My synagogue is holding a joint vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims with our interfaith council and our local LGBT center tonight.
I could not be there in person, because I have been having some really rotten anxiety over the last few weeks that keeps me from being able to leave my home without help. Instead, I am watching the livestream, and liveblogging it here and on Facebook.
Our cantor began the song with “We Shall Overcome.” I sang along here at home.
So far, our rabbi, a local imam, another member of the interfaith council, our cantor, and several other people have spoken. There has been music and song and a defiant refusal to let this stop us and hurt us.
There have been acknowledgments of the harm that the fundamentalist and conservative wings of the Abrahamic religions have done to those who are GSM (gender and sexual minorities). There have been offerings of brotherhood from the Muslim community. There have been expressions of solidarity from the LGBT community. Our mayor is a gay Latino man and sent his well-wishes with the LGBT community center director.
There are two ASL signers at the front of the room.
The imam: “Dear brothers and sisters, they are never going to break us. Be the way you want to be. Be Christian if you want, be a Jew if you want, be a Muslim if you want, be an atheist if you want, be no religion if you want. We are the people of peace, and we’re going to keep doing it. It doesn’t matter what. Salaam aleikum.”
“Love wins when love is a verb.” – LGBT center director
Our rabbi: “We are going to show others that our diversity does not undermine our community – it is the foundation of the very strength of our community!”
The city councilwoman for the district where our temple is located said that our cantor’s voice makes her feel like, if Heaven has music, that’s the sound that pipes through the halls of Heaven.
(I can’t guarantee exact wording here. Sorry. I don’t type as fast as they’re talking.)
She’s also discussing the level of hate that exists in this country. She says, “This recent tragedy (in Orlando) is part of the culture of violence we’re witnessing. How did we get to this place where mass shootings are just another news story? They always involve someone who is ostracized from their community and feel they have to be part of something bigger.”
She says, “I’ve been a prosecutor for seventeen years and I’ve never seen a homeowner use a machine gun to protect their home. We need to talk about gun violence…. Once the grief and tears are past, we have to think about solutions.”
Our congressman’s representative speaks – he could not be here, as he was in D.C. this morning (we’re on the other side of the country). She talks about the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, the Stonewall riots, and other examples of the fear and hate that drive these kinds of atrocities leading right up to Pulse. She also talks about how the guns are far too easily to access and obtain. And finally, she calls for equality for all Americans.
Our cantor speaks about the work that needs to be done, and mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony acceptance sonnet/speech: “Nothing here is promised; not one day… and love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be swept aside; now fill the world with music, love and pride.”
She sings Daniel Nahmood’s “Last Song”:
If this is my last song / If this is my final day If tomorrow I’ll be gone / What do I want to say If this is my last song / If it’s my time to go When my body’s moved on / What will I have to show No not fortune or fame – they scatter to the wind The things that make a name – just don’t matter in the end
(chorus) Is the world a little more peaceful Oceans and sky a little more blue Is humankind a little bit wiser About the good that we can do Does the sun shine a little bit brighter Where before there was only rain If so, then I’m glad I came
If these are my last words / For all of the earth to hear If all that I have ever been / Is about to disappear If these are my last words / There’s nothing that I need to say I have only tried to serve / It’s never been about talking anyway So much hurt there is to heal – it’s hard to understand All I can hope to feel is that I am doing what I can
Have I given hope to the hopeless / Has a hungry soul been fed Has a child stood a little bit taller ’cause of something that I said Have I left a little kindness / Have I eased a little pain If so, then I’m glad I came For that, I’m so glad I came
If this is my last song / What do I leave behind What do I pass on / If I am out of time
She broke down on the last line, and I can’t blame her! Not. A. Dry. Eye.
A pastor from the First Congregational Church of our town speaks next “When I came out, I lived in Jackson, Mississippi.” There’s an uncomfortable titter. He mentions Jack and Jill’s – a gay bar that I heard about earlier today on Facebook in a thread titled “What Was Your First Gay Bar?” He talks about how that bar was a safe place, where he could be himself. “I assure you that some of those folks who entered Pulse Nightclub last Saturday night felt the same sense of safety.”
And it was an illusion. It always is. A place that is supposed to be a sanctuary is not a safe place after all. How do we move forward when our sense of security has been taken from us? What is the antidote to fear? He says it’s love – and not just “holding hands and singing kumbayah” – but with action and with truth.
Our Rabbi speaks now, about “El Malei Rachamim” – a prayer we Jews recite when we are remembering and honoring someone who has died – and then our cantor sings it a capella.
Rabbi gives a closing prayer, and the cantor closes the service with “True Colors.” Yes, that one – the one that Cyndi Lauper and Phil Collins both recorded back in the 1980s.
I’m glad I was able to watch the livestream. I’ve been emotionally locked down and numb since I woke up on Sunday morning. But tonight, hearing my temple’s cantor sing and hearing the community’s words and views, I was finally able to cry.
Hate and homophobia cannot stand against an alliance like this, of all faiths, of all nations. It cannot stand.
For the first time in four days, I have hope again.
Much of it resonated with me – not because I’m a mother, of course, but because I’m a Jew who is also struggling with what it means to be a “good Jew.”
I’ve probably said before that I’m a perfectionist and that I want to do everything “right.” It’s hard to remember that “doing Jewish” means doing it the way I can do it, the way I am equipped to do it, and the way that I am able to do it – and that may not look like the way everyone else does it.
Before conversion, and even right after conversion, I really thought that I was going to be that Torah-reading, tallit-wearing, Hebrew-studying, reaaaaaally observant Jew who went to shul weekly, attended Torah study every Saturday morning without fail, and made my Judaism the first and most important thing about my life. But the world got in the way, and, well….
Since November, less than three months after my husband and I completed our conversion processes, we have had to be – paradoxically – far less active Jews than we were hoping to be. We haven’t been able to attend a real Friday night shul service in several months, because of his work schedule (he works for an amusement park; November to March is “peak holiday time” and lots of mandatory overtime for him) and the inopportune arrival of several illnesses that kept me and him both flat on our backs and unable to function. Due to a personal conflict at our Torah study group, we stopped going for a while because it made us uncomfortable, and we still haven’t really resolved that, either.
