Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sick of It

Recently, my husband and I visited my family, as a family member of mine was getting married.

Not that I was expecting anything less, but our families had us stay in separate houses and continued to refer to us as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." In fact, one of my cousins even referred to my husband as my "friend" at one point. We didn't want to make a scene out of it (especially as it was someone else's celebration), but I am honestly getting sick of it.

When we visit our families, we constantly tiptoe around their feelings. We are very respectful and do everything their way -- Shabbos, kashrut, going to shul, etc.. I get that this is part of their worldview and that their belief system is really strong, but so is ours and I don't see why we don't even get a modicum of respect back.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jewish Star Interviews Author of "Hush"

I thought I'd share this since I am a huge fan of this book. Really. It must have taken so much courage to write a book like this, even under a pseudonym. And I know that even in more modern, non-Chassidic circles there is a propensity to brush very serious problems "under the rug."

For some reason, there seems to be a sentiment that the outside world (and perhaps even members of the community, as well) should believe that "such problems don't happen here." Of course such problems - and all problems - happen within Orthodox, Chassidic, every circle. Anything problem that rears its head within the fabric of human society is likely to show up in every community at some point.

In any case, read the interview here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Festival of Lights

I've been having a rough few days for personal reasons which I won't go into here, but to say that I found myself all alone in my apartment when it was getting dark tonight and I thought... Chanukah.

So I got my menorah and one of the millions of boxes of Chanukah candles (why is it I seem to collect more of these than anything else in life?) in the closet and lit my menorah.

Then, recalling what my teachers had taught back in the days of day school, I decided not to do any work for half an hour after lighting the candles. Work, this time, I defined as any of the tasks that have had me stressed or even the little things like cleaning.

And I took out a photo album with pictures of my childhood and I sat on the couch with the menorah flickering on the table, and I had what must've been the most relaxing half an hour I've had in weeks.

Happy Chanukah, everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Very Belated Update (Re: Marriage)

After receiving an email from the Evolving Jew asking me about it, I realized I never updated this blog with the happenings related to my getting married.

By American law, we are officially married, and have been for a number of months. We never had any ceremony, however -- be it secular or religious. I never did find a way that I could make an Orthodox ceremony work for me, nor did I settle on a non-Orthodox ceremony (really just because it wouldn't make a lick of difference to either of our parents, both sets of whom are Orthodox).

I guess the only reason for our having a ceremony at all is to get our relatives to acknowledge the fact that we're married, which nobody really has. When we visit our families, we stay in separate houses (pretty crazy considering the fact that we are very much adults AND we live together, whether or not they want to acknowledge the validity of a secular marriage). We are super respectful of their traditions when around them and sometimes I just wish that the respect came the other direction, as well.

Since we wouldn't really be having the ceremony for ourselves (we both see ceremony as unnecessary and not something particularly appealing), having anything other than an Orthodox ceremony would be ineffectual, since neither of our parents would recognize it as anything worthwhile. And I cannot and will not just swallow the issues that I have with Orthodox marriage to make other people (even my family) happy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chasidim and Sex: Two Questions

This is probably the most risque post I've ever written on this blog. Sex is not usually a topic I cover, but I've been reading this book, Hush by Eishes Chayil (pen name, obviously), and it's raised two questions for me.

#1 - The protagonist is told by her kallah teacher that, prior to sex, she should pull her nightgown up to just above her stomach but no higher than that. I always thought that, halachically, a man and woman are required to have nothing (no articles of clothing) between them when they have sex. Granted, I've never been to a kallah class, but I'm pretty sure this is what was taught in high school/seminary Taharat Hamishpacha class and it's why I always scoffed at the "hole in the sheet" myth -- saying such a thing was actually against halacha. So is it? Or isn't it?

#2 - The protagonist doesn't find out what she is expected to do in the bedroom (i.e., the technicalities of how babies are made) until well into her kallah classes. And then her friend says that the grooms don't find out until the day of the wedding. This can't be accurate? Can this be accurate?

I would usually dismiss all of these things as a lack of knowledge on a well-meaning author's part, but the back of the book claims that this author was raised in the Chasidic world... so she would know, right?

