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.


Rabba bar bar Chana said...

It seems to me that you're still seeing things like kashrut and mezuzah through the lens of Orthodox Judaism. You seem to be saying that the reason to keep these mitzvot is belief that God commanded them, so since you don't have that belief anymore, they're pointless, and you therefore question why you keep them.

But there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Jews, who don't believe in the truth of traditional Judaism, yet keep various traditions because they find them meaningful. The reasons vary - ethnic identity, history, honoring one's ancestors, etc.

But the point is, they are happy to keep them and don't feel like they're doing anything odd, despite their lack of belief in Jewish origins or even lack of belief in God.

You can certainly stop keeping a kosher home, should you choose. That's your prerogative. You may even be happier that way. But if you do feel like you must continue keeping it, for whatever reason, then you might try jettisoning the Orthodox rationale for such practice and build your own personal rationale, like many other secular Jews.

In any case, it's nice to see a post from you. Your blog was fascinating back in the day, but I understand you were a lot more conflicted then.

kisarita said...

"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."

What a beautiful, beautiful statement.

On Her Own said...

Kisarita -- Thanks :-)

RBBC-- I guess the reason that I'm seeing it through the lens of OJ is that the only reason I'm keeping it (if I'm honest with myself) is because I'm still kind of hung up on the whole OJ thing.
Sometimes I tell myself that it's for other reasons -- ethnic identity, etc. But when I do that, I'm not being honest with myself.
There are things that I do for those reasons (i.e., holidays, etc.) but keeping a kosher kitchen isn't like that with me. Maybe one day it will become that for me, but right now it is my last "Orthodox-y" thing.

Puzzled said...

I also still keep a kosher kitchen. It's weird, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I slid through orthopraxy, so things fell away one by one rather than a conscious decision to stop. Keeping a kosher kitchen was never really a hardship, so it stayed. Besides, there's a feeling of permanence you don't get with other things. I don't wear tefillin - but I could at any time. I don't keep shabbos - but I could next week. But put a rack of ribs on my smoker...

Jewish Atheist said...

I'm not like that at all, but I was for a short time after leaving.