In short, we have not been good members of our community, and although the reasons are valid, guilt’s still a real thing and I’ve been feeling it.
Here’s the thing about feeling guilt for not measuring up to some standard that you or others have set for your behavior: it makes it less likely that you’re going to try to fix it. At least, it makes it less likely that I’m going to try to fix it. Every time I’ve thought about going back to shul, the guilt has come up and hit me with “but then people would ask you where you’ve been and you know that that would really mean ‘why are you only showing up now, you half-asser?'” That’s a deterrent, not an incentive.
We missed Purim entirely, because we were sick; but was that a good enough reason? We haven’t been to Torah study in months because of illness and over-stress; is that a good enough reason? We missed a concert at our shul with a Jewish musician that I love because of stress and exhaustion; is that a good enough reason? And of course there’s also the cost, and right now we’ve had to penny-pinch, so we haven’t had the money to buy tickets to concerts or food for Purim baskets or, well, pretty much anything.
All during that time, we still managed to have Shabbat dinner with a friend at least twice a month, and take Shabbat pretty much “off,” even if that meant catching up on missed sleep the majority of the time.
I have still worn my kippah and my Mogen David, and I haven’t backed down when someone says something anti-Semitic.
I have still said the Sh’ma every night, and meant it.
I have still experienced the world as a Jew, even if I’m not especially active at my synagogue right now.
And that has to count for something, doesn’t it?
As the author of the Kveller article said:
Embracing Jewish motherhood (and motherhood in general) isn’t about following every rule and winning the game. It’s about showing up and staying in the game, even when you don’t know which rules apply to you, or what it even means to win.
I’d argue that the same thing applies to Jewish identity. Recently, I have not been able to follow every rule. But I have done what I can to keep my foot in the door, even if it’s been mostly outside of the community of Jews in my area. And once I have recovered from the stress, exhaustion, and overwork, I’ll be getting back in the game in more substantial ways. For starters, we’re going to a Seder on Saturday evening, and hosting one here the following Thursday, and ideally we’ll be going back to shul after Pesach is over.
But I also think Adonai will understand if, just at the moment, I can’t quite do it all.
By the Hebrew calendar, it’s already the 8th of Elul. However, I didn’t post on Shabbat, so this is for the 7th. Yesterday was the 7th of Elul, which is 5 days before I become a full Member of the Tribe.
Today’s theme is “be.” That’s also a toughie for me. Because today it’s raised the question: What does it mean to be a Jew?
Being is a pretty encompassing term. It’s also not a word that exists in Hebrew in the present tense – it’s all implied. This can lead to some funny weirdnesses in translation. If I say “Ani Adam,” it literally translates as “Me/I Adam.” Which is clunky in English.
But that’s not what I want to talk about tonight. Grammar is something for another day. Let’s talk about being.
When we say I AM something, we mean in the present tense. In the past year, I’ve been saying I am a Jew, more and more, rather than “I will be a Jew.” Because I have felt like I am already a Jew, and this Thursday’s scheduled activities (beit din; mikveh) are just formalities. They will be profound formalities, but they will simply affirm what I already am.
So then what does it mean to be a Jew? Is it about observing a certain number or kind of mitzvot? Is it in the way you dress? Is it in how often you go to Temple? Is it about how perfect you are about being ready for Shabbat before sundown, or not missing Havdalah? This has come up so often on this blog that it might be something my readers are tired of hearing. But today I read something on Quora about Judaism that really struck me. Lisa Reiss said:
Although the term ‘sect’ is used in regard to Judaism, it’s essentially referring to level of religious observance and regional traditions not radically different beliefs.
That, I think, is the best way to sum up the differences between my way of being a Jew and an Orthodox haredi’s way of being a Jew. And even then, I don’t think I’m at a lower level of observance than he is, but a different one.
I’m still a Jew. I may not be his kind of Jew, but I’m still a Jew.
I had not intended to devote an entire post to this topic. Most regular readers of my blog already know how I feel about the Orthodox stream of Judaism, between the Elad Debacle a few months ago, the Haredim who are constantly trying to stop the Women of the Wall from worshiping at the Kotel, and of course the ongoing violence from Israeli Jewish extremists against women and children, both Jewish and non-Jewish. My position’s been pretty clear, and I guess you could say I’m with Wil Wheaton on this: Don’t be a dick.
But after Rafi Mollot‘s impassioned response to a comment thread on my blog, which asked me if I was just using stereotypes to judge an entire group, I felt that it was necessary to make this a full post.
Rafi and I got into it the other day in my post “A Wasted Yom Kippur”. You can see our conversation in the comments. I felt at first complimented, and then condescended to, by what he initially said. Part of that may have been that Rafi had not read the rest of my blog, and so did not know my position on Orthodoxy. My reasons for not converting Orthodox – now, or ever – are pretty well-known to my regular readers. Some posts which probably stand out in that area are:
There have also been posts about Orthodox converts on the conversion boards that I’ve read and been part of, which boil down to: They claim that Orthodox Judaism is the only “real” Judaism, and I disagree. They usually end up being banned for trolling the boards and refusing to get along with other Jews because they refuse to recognize anyone who isn’t Orthodox as a Jew.
Most of my readers know this already. But Rafi was not a regular reader. I’m pretty sure he found me from Rabbi Adar’s reblog of that post.
At the time I responded, I was also tired and I had had a bad day, which probably colored my response. When I read his initial comment, what I got out of it was “If you’re not Orthodox, you’re not really a Jew, you know.” It rubbed me the wrong way.
So first of all, I should explain why I’m not converting Orthodox. I will refer people back to this post from now on, if I get comments like Rafi’s again, so that the explanations are clear.
I’m queer. That’s not going to change. Since the Orthodox are well-known for being homophobic, I have zero interest in being Orthodox. The stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride Parade did not help this perception.