Thanks in advance for answers you may have. My curiosity is really getting the better of me right now. And btw, for anyone's who wants to know, I HIGHLY recommend this book. It is well-written, really sad (in what feels like an important way), and really interesting.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


A strange thing has been happening in my brain. I know I want to find some sort of Jewish community that I feel I fit into. But whenever I find myself with time to explore an option, I opt out of going.

An example: last Friday night I found myself with nothing to do. Now, there's a Renewal synagogue not far from where I live that has Friday night services and a kiddush. Pretty opportune, huh? And yet, I stayed home and watched a movie.

Of course, afterward, I always feel like I should have gone.

I'm not sure if the reticence is coming from fear or laziness or some combination of the two. But it's definitely not productive, that I know for sure.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Homesick for Tradition

"It feels like Friday but it's only Wednesday," you tell the barista, explaining why it's been that kind of week, or why you seem the way you seem.

But the truth is, it smells like Sukkot outside and all you can think about is the way the moon used to look through the cracks in the bamboo roof and bundling yourself up in a coat while eating chicken soup slowly, spoonful by spoonful.

It's Sukkot again and you're not in the sukkah again and in your mind there's the glow of blue and yellow canvas from the kitchen window and the sound of voices in the backyard.

I wrote this while sitting in a coffee shop the first night of Sukkot this year. To me, it illustrates the way in which I have a tendency to equate Orthodox Jewish tradition with my childhood experience and the way in which I actually become homesick for it.

Granted, there is absolutely no reason why I couldn't have been sitting in a sukkah instead of a coffee shop that night, except that I wasn't listening to myself, to what I really wanted, and so I didn't make the appropriate plans or do the appropriate research.

Something about Sukkot brings it home more clearly than other holidays for me: how there is an essential component that is missing from my life that Orthodox Judaism once provided for me. I know I have to find a viable replacement and soon. I've had many suggestions of the Reconstructionist and/or Renewal branches of Judaism and I may just try one or both of those out soon to see how they do or don't fill that need.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jewish Agnostics

This article made me smile.

Some choice quotes:

Please don’t tell me that the survey allows people to “self-identify” as Jewish or agnostic, and thus isn’t actually imposing anything as much as letting respondents slide into whatever slot they freely choose. If I were lucky enough to have been asked to take their test (and I keep hoping someone will give me a test like that, but no one ever does), it would have been up to me to decide which is MORE true, that I’m Jewish or that I’m an atheist/agnostic
Jewish does not mean “those people who believe in (a Jewish) God.” If any religious definition pertains, it’s the old one: Jews are people who believe in one God AT MOST; or Jews are the people who don’t go to synagogue (as opposed to other people, who don’t go to church); or Jews are those people who have a mother who says she’s a Jew. Who are you, Pew Forum, to tell me that Jews aren’t (often, in sizable numbers, famously, proudly) atheists/agnostics? Or that atheists/agnostics aren’t (often, in sizable numbers, famously, proudly) Jews?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Working on Yom Tov

I never did it. When I was going through my major crisis of faith a few years ago, I (ironically?) worked for a Jewish company which gave off for all the Yom Tovim.

After that, I moved across the country and was not working for just under a year.

This year, I took off for Pesach, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah. But when it came to Sukkot, I found that I didn't have enough vacation days and would have to either take days unpaid (something not necessarily smiled upon by the management of my company) or work.

I chose the latter. And I'll say this: it did not feel good.

I was a little bit overemotional maybe, yes, but the whole way to work on the first day, I felt like crying.

Maybe it's because Sukkot is, hands-down, my favorite holiday (of all holidays, not only Jewish ones). But it just felt so empty... and I kept thinking of my parents' sukkah in their backyard and the way all of our neighbors would be outside at the same time eating... and how I had made a series of choices that led away from that.

I started this blog in my late 20s (28, I think?). I am 31 now. In between that time, I became less and then more and then a lot less Orthodox (or Orthoprax, or whatever you want to call it).

But I'm starting to feel like I went too far again. My instinct is to gravitate back toward Orthodoxy again, but I'm not sure that's the right move. After all, there are concrete and good reasons why I left it. Comments on my last post suggested that I should try to become part of a non-Orthodox community and maybe that really is the way to go. I'm not sure why I have such resistance to it in my brain...

