, and really strange in others.

I’ve gone to my parents’ house for holidays/Shabbos, while slowly letting them know (through more subtle conversational hints) that while I do appreciate this way of doing things, I’m not fully in the same boat as them theologically, and I don’t always do things like this on my own. This approach seems to be working in a not-so-painful way. As an aside, every time I’ve been there, I’ve had my also not-so-Orthodox boyfriend (his theology and upbringing is pretty similar to mine) there as a support network. This has been immensely helpful.

For those holidays I’ve done on my own (see fast day posts), I’ve tailored the rituals to fit my life, my reality, and my philosophy. This worked with the fast days. It hasn’t really worked (i.e., hasn’t felt right) with the other holidays.

I’ve gone to Chabad. I like them. Not their theology, but their approach. I know that deep down they’re looking to make me as Orthodox as possible (and that they have some beliefs that go beyond even regular Orthodoxy, with which I do not agree), but it never feels awkward or sinister to me. And the traditions there are done as traditionally as it comes…which is comfortable for me. Though as I said above, I’m not sure that I should be using comfort as a criterion (i.e., I’m offended by the idea of a mechitza and of not being counted in a minyan, etc., even as it feels comfortable to me).

So this is where I am right now. It’s definitely not optimal but it’s better than it was at this time last year! As for where I’m going, I’d like to start looking (more actively) for a community of traditional non-Orthodox Jews to see how that feels. Also, I’d like to start holding non-traditional Friday night dinners (and other Jewish rituals) with my other less-than-Orthodox (and maybe non-Jewish?) friends.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Wow, I've Been Awful...

I promise to start posting again and soon...