The Orthodox are, by and large, very sexist and misogynist in their practices. I find the existence of the mechitza despicable, and the reasons given for it appalling. The ongoing struggle between the Women of the Wall and the haredim at the Kotel is a big deal to me, and I’m on the side of the women, not the haredim.
By and large, the problems I’ve seen in Israel (and Jewish enclaves outside of Israel) when Jews are involved are caused by Orthodox Jews (many times, ultra-Orthodox) Jews. See my intro paragraph for a few examples. Frankly, I don’t want to be part of that.
The upshot is, I have been personally told by Orthodox people, such as Pop Chassid and the various Orthodox on the convert boards, that I’m not a “real Jew” because I’m not Orthodox. It doesn’t take too many times of that happening to decide that Orthodox Jews generally have a stick up their behinds and their hands clamped firmly over their ears, singing La La La to avoid any new information. And it doesn’t take much for me to believe that when an Orthodox tries to push me towards Orthodox practices that the underlying message is “you’re not a real Jew unless you’re an Orthodox Jew.”
That said, I jumped to conclusions when I got Rafi’s original comment (I am quoting the second half here, because it’s the part that made me jump to conclusions).
On that note, and I know I’m about to open up a can of worms here, but I do so out of genuine concern for you, not to stir up controversy. Here goes… I know of quite a number of cases in which people who converted to Judaism through Reform were chagrined to learn later that their conversion was not recognized by some other streams of Judaism (particularly Orthodox). See this article on the subject: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Conversion.html
Importantly: “The Reform movement recommends that the potential convert be made aware of mikvah and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required.” (And, by the way, I do believe the Orthodox have the right to preserve Judaism according to their tradition by upholding strict standards for conversion. There’s nothing wrong with that.)
So, I’m telling you because I care about you. From your description, you and I share a fair amount in common, and you certainly seem like someone worth caring about. And this important information may influence how you go about conversion or your overall decision to convert.
Since my beit din and mikveh is in eleven days, I have zero interest in changing my focus. I’m also having a conversion process that will be acceptable to just about every other stream of Judaism, including the Conservative/Masorti stream – a beit din, the mikveh, and hatafat dam brit. I had already settled that issue long before Rafi commented. But he didn’t know that, and I should have been less sharp in my response. As I said, I was having a bad day and I was tired, and that probably colored my response, which I will quote here:
I am well aware of the Orthodox position on my conversion, but this may surprise you: I don’t care what Orthodox Jews think of me. They don’t own Judaism, even though they think they do. Yes, they have the right to hold to their tradition. They do not, however, have the right to claim sole ownership of Judaism, any more than the Westboro Baptist Church has the right to claim sole ownership of Christianity.
I’ve written on this issue extensively in this blog already. I have a strong dislike of fundamentalists, and the Orthodox fit into that category. Yes, they’re Jews. But so am I. They can pretend I’m not a Jew, but they will be wrong. If the anti-Semitic pogroms came again, I’d be targeted right along with them.
I am finishing my initial conversion process with my beit din on the 27th. It will include mikveh and hatafat dam brit. I say initial because conversion is a life-long process. A b’nei mitzvah doesn’t stop learning and growing after their 13th birthday; a Jew by choice doesn’t stop learning after their beit din. If I had doubts about the stream of Judaism I was joining, I wouldn’t be going through with this.
And as a matter of fact, knowing the Orthodox position has influenced how I went about conversion – I deliberately chose the Reform movement because the Orthodox make me ill with their continued fundamentalism. They can hold to their strict standards for conversion to their variety of Judaism. They cannot impose those standards on me. And when they try to impose their standards on others, we get stabbings at the Jerusalem pride parade (http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/02/middleeast/jerusalem-gay-pride-parade-stabbings/), and infants set on fire (http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/1.668871), and closer to home in the US, we get young women who commit suicide because their Orthodox communities hounded them into it (http://www.timesofisrael.com/ex-hasidic-woman-jumps-off-ny-rooftop-bar-to-her-death/). You can probably see that I’m not interested in their views after events like this. I hold all Orthodox responsible for those deaths (and by extension, all Jews including myself, for not putting the kibosh on the Orthodox and their hateful views).
I don’t like your implication that the Reform somehow hide this information from conversion candidates – that the Orthodox only accept Orthodox converts. It was never hidden from me. It annoyed me when I discovered it (on my own, before I even contacted a rabbi), and angered me when my rabbi and I discussed it, but I am not chagrined that the Orthodox wouldn’t accept me. I am chagrined that they’re too closed-minded to accept me, because that’s their loss. Their acceptance has zero bearing on my decision to become a Jew – apart from my sense of justice showing me that they have none.
I am a Jew who practices my Judaism in the Reform manner. If you wish to follow my blog, I’m fine with that. However, I’m not fine with commentary that says that only the Orthodox are real Jews, so if that’s your stance, I would appreciate it if you’d keep it out of my blog. Having looked at your blog, I doubt that you would be comfortable here, especially after seeing your recent attack on scientists.
Framing it as “caring about me,” when you’ve read one or two of my posts, sounds too much like Christians who have tried to convince me that Judaism is wrong and Jesus is the only right way. Don’t be one of those folks, okay?
Also, don’t take my quoting of an Orthodox rabbi as any indication that I think Orthodoxy is the only way, or the only right way. Rabbi Hartman said something smart and important, and something that more Jews need to think about. That’s why I quoted him – not because he was an Orthodox rabbi. I’ve found worthy information to think about in all kinds of books and from all kinds of sources.
Rafi responded back the next day, and I had to think about it for a while before responding. I will be interleaving his most recent response with my responses to it. Hopefully we can come to some kind of understanding here.
Adam, thank you for your honest and heartfelt reply. If only most Jews had as acute an understanding of Judaism as you do, in your expression that a Jew’s journey does not end with Bar Mitzvah (or conversion, in this case), but only begins. I have a friend, a rabbi, who says, “There’s no such thing as Orthodox Jew, Conservative Jew, Reform Jew, etc. There are only two kinds of Jews. Growing Jews, and non-growing Jews. Where you are on the spectrum of observance is irrelevant. The question is, are you moving in the right direction?” I have heard this from a number of rabbis (who would be labelled Orthodox, incidentally). In fact, I had had plans with another rabbi friend of mine, a former colleague, to start a “movement” called “Under-Constructionist Judaism” (UCJ) based on this philosophy. We both left the organization we had been working for at the end of that year and went our separate ways, so nothing ever came of that.