What I do know is that these pulls away from and toward Orthodoxy/Judaism/traditionalism seem to be a pattern in my life.

I'm not sure there's ever a point at which anyone "grows up" in the way that I understood that concept as a child. I always thought that at some point in my life, everything would just kind of congeal and I'd be that way (whatever it was) for The Rest of My Life. But if, at 31, I'm still having these major fluctuations in the way I feel and the things that seem most right for me, I'm guessing that this may just be something that doesn't really ever end.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Non-Traditional Yom Kippur: The Run Down

I wish I could say that everything turned out the way I planned it to.
But then (to wax philosophical) nothing ever really turns out the way people plan, does it?

In any case, for logistical reasons that I won't go into here, the camping part of my Yom Kippur plan didn't happen. The night of Yom Kippur, I stayed home, read a book (nothing particularly earth shattering), and yes, I ate a little bit.

But early on the morning of Yom Kippur, I got in a car, and drove about 2 hours to go hiking in a beautiful mountain/forest area.

The hike itself was incredible, especially because I hadn't been hiking in so long. The leaves were already changing colors and the sky was completely clear and my mind was able to do that contemplative, almost meditative thing that I had anticipated it would.

I kept in mind during the hike that it was Yom Kippur that day and it did alter the experience to feel more like self-growth and to keep my mind somewhat focused on the year behind me and the year ahead of me. I will say that on a personal level, it was much more meaningful than anything I've ever experienced on Yom Kippur in shul (or, more likely, lying on the couch, feeling weak, and counting the hours until I could eat again).

That said, I did find myself feeling guilty at times. Not on the hike itself, but while on the way there (i.e., while driving), in the morning while getting ready to leave, and even a little bit on the way back.

I wish this wouldn't have been the case, but it was. Somewhere in my brain, there was this little voice that kept saying, "But it's Yom Kippur!" At these times, I felt more guilty than I ever had while sneaking snacks at my parents' house on Yom Kippur. Or maybe I really just felt weird about it? I'm not sure...

I think, if I'm completely honest with myself, there's a not-so-small part of me that lives somewhere in my conscience that is still Orthodox, has an Orthodox mentality, and judges myself based on those standards that I once learned. This is the part of me that was not okay with my non-traditional Yom Kippur. It's also the part of me that every once in a while looks at my life despairingly because I haven't kept Shabbos in so long.

But if Yom Kippur is a time of self-realization, then I suppose it's useful to at least acknowledge this part of who I am. How long it will continue to exist, I'm not sure. But I do know that it's as real a part of me as the woman who decided that a non-traditional Yom Kippur was more relevant to her life and experienced that sense of peace while hiking.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Different Kind of Yom Kippur

This year, for the first time in my non-Orthodox life, I will not be spending Yom Kippur at my parents' house. Every other year, if I decided not to fast, it meant sneaking a little bit of granola here or there, sipping some water when no one was looking, but otherwise going to shul or at least sleeping and reading.

When I thought about what I wanted to do for Yom Kippur, the answer wasn't immediately obvious. I did take off for Rosh Hashana this year and had a semi-traditional celebration of it -- went to (an Orthodox!) shul, heard the shofar, ate apples/challah and honey.

But I love Rosh Hashana and somehow that kind of celebration felt appropriate, like my autumn would feel empty without it.

Yom Kippur, on the other hand, I do not love. In my head, the words "Yom Kippur" conjure up the image of sitting in a sea of white, my stomach growling, flipping through the pages and counting to see how many we had left. It also elicits the image of lying on the couch, nauseous and dizzy, crying, to weak to even stand; and (frequently) actually vomiting.

A (non Jewish) friend of mine invited me to a party - a barbecue! - on Saturday. When I realized that it was Yom Kippur, I struggled for a little bit with whether or not to accept. Why not? I kept thinking, I want to go! It sounds like fun! But something kept holding me back. A party?! A barbecue on Yom Kippur? It felt wrong. I'm still not sure why I'd have a conscience about these things, but apparently I do.

