Tag Archives: Jewish Identity

They’re Not Your Shabbos Goyim, and Other Hard Truths

Not for me – for the ultra-Orthodox.

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.

When you hire Latinos to dress up as Orthodox Jews to protest my rights as a gay man, that’s dishonest. They’re not your Shabbos goyim. They are people playing a part to keep up appearances.

When you try to block women from praying with the Torah at the Kotel and compare them to church arsonists, that’s small-minded and sexist. That’s not a mitzvah. It’s a sin. When you beat up a man who is brave enough to give them the Torah anyway, that’s not a mitzvah either. It’s a crime.

When you cancel bar mitzvah services organized by the Masorti stream of Judaism for disabled kids because they don’t meet your Orthodox standards, that’s just outright bullying. And to what purpose?

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?

Sorry. Not feeling it, dudes. When you can move beyond your dishonesty and your pursuit of appearances above all, maybe I’ll consider you Jews. For now, I don’t. I consider you a pox on the People. You’re no different than the Jews whose senseless hate led to the destruction of the Second Temple. 

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.

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Filed under Identities, Judaism

Style or Substance?: A Follow-Up Post

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.

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Filed under Identities, Jewish Practices

Hey, Pop Chassid – it’s not a “paradox.”

Today, I had to make a painful decision.

I stopped following Pop Chassid, who I’ve followed pretty much since I started this journey, and Hevria, the Jewish artistic magazine he started sometime this past year, because apparently Elad Nehorai can’t be bothered to consider me Jewish unless I convert Orthodox (which will happen around the same time the sun freezes over).

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.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Identities, Judaism