Rafi, I shared something similar not so long ago in this blog, in Moving Up The Ladder, or, The Foundation of My Yiddishkeit. “You have not told me which of the men is moving upward,” said the rabbi in this lesson, and I agree with that. UCJ sounds interesting, but I wonder if it was more of a thought experiment than a thing that was actually needed by the community.
However, on the topic of your anti-Orthodox diatribe, I would like to ask you a question. Have you ever met Orthodox Jews? Interacted with them? Spent time with them? Or are all your conceptions of what Orthodox Jews are based on their portrayal in the media, or otherwise secondhand sources? I ask because your statements about Orthodox Jews in this reply are broad, sweeping statements that lump everyone into one basket.
I have met Orthodox Jews. I have several friends who are Modern Orthodox. They live on the opposite coast, so I don’t get to see them much, but we correspond on Facebook and in other venues. There is a Chabad community two blocks from where I live in the Los Angeles area, but I have received multiple cold shoulders from them when I run into them on the street or at the market, even though I wear a kippah and a Mogen David and don’t hide my Jewishness.
I also have friends who are ex-Jewish and have left Judaism altogether because of having been raised in ultra-Orthodox households, like the one that Faigy Mayer was trying to escape from when she died. I have a friend who was told by an Orthodox rabbi that she wasn’t Jewish, after having lived as a Jew all her life, because her mother’s conversion was not Orthodox and therefore invalid. (It wasn’t invalid. It was just unacceptable to a hard-starch Orthodox fundamentalist, which is not the same thing.) I have another friend whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor (not to mention an Orthodox Jew) whose father was told by an Orthodox rabbi that she wasn’t Jewish, because her mother was not a Jew – which is reprehensible in the extreme. She is one of the most amazing Jews I know.
Not only is it impossible to characterize all people within a group with one label, for certainly there must be exceptions, often “stereotypes,” and particularly negative ones, are built around the extreme behaviors of a very visible minority, but don’t represent the views of the majority, even the vast majority. Often, the characterization of a group by a small number of representatives COMPLETELY misidentifies the rest of the group. Antisemites have done this for millennia, as have other groups toward one another, and this has only yielded tragedy and destruction. I’m surprised that someone like you is not more sensitive to this. And as an Orthodox Jew myself, I KNOW you’ve mischaracterized me and my community, and I am personally hurt by your remarks. Sadly, this happens all too often. People are quick to judge one another, and I too, it seems I was too quick in my judgment of you as tolerant of other streams of thought, including “the hateful Orthodox,” which, apparently, includes myself.
For your hurt, I am sorry. To me, you came across as someone pushing me to be Orthodox as if that was the only acceptable way to be Jewish. I wonder if you can see why you did.
However, I must address “the hateful Orthodox” comment. So far I’ve seen you get offended by my perception of Orthodoxy because you think it comes solely from “the media,” but it doesn’t. As described above, I have friends who have been personally harmed by the Orthodox movement, just as I have friends who have been personally harmed by the fundamentalist Christian movement.
There are certain beliefs that I cannot tolerate or find acceptable, such as the misogyny and the homophobia that seem to be inherent in Orthodox Judaism. How do you respond to that?
Do you have examples of Orthodox Jews who are willing to speak out on the side of justice and equality?
Do you speak out on the side of justice and equality? Or do you just say “Well, if it’s not halacha, they’re the problem, not us”?
Do you recognize that Torah is a living document, not a dead and fixed-in-stone document?
Do you recognize that liberal rabbis have interpreted its words to find that I, a gay man, am an acceptable Jew? Or do you just reject that and say “That’s not halacha”?
These are not rhetorical questions. I’m honestly curious to know.
If you just reject social justice in favor of “that’s not halacha,” then yes, in my opinion you are part of the “hateful Orthodox,” just as the fundamentalist Christian who says that sex education should be abstinence-only and who wants their gospels preached in the schoolhouse is part of the “hateful Christians.” If you are open-minded and say “those things are shameful, they are a shame to all Jews, and we should not promote misogyny and homophobia against God’s children,” then you’re not part of the problem. But your initial reaction here leads me to believe that you’re on the side of the misogyny and the homophobia, because you’re defending it.
I once heard someone say, “When non-Orthodox Jews talk about ‘Ahavat Yisrael,’ they mean toward everyone but the Orthodox.” I would like to believe that was hyperbole, but it seems to reflect a real sentiment. I must admit that I have heard over and over from people who have interacted with Reform communities (including those who came out of Reform and became Orthodox) about the enmity toward the Orthodox, sometimes unspoken, sometimes overt, that exists among the Reform, though I have personally never encountered it… until now. From what I know, it is the people who have had the least contact with the Orthodox that have the strongest prejudices.
My experience with the Orthodox has been that when they say “Ahavat Yisrael,” they mean only the Orthodox. As I’ve already said, the Chabadniks give me the cold shoulder – perhaps because I’m not wearing black and a white button-down shirt with my kippah and my Mogen David. Who knows? They’re not welcoming; they’re shunning.
I don’t deny that they are Jews. I do feel that their behavior is embarrassing. But they wouldn’t recognize me as a Jew even if I was crammed in next to them in the cattle car. And yes, I use that phrase quite deliberately.
I know you are a good person, with a strong sense of justice, as you highlight in your article. Does anything I’m saying resonate right now that perhaps you have prejudged, and wrongly so at that? You see, I REALLY KNOW what Orthodox Jews are, and the reality on the ground does not comport with the image of the Orthodox you have presented here (which I’m certain is only a reflection of the twisted image that has been fed to you — you would never on your own paint such a character; it just surprised me that a forward thinking person like you did not see through it). Don’t you see that your condemnation of “the Orthodox” is the same crime that you accuse “them” of perpetrating? I’m not claiming every Orthodox Jew to be an angel, but they can’t be worse than any other demographic, none of which you would vilify for the actions of any of their individuals. And even if you fall back on the “hateful views” of the Orthodox as justification for your characterization of the people, I once again must assert that your impression of Orthodox views must be greatly misinformed.