So I said no. Or rather, I said I'd come after the fast was over.

But I still didn't know what I'd do with the day. Sit around and watch videos? Read books? It all sounded so uninteresting.

And then I came up with an idea. It may seem equally as wrong as going to a party to some people. But to me it feels right. I am going to go camping and hiking.

Why these? I thought about what Yom Kippur is supposed to mean, from my understanding of it and I came up with this -- it's a holiday about becoming purified, becoming closer to God, and ultimately, self-growth.

I don't know what God is anymore, whether or not God even exists, but I do know that the closest to "spiritual" I feel is when I am out in nature, stripped of all the excess technologies that have come to signify life these days. This is intrinsically linked to how I see myself at my most pure - in the quiet of nature, away from my everyday life, thinking about what it means to live and what it means to be me.

It will also be a significant step in a direction of literal healing for me, as a few months ago, I was pretty badly injured, and this will be my first hike since then.

And yes, I will certainly be eating and drinking. But the eating and drinking will be a hiking version of eating and drinking, which is to say that it will be functional, not recreational. Somehow to me that's still an important distinction.

I will report back in a week or so on what it felt like.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Casualties of the System

I'll start this with a disclaimer. There are casualties in every system; this I know. There are casualties of democracy, casualties of liberalism, casualties of capitalism. Systems are never and can never be one size fits all, even if each system's proponents persistently characterize them as that way.

And so maybe it's just that I was brought up an Orthodox Jew (modern), that most of the people I know are still Orthodox, that makes it seem like Orthodox Judaism has a relatively high casualty rate. I'm willing to accept that as a very good possibility.

That said, it makes it no less heartbreaking to witness these casualties.

Recently, I found out about a girl with whom I grew up. She's 30, has 6kids, and her husband walked out on her because he no longer wants to be religious.

I think of this girl - really intelligent, the kind of girl who was always top of her class in school, and always very much the "straight-and-narrow" kind of girl. You know those people I'm talking about? They're brilliant, but they're not ones to question or bend the system. So this girl who attended schools and seminaries that told her that her purpose in life was to get married young, have children and be supportive of her husband's learning enterprises did just those things.

Book smart and great at school though she was, this girl did not move on toward any larger higher education goals. And because she started to have children so young, she did not cultivate any kind of career.

Now she is alone to take care of 6 children without what is supposed to be the cornerstone of her life - her husband. I hope that he will pay his alimony, but as those acquainted with the system know, that's rarely enough to support a family, especially when yeshiva tuition and Orthodox needs come into the picture.

Mind you, it seems to me that the husband is a casualty of the system, too. He was so miserable that he made this drastic decision, why? Likely because he too was pushed to get married far too young, before he was able to make proper, independent evaluations of how he wanted to live his life.

The whole thing just makes me so upset. As do so many other "casualty" situations - friend of mine that are still single and writhing in loneliness/sexual frustration in their 30s; divorcees still waiting for their gets; children whose (otherwise amazing) parents prioritize Judaism over what their kids really need; I could go on and on.

There's nothing much to say about this, except that it makes me alternately sad and angry, depending on the day and the incident.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Things that We Can't Leave Behind

By pretty much any definition, I am no longer an Orthodox Jew. I use electricity on Shabbos and I don't eat only kosher food. Growing up, these were the two things that to my mind were the "make or break" of whether or not someone was Orthodox. You could wear un-tzius clothing, not even know what shomer negiah meant, and never go to shul, but as long as you wouldn't dream of turning on the lights on a Saturday or ordering something to eat in a non-kosher restaurant, you were good.*

*(There were some exceptions to this. Many of the people I knew who I considered Orthodox would eat at non-kosher restaurants but only dairy/only vegetarian. I don't know if this still goes in the Orthodox world, though.)

It's been quite a while since I haven't fit that definition. But oddly enough, I can't just let go of it. What I mean by that: there are certain rituals I hang on to even though they make absolutely no sense at all with the rest of my life. Top of the list? Most certainly, the kosher kitchen.

