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.