You say it is. Where is your proof? I have actual, real-life examples, both from the media and from my own experiences and the experiences of my friends, that the Orthodox are, by and large, hateful to any Jew who isn’t Orthodox. Do you have counter-examples for me? People who stood up and said “No, the Women of the Wall have the right to a Torah and to shofarim at the Kotel”? People who identified the haredi men who assaulted Charlie Kalech and Alden Solovy back on Rosh Chodesh Iyyar for doing that very thing, so that they could be brought to justice? I’ll take your pointer of the OU rabbis condemning the Pride stabbings and the pricetag murders as two good examples – but that’s two examples against twelve or fourteen bad acts. Show me more. Give me some balance, here.
I humbly direct you to one of the best sources of information on the Internet for Orthodox ideology: aish.com. It is one of many mainstream Orthodox Jewish websites, none of which I think you could accuse of touting “hateful views,” quite the contrary, in fact. Why don’t you go ahead and check out ou.org, of the — GASP! — Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), and find a condemnation of the stabbing attack as well as the “pricetag” murders.
I’ve read aish.com, and it’s interesting, but a lot of it is contradictory. For example, the author of http://www.aish.com/jl/jnj/nj/100712764.html assumes that everyone has to have a Jewish spouse in order to raise Jewish children. Well, okay, if you think “Jewish” means “being absolutely 100% tied to the mitzvot and doing everything exactly correctly”, then fine. But that’s not how I, or many other Jews of my acquaintance, approach Judaism. This author assumes that everyone wants to have Jewish children and the only way to have that is to have a Jewish partner, which is categorically not true.
But then the contradiction comes in in the “Ask the Rabbi” question today, in which the rabbi says “Any attempt is better than no attempt.” Well, which is it? If you want me to take that page as an authoritative description of Orthodox Judaism, some consistency would be helpful. I’ve had people from Aish tell me that I’m sinning for not eating halachically acceptable ha-motzi – which I can’t eat because I’m allergic to it.
I hope you will reconsider your evaluation of Orthodox Jewry. No, I am not trying to influence you to become one of us (you may well know the Orthodox do not seek converts, though we LOVE the convert, as the Torah teaches us to — you read that right, “love,” not “hate”), but I’m allowed to be genuinely caring toward others, even non-Jews, even though — GASP! — I’m Orthodox! (“No, it cannot be!”)
I hope you can see that your approach came across as “I am trying to influence you to become one of us.” Because it totally did. By devaluing the approach I have taken to my conversion, you are doing exactly that, whether or not you realize it.
And you must understand, Rafi, that the claim of “love” grates on anyone who’s been religiously abused in the name of religious love – which I have been, multiple times, by multiple faiths. It smacks of “We love the sinner even though we hate their sin,” which is a platitude I find disgusting from anyone’s mouth.
This point is clear to me as an insider, but I emphasize the point here out of necessity for someone who may be an outsider, and yet, no matter how much I try to convey this, something tells me I won’t convince you.
If you want me to believe you with no evidence, on your assertion alone, then yes, you’re going to have trouble. If you want me to believe you, provide me some evidence that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews were not cheering on the Jerusalem stabber or the men who set fire to that baby’s house and killed him and his father. If you want me to believe you, show me that Orthodoxy is working on fixing these problems instead of trying to brush them under the rug or give a “No True Scotsman” argument. Show me that most Orthodox were horrified and said “We have to fix this, we have to make them understand that they can’t do this,” instead of just shrugging their shoulders or actively cheering on this violence against people who were no threat to them. Show me that this sermon by Rabbi Benny Lau (who is, yes, Orthodox) and the crowd reaction are not anomalies in the Orthodox movement.
Let me suggest another great “Orthodox” website (that is, created and run by an Orthodox Rabbi): Shabbat.com. It’s a free service that allows you (among other things) to contact a potential Shabbat host ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD to arrange to stay or eat for Shabbat. Why don’t you find yourself a nice Orthodox family near you to host you for Shabbat, and then tell me after your experience about your FIRSTHAND impression of the Orthodox? I think that’s the fairest way to judge, don’t you?
I have had firsthand experiences of Orthodox Jews. With only one or two exceptions, those experiences have been uniformly negative. The friends I have who are Modern Orthodox are not local, so I can’t just go to their house for Shabbat dinners. And I can’t go to just anyone’s Shabbat dinner, because I am allergic to about a third of what would be on the table, including the challah and anything else that had flour in it. It wouldn’t be respectful to say to a stranger through that website, “I can’t eat most of what you cook; I eat a special diet; cater to me.” Instead, I hold my own Shabbat dinners and have friends over to them so I can control what I’m eating and not end up in the hospital.
I’m willing to have a discussion. I’m not willing to be the target of someone yelling at me. So if you wish to continue this discussion, Rafi, feel free to comment here – after you’ve read and understood the rules of my blog.
I just found out about something that has me so shocked that, for a few hours, I couldn’t quite form words about it. Right now I feel like all I can do is quote what others have said better than I could.
A romance novel where the hero is a concentration camp commander, redeemed and forgiven for his role in torture & genocide. Nominated for the most prestigious genre award in the field. Where he and his “blond haired and blue eyed Jewess” girlfriend convert to Christianity and…I can’t even.
Yes. You read that right. A book that does a lift from the Book of Esther (supposedly) to pair a she-doesn’t-look-Jewish Jewess with a high-placed Nazi, during the Holocaust, who somehow redeems him, and then they both convert to Christianity at the end of the story. Happy, happy, joy, joy.