Now I can give it logical reasons it all I want by saying that it allows me to have kosher-keeping guests over. But here's the thing: that's not entirely true. Because even if I was never to have kosher-keeping guests over, there's a part of me that feels wrong and uncomfortable not having a kosher kitchen regardless. (And let's be fair, many kosher-keeping people won't eat at my house anyway since I'm not Shomer Shabbat.)

And let me be frank. It's really inconvenient to keep a kosher kitchen for me. Most of my friends where I live now do not keep kosher (are not even Jewish) and are always trying to give me food to bring home and/or asking if they can bring something over when invited. It's frustrating and annoying to always have to say no. And since I don't live in an area with a large Orthodox population, it's also annoying to have to drive 40 minutes to buy kosher meat (and way more expensive!).

But I can't let go of it. And it's not just me.

I know lots of people like me who have "gone off the derech" and so many of us seem to have our "thing." For some, it's as minimal as putting mezuzahs up in their houses (I do that too), for some as extreme as putting on tefillin every day. Whatever it is, those of us who do such things just can't let go of them, even though they make life more inconvenient, uncomfortable, etc.

So what is it? What's makes it so that there's some things that we just can't leave behind?

I think, for me, because I was raised with such a strong definition of Right and Wrong ("Right" being Orthodox, in this instance), that there's some deeply embedded part of my psyche that cannot accept myself as non-Orthodox, that is deeply disappointed in myself, even as I don't believe in it anymore. And that part of me somehow defines the kosher kitchen as the final frontier.

There's a level of grief involved in not growing up to be who you thought you would be. Even if who you thought you would be is someone you would never, ever want to be anymore. And the kosher kitchen somehow keeps that grief at bay, at least for the most part.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What about Devorah?!

On the comments for Frum Satire's post that I discussed in my previous post, on the issue of female leadership being against Halacha more generally, one person asks, "What about Devorah?"

So what about Devorah?

How does her presence in Tanach not present a huge problem for poskim who say women can't be in leadership positions, women can't be rabbis, women can't be witnesses (and certainly not judges!)?

Devorah's position as a shofet (i.e., a judge) made her responsible for applying (and thus interpreting, because the former really necessitates the latter) the laws of the Torah to specific cases in Israel. This is certainly a position of leadership.

With this as a precedent, how can anyone said its halachically forbidden?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Female Presidents at MO Shuls?

This post on Frum Satire's blog really intrigued me. He says:

Dov Bear has a post about a shul in Syracuse (I know the rabbis kids from yeshiva, and have davened there many times) that is being kicked out of the NCYI National Council of Young Israel, because it has a woman president. I always thought that Young Israel was supposed to be “modern” orthodox, yet they have such a rule on the books. Can anyone really say it’s wrong to have a woman as shul president? It just sounds like another rule to prevent women from being leaders in orthodoxy. Although I doubt having the ability to get up at shul and announce the times for mincha that week would be justified as being a leader.
Anyone know if this is true? And why on earth it would be inappropriate to have a woman as a president of an MO (or even an O) shul?

I never even really thought about this as an issue. I just never even considered it. But while I would expect the hoopla over a female rabbi (I didn't even think I'd see such a daring move in my lifetime), this type of reaction over a female president doesn't make sense to me at all.

The "President" position of a shul is certainly a secular invention.... so what's the big deal? And then, when I think about the larger Orthodox organizations, it seems that none of them have women in leadership positions unless its a woman's organization (Am I right about this? I might not be).

Sexism within religion is more justifiable, I guess (I don't really think so, but all I'm saying is that people can claim that this is how "God" or "the rabbis" wanted it...and it's hard to disagree with a God who doesn't [seem to?] communicate back or with people who are long dead), but I don't see how sexism within the secular aspect of the culture can be justified. Especially when there are so many highly educated, highly accomplished women.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Follow-Up Question: Is Saying Tehillim for the Sick a Gender-Specific Activity?

I ask this only because it seems like it's always women organizing to say Tehillim, saying Tehillim, etc.

But maybe that's just the people I know?

Does anyone else know if this is the case? And if so, why? It seems like this would be equally within the male & female domain..

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things that Amaze Me: The Belief in the Power of Tehillim

Recently, a girl with whom I went to seminary (10+ years ago) was diagnosed with a bad illness. This made me feel really bad (for her, her kids, her husband, her family) and sad because she is truly a great person.

But what amazed me (and what amazes me in other situations) is the barrage of Facebook messages that I got (and status updates that I saw) asking people to commit to saying a number of Tehillim on her behalf.

I guess I shouldn't be so amazed. Once, a long time ago, when I was 13, and I found out that my grandfather had had a stroke, I sat on the couch in our living room reading perek after perek of Tehillim, trying really hard to focus, to concentrate so that maybe God would do something to reverse this.

But it's been a really long time since I was 13. And I can't imagine that even if I was religious now, I would believe that reading prakim of Tehillim had some sort of power to heal the sick.

Because that's what it is, right? There's this pervasive belief that these words have some deep seated power (over God?) to heal... Thus the rush to get enough people to say them so that maybe it'll do something.

And I understand the impulse or the desire to believe this completely. There's nothing worse than feeling like someone you care about is sick or dying and there's nothing you can do. This gives people a feeling of power over the situation, like they're doing something to help. That doesn't minimize my amazement, still, at how deeply people believe.

Anyway, related to this, here's my quandary. I've been asked to commit to say p'rakim of Tehillim on this girl's behalf. I obviously care very much about her, want her to know that I'm thinking of her, etc. But it feels hypocritical and rather silly to say Tehillim for her, because I don't believe it has any effect at all...

That said, it clearly means something to this girl... and it's not like it would hurt me to say it...

Not really sure how to respond.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thing That Makes Me Nauseous #1: Jewish Femininity Books

Especially: Gila Manolson

...but I've read lots of them, mostly for theoretical papers in graduate school.

It's cool if you want to feel that way about being a woman in Judaism. If you want to feel empowered by a "return to femininity" and being modest, etc.. But really?! Why do we need to tell other women that this is how they ARE instrinsically because they are women and to deny it is to deny some essential piece of themselves.

I remember being in seminary and listening to teachers tell the class the exact sentiment I expressed above. And all I remember thinking is: okay, but what if I don't feel that way? Does that mean there's something wrong with me? Maybe there's something wrong with me...

Society does it enough anyway implicitly. We're made to feel somewhat lacking or weird if we don't want to have a pretty white wedding/go shopping a lot/get manicures and pedicures/have babies. OJ society also does it implicitly in its own special way. So why the need for these overt statements in books?

Just tells us why we should be shomer negiah, religious, etc. (not that I will, but for those who are interested in being convinced), without reverting to gender stereotypes, please!!

And you can say, well OnHerOwn, then don't go reading those books... (Well, I'm a compulsive researcher/reader, I'll read anything that comes into my reach, but that aside) But people that I know will read them regardless and then come spewing that same stuff out at me in arguments. And it really makes me sick. I do want to not believe that OJ is dependant upon gender stereotypes to survive and/or thrive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Non-Traditional Pesach: The Report, A Wee Bit Late

I ended up at two seders this year, instead of the one as I had originally thought.

Neither seder was Orthodox and one was a lot less traditional than what I'm used to. The former was Conservative/Traditional; the latter involved a hike out into a huge, open field (in imitation of the Exodus) and lots of talk about EcoJudaism (which I appreciate, in theory, though I don't really always see as clear a corrolation to traditional Judaism as proponents of the movement seem to espouse).

After that, I didn't keep kosher for Passover. Sure, I ate some matzah, even a macaroon or two. But I also ate bread and bread-related products.

For me, this was almost a test: what does it feel like if I completely my own ties with Orthodoxy?

It was a pretty extreme move for me, because no matter how un-Orthodox I've been in the past, I've always cleaned my house for Passover, almost always at least made the effort to keep kosher for Passover (I think I'd cheated on that front once or twice), and always gone to Orthodox seders.

And that first bite of bread, to be honest, made me feel a little bit weird. As did the fact that when I got to my kitchen initially, there was chametz all over the place. But the weirdness quickly subsided and, after the first day, it didn't even phase me.