You know… I never thought there would be a book that would make EL James look like a competent writer, but this book’s choice of topic, choice of setting, choice of story… Yeah. 50 Shades beats this dreck by a country mile and a half. Even with EL James’ bad writing, her story was better chosen than this, because it didn’t appropriate another people’s culture and tragedy.
Sarah Wendell wrote a scathing letter to both the RWA and Bethany Press, the book’s publisher. Rose Lerner deconstructs some awful 5-star reviews of the abomination. Katherine Locke rips into it and tears it a new one. You should read all of their reviews, but here’s Katherine’s money quote:
Part of this is evangelical Christianity’s relationship with Jewish people (not with Judaism, let’s be clear) and Israel. Let’s be clear: we are people. We are not anyone’s tickets into heaven. We are not your Chosen people.
Even today, I deal with too many people that think the way for a Jew to find happiness is a renunciation of faith in order to turn to Jesus. They come to my door and interrupt me at home. They come into my work. They leave literature on my car.
And they scare me, because that version of Happily-Ever-After means a world where everyone has converted to Christianity. That version of Happily-Ever-After means a world with no more Jews. It’s not physically violent, but it’s still terrifying. It’s not inspirational.
Okay, but it’s just a romance novel, right? Why do I have my knickers in such a twist about this particular incident of anti-Semitism?
Simple. My husband is a published romance writer. He was outraged tonight while reading to me and my best friend about this book and what’s happened (even though, thank God, it didn’t win the award it was nominated for).
But it also shocked him because it doesn’t fit his experience. His local group of RWA writers, whom he meets with once a month or so, is also really diverse. There are gay people, Asians, African-Americans, Latinas, old and young men, straight men, straight women – and they are the hope for the future of the RWA. They are the future of the RWA. This approval of an anti-Semitic cultural appropriation with a convenient Christian conversion story is just the last gasps of an RWA that is clinging to a time when that kind of thing was okay. (Makes you think of the Tea Party, doesn’t it?) I know that with this public outcry, things will have to change.
But I have to admit that right now, I am dismayed and disillusioned. This anti-Semitism may not be the anti-Semitism of the SS, the Gestapo and the Aryan Nation, but it is the anti-Semitism of the people who stand by and do nothing. It is the anti-Semitism of the people who say “I’m not racist, but you know that Jews are [fill in your favorite stereotype here]”. It is the anti-Semitism of the evangelicals that want Jews in Israel not to be Jewish there, but to be their ticket to the return of a Jewish rabbi who they’ve made out to be the son of God by being forcibly converted or killed.
No, I have zero interest in reading this book. Reading the reviews was bad enough.
This has not made me decide against conversion – or what I’m beginning to think of as confirmation, because in my heart I became Jewish a long time ago. What it has done is strengthen my resolve.
She’asani Israel. I am a Jew.
And I may be worried, but I refuse to be afraid. I do and will wear my kippah and Mogen David every day, and I’m not going to hide for someone else’s prejudice.
I chose Judaism because of several things: a sense of community, a sense of acts being more important than words or appearances, ritual that made sense to me and spoke to me. I chose Reform Judaism because Reform Jews are open-minded and welcoming while still maintaining the important traditions of Judaism – the ones that matter.
Now. Given that, what I’m seeing from the ultra-Orthodox is that appearances are more important to them than actions, and that keeping up appearances is the most important thing. And in doing so, they are behaving in ways that are bigoted, small-minded, and even dishonest.
And although I could probably find another dozen examples of ultra-Orthodox small-mindedness, this takes the cake: When you say that Reform Jews aren’t Jews, well, why would I want to become part of your small-minded, bigoted, dishonest group called ultra-Orthodox Judaism?
Oh, what’s that you say? I don’t have the authority to say you’re not Jews? Who says so?
Oh, because “sefer sheli,” huh? Because it’s YOUR Torah?
Sorry, guys. It’s my Torah too. And it’s the women’s Torah too. It’s everyone’s Torah.
When you can get beyond your circular arguments, do feel free to get back to me. And when you do get back to me, you can explain how Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, who joined the People simply by saying “Your people shall be my people, and your God will be my God” is Jewish, but I’m somehow not, even though I’d be right there in the gas chambers with you if the pogroms came again.
Grow up, already. You’re an embarrassment to all of Judaism, and I doubt you even realize it.
I am thankful that I am part of a liberal tradition.
I am thankful that my marriage is recognized by my family, my friends, my co-workers, my employer, my state, my religion, and now my nation.
I am thankful that five Justices of the Supreme Court chose to take the moral pathway. I am thankful that they prevailed. I am thankful that I can now go to any state in my country with my husband and that we will still be recognized as husbands to each other.
Oh, I don’t doubt that there will still be pitfalls. I’d rather not be in a small town hospital in Alabama or Kentucky with him if something goes wrong, for example. But for now, just knowing that he and I are equal to the rest of the people in this nation is really hitting me hard.
A friend of mine told me that a Conservative Jewish friend of hers said this when she read about the whole Elad Debacle of 5775 today: “You know… we don’t talk about the Orthodox. We’re kind of embarrassed about them.”
After the ED of 5775, I can see why. It seems like the Orthodox approach non-Orthodox Jews like they’re Great-Uncle Mergatroyd who just has to spout his anger and bigoted opinions at the dinner table, and expects everyone to just go along with him, because he’s Great-Uncle Mergatroyd.
It saddens me that an entire branch of the Tree is so willing to prune off all the others to maintain its purity, even when there are obvious examples of people who lived as Jews, raised Jewish children, and yet never went through the formal, rules-lawyer, halachic conversion process. Ruth (whose descendant, if you’ll recall, was King David). Abraham. All the women who were taken as brides during the conquering of other peoples. And yet we would never say that their children or descendants aren’t Jewish.
So why do the Orthodox have such a hangup about “you must fit every one of these exacting criteria or you are not Jewish”, anyway?
I’ve read a number of blogs since starting this journey. Occasionally I’ll run into one written by an Orthodox person who lives in an Orthodox community and never ventures outside of it. And it seems from these blogs that in the “frum” community, specifically, there seems to be an awful lot of fuss over appearances. Are you wearing your tallit katan, is your wife wearing a wig or a veil to hide her hair, that kind of thing. And it just tires me out, and I think I know why.
My mother was all about style over substance. For her, how you looked was more important than anything else. How you looked extended to observable behavior. As a result, I have an allergy to people who prioritize style over substance.
In addition to reading those blogs, I also have friends who have left Judaism because they were raised in a similar, frum, Ultra-Orthodox environment. The abuses they report cannot go unremarked:
daughters forbidden Talmud study and forced to dress in concealing clothing
boys taught that women were second-class citizens
intense shaming of those who are “off the derech”
parents sitting shiva for sons and daughters who left Orthodoxy (especially if that involved marriage outside of Orthodoxy) but then trying to get back into their children’s lives when babies arrived so that they could try to turn the grandchildren back to Orthodoxy
and, of course, the recent exposure of rabbis who molested children and whose communities covered up for them
Somehow, the Orthodox have managed to set themselves up in the minds of many Jews as the authoritative last word on what “Jewish” means. It happens in frum communities all over the world, but it also happens in Israel (witness the haredi control over the Kotel and how they treat the Women of the Wall, just as an example). Too much of it is about style, not substance. It’s about whether you dress in clothing from the 16th century, not your focus on tikkun olam. It’s about whether you are avoiding carrying anything into your house if it’s Shabbat, rather than whether you opened your home to someone who needed a place and a meal on Shabbat. It’s about style, not substance.
I reject that. I reject that fundamentally. For me, Judaism has to be about tikkun olam, and hospitality, and hesed (lovingkindness) – and that has to be the central focus or it’s all just dust and ashes.
If you wear your black hat every day but reject anyone who won’t wear one too, you’ve completely missed the point.
And this brings me back to Pop Chassid. He isn’t being honest in his struggle with the rules. Instead of checking whether the rules can be realistically applied today, he struggles to find bits of support for the rules so they can stay the way they’ve been for 5700 years. That kind of legalistic nonsense is something I don’t tolerate in my students, so why should I tolerate it in him? If he’s not willing to look out and apply Torah to the world as it is today, why should I take his definitions seriously? If his understanding of Judaism isn’t framed in the central values of tikkun olam and tzedakah and chesed, why should I care what he thinks?
It is not just, or kind, to exclude other Jews just because they don’t fit your definition of what Judaism is. It does not serve the goal of tikkun olam to exclude other Jews – it creates more fractures to heal, rather than healing the ones that are there.
Please note: At no time have I said that Pop Chassid is not a Jew. That’s because he’s using a different interpretation of the Torah. I do, however, take issue with his interpretation, because his interpretation goes against those central values, and that’s uncalled for.
If you want to argue with me about this, do it on your own blog. I will be holding the banhammer at the ready.
Oh, he tries. He says. He tries to understand that a person can be Jewish and yet not be Jewish all at the same time. He calls this a “paradox,” that non-Jews (by his estimation) can somehow have Jewish souls. He says he can’t call people like me non-Jewish anymore, but he can’t call us Jewish either. And that somehow he has to do both.
He recognizes that he can’t call people like me non-Jewish. And yet even after that he still retreats back to the same old, same old Orthodox claptrap and says “but I still wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”
Despite his attempts to think it through, he still falls back on “My feelings about this haven’t changed.”
So at the end of it he says he will both consider people like me non-Jewish and Jewish at the same time.
Not good enough, Elad. Not good enough.
I’ll just quote Jonathan Byrd: “Admit that your perspective might feel right and be wrong.” Because it is.
It’s not a paradox. It’s a decision Elad has to make, and doesn’t want to, because no matter which way he goes he’s going to hurt someone’s feelings and/or offend someone.
But regardless of his struggle, I’m still Jewish, and I’m still a Jew. Either accept that or don’t, Elad, but don’t twist yourself into a pretzel saying that I both am, and am not, Jewish. Either be honest that you’re accepting a bigoted, closedminded, narrowminded definition of Jewish (“Orthodox only”), or open your mind and accept that I’m a Jew too.
(Oh, and by the way – the Reform movement of Judaism predates Orthodoxy.)
You can call it a paradox, but what it is, is justifying a bigoted mindset. It’s the same thing as the people saying “heritage not hate” about the Confederate flag. That heritage is hate. It’s the same thing as why Christianity has fractured into thousands of different sects – because of this “you have to be exactly like us or you’re not part of us” mindset.
Demanding that Jews must be Orthodox or else not be considered Jewish is no different.
Now, I shouldn’t care what one Orthodox blogger thinks of my Yiddishkeit. And mostly, I don’t care, any more than I care what fundamentalist Christians think of my gayness or atheists think of my religiosity. But when someone says that who I am is not real, because it makes them uncomfortable? Because it creates a “paradox” for them?
Then yes, I’m offended.
She’asani Israel, Elad, even if you don’t like it. She’asani Israel, even if you can’t handle it.
Pop Chassid has been, and is, a popular Judaism blog. He has a lot of followers. But his popularity does not make him right. So:
I categorically reject his questioning of my Jewish authenticity.
I categorically reject his defense of his decision not to consider me a Jew unless I’m Orthodox.
And I categorically reject his blog, his magazine, and his attitude, until he shows some evolution in this mindset and realizes that it’s not a paradox but only an attempt to protect his prejudices.
I have friends who are Orthodox who consider me Jewish. I have corresponded with an Orthodox person on Quora who told me that Orthodoxy isn’t for everyone, and he doesn’t consider me any less Jewish just because I’m Reform.
If they can do it, Elad Nehorai can do it too.
And until he does, I’m not reading his blog or his magazine any more, and I’m going to encourage others not to, either.
My semester is pretty much done. I filed my grades on Thursday and Friday, and hopefully I can plan better for the next semester. This semester was insane – I overloaded myself with grading, and because I was sick early in the semester, I was running behind right up through the last week of classes. That wasn’t fair to me or to my students. I have resolved to do better in the coming semesters.