Which isn't to say that I forgot it was Passover. On the contrary, I remembered pretty clearly. And the non-Traditional seders were much more memorable and interesting than any Orthodox seder I've ever been to (though I will not presume that there aren't many Orthodox seders that far surpass those I've been to, in terms of being interesting).

The "Eco-Seder," in particular, was truly fascinating for me. I liked the way that it gave new meaning to the same paragraphs I've read over and over again, year after year. The seder felt fresh and new, which was really cool. And there was something particularly awesome about starting the seder out in the outdoors (we moved inside after "Avadim Hayinu").

Plus, the questions, connections, and insights people came up with were really thought-provoking. It felt alive.

This stands in stark contrast to the seders I've had with my family in the past, where my dad/siblings will read the same D'var Torahs written on the bottom of their hagaddot at every seder for years. It never really felt dynamic to me. (Again, this is in no way meant to suggest that all Orthodox seders are similarly boring.)

Pesach has long been one of my least favorite of the Jewish holidays (second only to fast days) - the seders dragging on for hours when it seems even those "expounding upon" the text aren't even interested in what they're saying, the unpleasantness of eating a matzah & potato starch diet for eight days...

This year, non-traditional though it may have been, I actually enjoyed it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two Things (Pesach & Marriage)

THING 1. I'm not doing Pesach this year.

I thought I wanted to do it. I had the whole idea planned out. And then one morning, I realized that I didn't want to do it. I'm not sure why.

Or, scratch that.

It's not entirely true that I'm not doing Passover. I'm just not doing Passover in the traditional sense, for really the first time in my life.

I am going to a seder. A non-traditional seder. And only one seder.

I can't really explain why this happened and I don't know what more to say about it.

THING 2. For now, I've decided not to do the Jewish wedding.

I can't figure out a way to make it fit with my belief system. And, quite frankly, I don't feel like I should have to compromise my belief system so much for something that directly affects me.

A wedding/marriage is all about me and my spouse. Nobody else. True, other people will get satisfaction from seeing it. But should they really be getting satisfaction from something if it makes me so unhappy? I'm going to say no. I love my parents, I love my family, but on this particular issue, they're going to have to learn to see things from my perspective.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Old & New Faces of Orthodox Womanhood ...I hope?

So, this week I read two articles that seemed diametrically opposed to each other.

The first was about an agunah who was finally freed after 48 years from her "chained" status by her former husband's death at the age of 73. See the full article here.

The second was about the first ordination of a female Orthodox rabbi. (Okay, fine, "rabbah.")

The optimist in me would like to think that this is the beginning of a long path on which Orthodoxy will eventually give women equal status to men. If this is true, these stories might be seen as representative of the old and new faces of Orthodox womanhood, respectively.

Of course, there are still limitations. Rabbah Hurwitz can't serve as a witness (something I find seriously offensive to my morals) and she won't be counted in a minyan. In all probability, she probably also will never be a pulpit rabbi. After all, as someone has commented, "Where would she sit?" and "What Orthodox shul would hire a female rabbi?"

Again, I want to be optimistic and say that even these inequalities will be ironed out in the years to come. Maybe not in this generation, maybe not in the next, but certainly at some time in the future.

That said, there really does appear to be a severe backlash. After all, the RCA are calling Rabbi Avi Weiss (the rabbi who ordained Rabbah Hurwitz) before their disciplinary board over the ordination. And there are rumors that they are considering kicking him out -- a move that, for many Orthodox Jews, is tantamount to calling his status as Orthodox into question.

And let's not forget that, even with all of the public outcry and publicity that the agunah issue has had over the last few years, the issue is still far from being resolved. Indeed, as the first article mentions, a 2006 international convention to discuss the issue was called off by Israel's chief rabbi only five days before it was slated to begin. This is widely believed to be due to pressure from the Ultra-Orthodox community.

But if the Ultra-Orthodox community can't stand behind an issue so widely understood as problematic as the agunah issue, can we really expect them to legitimize Rabbi Hurwitz's ordination? I'm inclined to say no.

Increasingly, this appears to me to be the very beginning of yet another break in Judaism between the RW and LW Orthodox -- one which might very well become the start of a new movement that is no longer called "Orthodox."

Still, the optimist in me can hope, right?

Here's to a filtering through of Orthofeminism...

Friday, February 19, 2010

When Real Life Sounds Like Satire

I just stumbled upon this JPost article:

"Personal mehitzas" marketed for haredim
by Adir Glick

Hareidi airline passengers are being advised to hang a new type of mehitza - a halachic barrier to separate the sexes - around the top of their airplane seats, to shield their eyes from immodest neighbors and in-flight movies.

The Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation, which is also representing the haredi community on the issue of gender-segregated "mehadrin" buses, is now placing advertisements in haredi newspapers encouraging the community to purchase the traveler mehitzas (more here).

Of course, this is only a product being marketed right now... no indication that it will ever catch on or that it will become standard. But still? A traveling mechitza? I mean, how is it that Judaism has come to this. There really must be better directions for innovative and creative people to focus their energy.

What got me most about this article, though, was the part of it that is already an institution. There's actually a Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation? That really exists? That, for sure, sounds like something you'd see in the Onion as a complete joke. But no, it's real! And more than a little disturbing if you ask me...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Haloscan mess

Anyone know how to import my comments back to the blogger format?

I've got this running so that new comments are in Blogger rather than Haloscan/Echo and I have my old comments from Haloscan backed up, but I don't know how to put them back into Blogger.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Problem with Orthodox Marriage (OrthoWeddings, part II)

First, just want to thank everyone who left comments with ideas about feminist Orthodox weddings.

I've (obviously) been thinking a lot about the issue and here's what I've come to.

I had serious issues with the actual wedding part of the Orthodox wedding. What I mean by that: I don't really like a lot of the symbolic (unnecessary) rituals -- i.e., the bedekin, the walking around 7 times, etc. -- but my real problem with being the bride in an Orthodox wedding is that I don't agree with the actual dynamics of marriage within Orthodox Judaism.

Here's what I mean:

From the way I understand it, if I was the bride in an Orthodox ceremony, I would be "acquired" by my husband and would be promising to be faithful to him whereas he is not doing the same thing with me.

He says, "Harei at m'kudeshet li?" (Will you be consecrated unto me?) But I never say the same thing back to him because in Orthodox Judaism, a husband's faithfulness is not given the same weight as a wife's. I really, really don't like that and I don't think our relationship fits within that model.

Now I know that maybe I should just be able to swallow this for the sake of making my (and his) parents happy, but then again, I feel like this belief system that I have (and I recognize that it is a belief system) is just as central to the way I see the world as Orthodox Judaism is to the way my and his parents see the world.

A lot of my friends seem to think I'm being silly, but I really feel like taking part in such a ceremony is compromising myself.

I know Conservative Judaism has a much more egalitarian ceremony with a brit ben ahuvim, etc.. PLEASE tell me that something of the sort exists in Orthodox Judaism that I don't know about? Or that there's a way to change the above issues while staying within the confines of halacha?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Actual Problem (Orthodox Weddings)

My parents and my boyfriend's parents want us to have a Jewish (read: Orthodox) wedding. (We recently got legally married, so I guess he's technically not my boyfriend anymore, but whatever.)

I know it would mean a lot to them (and, in fact, I know they would never consider us married until we had one) but I really, really don't want one. I've written a lot about my issues with Orthodox weddings (in respect to myself; if someone else wants one and has one, I will gladly attend, and be happy for their happiness). See my older posts -- here, here, and here.

It just seems really anti-feminist to me and whenever I think of myself as the bride in an Orthodox wedding, I feel sick. But knowing how much it means to my parents, I feel bad not having one at all.

Anyone know of any ways to make an Orthodox wedding fit my feminist ideas while still keeping it Orthodox? PLEASE HELP!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Understanding My Connection with Religion

Above all, I have found that this is true:

When I am living in a city in which there are fewer Jews, I feel more connected to my Judaism. (And vice versa.)

My family, some of my friends, etc., always seem concerned about a lack of Orthodox Jewish life in places where I have lived. But time and again, I find myself feeling alienated when living in/near those big Orthodox communities. Whereas when there's an absence, I am constantly looking to be more connected.

Maybe I'm just a contrarian. Not sure. But it's a truth in my life nonetheless.