Before our last Intro class on Wednesday, the husband and I also had to go to the make-up class on Yom Kippur, which we missed because we were both sick with the flu in the fourth week of the class. That was interesting as it was just 45 minutes in the rabbi’s office with two other people who were also taking the make-up. There was no Mr. C. We had a good class, and part of me feels that it was because he was not there.
My husband made an observation that “Yom haKipurim” had “Purim” in it, which floored Rabbi. He said “You’ve gone about six levels deeper than I’d planned to!” Then he told us how the Kabbalists feel that “kipur” – the root of “kipurim” – can be read either as “kipur,” or “to afflict,” or it could be read as “ki” – “like, or similar to” and “purim” – the celebration of Purim. Some Kabbalists apparently feel that in the World to Come there will only be two holidays observed – Yom Kippur, and Purim. They are balances to one another; Yom Kippur is about repairing our over-indulgence, while Purim is about repairing our under-indulgence.
My husband is going to be a Kabbalist. I can see this happening.
Our Intro class finished up on Wednesday. The class was about Shavuot, but most of the class time was taken up with Mr. Christian once again trying to hijack the discussion. By this point, my husband and I knew that everyone in the class finds Mr. C irritating, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been otherwise, but I did finally have to get up and leave for a few minutes (ostensibly for the bathroom) when Mr. C. got into it with one of the other group members, who had finally called him out on something he said. Later, I told her that I hadn’t left because of what she said, but because I wanted to brain Mr. C with my laptop. (Her comment: “That’d be a waste of a good laptop.”)
Thankfully, Mr. C. won’t be in the later class for those who will be converting. Rabbi sent out an email saying that for those who are formally embracing Judaism, the new class will start in June. Since Mr. C. is only interested in “learning” (read here: telling us all about how HIS religion does what we’re talking about, even though none of us could care less), he isn’t part of that group.
Rabbi also took Mr. C. aside during the break of the last class and informed him that it would not be appropriate for him to be part of the new class. Apparently Mr. C. got upset (his back was to me, and it was loud, so I couldn’t hear his reaction – but those who could hear confirmed he was upset) but oh well for him. I have so little sympathy for him at this point that it’s sad.
Another class member said to me, “Now he’ll say that the Jews hate him, too.” (He’s already said the Episcopalians hate him. Gee. I WONDER WHY. Christians, if you want people to take you seriously, trying to hijack a class that’s about a different religion so you can talk about your religion is not the way to go about it. I know that 99% of you don’t do this, but the 1% that do make all of you look bad, just as the behavior of the haredim at the Kotel makes all Jews look bad to the rest of the world.) As an autistic man, I know I’m socially clueless, but this guy makes me look like a social virtuoso by comparison.
I’ve friended almost all the other class members on Facebook, and most of them are going on to the formal class. I’ve sent in my final exam, so I should be getting a shiny certificate saying that I completed the class. Whee!
One of the things that came up when we finally did get into the Shavuot lesson was how Shavuot was a move from just celebrating the harvest to celebrating the receipt of Torah, and the argument about how to measure the calendar days to it. The Sadducees (who were the urban, upper-class, priestly class, who rejected the Oral Torah) wanted to measure it in a way where it would not be the same date every year; the Pharisees (predecessors of the Rabbis, who were the regular Joes who argued for the Oral Torah, among other things – the liberal group) wanted it measured so it would always fall on the same date every year. The Pharisees won that argument.
I find it somewhat amusing that so many Christians lack the context of rabbinic argument, so they read the Christian Bible and see its stories of the Pharisees and the Sadducees challenging Yeshua ben Yosef on points of Torah interpretation as “they’re trying to trip him up and make him look stupid!” when that isn’t the case at all. It was, frankly, description of a discussion between rabbis of different branches, and in many ways similar to what we see in the Talmud of descriptions of rabbis arguing fine points of Torah law and interpretation. There is some evidence that Yeshua was an Essene (another, smaller sect of Jews at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction). In that case, the “challenges” from the Pharisees and the Sadducees were simply rabbis arguing points of Torah interpretation. That sort of knocks the props out from under Christianity for me (again).
One other thing that came up just in passing during that last class: the Mishnah is the Law, and the Talmud is the interpretations of that Law. Good to know! If the beit din asks me that in September, I won’t look like a fool when I answer them.
In other news, the husband and I are planning to go to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at our shul later this month. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s different from the one I went to last year at the Shul Down the Street.
My husband has told me he’s not ready to go to the beit din and the mikveh yet, and he’s planning on spring for that. I’m fine with that; it’s totally his decision, of course. But the other day he said “We’re Jewish,” for the first time. Up until now he’s avoided saying it because he hasn’t been to the beit din or the mikveh, but I think something clicked for him that becoming Jewish isn’t something that just happens when you go into the mikveh. It happens along the way.
I read an article a few months ago about the mikveh (I wish I could find it, but a Google search hasn’t helped me). I liked the idea behind it – it was a convert saying that going to the mikveh does not wash away his past. Rather, it adds a layer of Judaism to what’s already there. The mikveh as an additive process, rather than a subtractive one, is a powerful idea for me.
So that’s what’s going on in Shocheradam land. How about you?
This is the blog of a Jew by choice who was raised Catholic and tried several other faiths before finding the right one. In addition to being a Jew, I am also a queer man, a husband, a father, and a college teacher.
If you need some help with the Hebrew terms, click "Glossary."
If you need some help with the Hebrew terms, click "Glossary."
To read about my journey, start here: https://shocheradam.com/2014/05/09/yisrael-wrestling-with-g-d/
To know what's okay and what's not here on this blog, go here: https://shocheradam.com/2015/08/19/the-rules-of-this-blog/
Judge not your friend till you stand in his place. - Hillel
He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; to do justice, to show mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
NEVER FORGET THESE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE:
Mohammed Abu Khdeir
Wrestling With God · This is the blog of a Jew by choice who was raised Catholic and tried several other faiths before finding the right one. In addition to being a Jew, I am also a queer man, a husband, a father, and a college teacher. If you need some help with the Hebrew terms, click "Glossary."