Friday, June 10, 2005

Orthodox Versus Jewry- Or My Blood is More Jewish

I wrote this piece last February but in light of other posts here and around the blogosphere I thought that it would be appropriate to put it up. Also, with the chag coming it seems appropriate to think about this and remember that we are all part of one big, happy, albeit at times dysfunctional family.

There is an ongoing battle in Judaism, a battle for it's soul and identity, at least that is how things are often portrayed. We have to fight those who wish to assimilate us alongside those who wish to destroy us by murdering us. In some places Jewish blood is still considered to be cheap.

The title of this post is intentional, because part of the aforementioned battle can be phrased as internecine warfare among the various denominations of Judaism. There are groups of people among us who refuse to accept the others practices, our minhagim are downplayed and sneered at, our Yiddishkeit questioned.

So you ask, who is the "our" I refer to and I say to you, the reader that it is all of us or any of us, you make the choice.

I have an ongoing battle with a friend of mine about the intent of Orthodox Judaism and its position on those who are not on the same derech as they are, at least not in practice. The allegation is that Orthodoxy looks down it's nose at those who are not as "Torah True" as they are, that Conservative and Reform Judaism are viewed as being lesser forms of Judaism. And to a certain extent I am forced to agree with the premise of the argument. There are too many examples that prove that this element exists.

But I like to consider myself a student of Jewish history and I can find examples of this type of thought and behavior throughout history. I remember learning about Hillel and Shammai, our class being divided to argue the positions of the two and the feelings it created.

This is not new behavior, but it doesn't make it right and it doesn't help.

I often write about being torn, conflicted about where to stand. My circle of friends includes everyone you can imagine, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Reform, Conservative, FFBs, BT's and independents.

My own familial practices probably make this mishmash clear, I feel more comfortable living further to the right than the left, but neither is home now. They may be in the future. I read and consider the experiences of all sides. I'll pick on David again and reference his post about The Dance. I have a lot of experience with people who are Shomer Negiah and there are things about it that I really like and find very attractive, but I am far too physically affectionate to do completely cut-off my contact with women. I will still kiss and hug my friends, it doesn't change or impact my feelings for my wife.

But I respect those that engage in the practice and yet I have seen it be the cause of misunderstandings on many occasions.

At my son's Pidyon Ha-Ben some dear friends were leaving the house and I watched as the wife of one of them became infuriated with the refusal of the host to shake her hand. I walked outside with them and listened briefly as she ranted and raved about his arrogance and intolerance.

I think that in this case both parties were at fault, she could have been more tolerant and respectful herself of his beliefs and he could have been more forthcoming in his explanation of why, or better yet just shook her hand.

To a certain extent the problem here took place because of ignorance but also because of perception because it fed into a perception that some people have of Orthodox Jews as being more arrogant and intolerant. Perception is often more important than reality, it is kind of twisted, but true.

I would very much like to see more outreach and outward, open expression of friendship between the groups. But I am not real sure that we will see it happen any time soon, as long as you can be "Slifkinned" there are going to be fewer people who are willing to stick their necks out.

I don't expect, need or want for their to be one monolithic perspective, no groupthink for me. But in the end we are all part of one people, one family and it would be nice to see us act more like the Brady Bunch than Joseph's brothers.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)


Anshel's Wife said...

Jack, I have to agree with you, of course. We are all responsible for one another. One Jew goes down, we all go down.

Have you ever heard that there are two kinds of Jews? Frum and not-Frum-yet? Just had to throw that in being a new BT and not quite over my desire to "convert" all Jews into frummie Jews.

As for the shaking hands with the opposite sex.... It's almost become easy at work. "I'm sorry. It's a religious thing." And it doesn't seem to be a problem. When I am around, say, my parents friends, people who were at the hospital waiting for me to born, I have a hard time pushing them away. If my godfather wants to hug me, I let him. As a matter of fact, I often go to him first. He grew up frum and he knows how it works, but there is just something unsaid there between us. That's it's okay. And there are other friends, too, that I don't make a big deal about because I've learned that as important as it is for me not to touch a man other than my husband, it is also important for me not to embarrass another Jew.

Stacey said...

"Have you ever heard that there are two kinds of Jews? Frum and not-Frum-yet?"

I have heard this and it annoys me. There are many Jews who are actively Jewish, yet not frum and NEVER will be. And they have nothing to prove to you or anyone else.

Anshel's Wife said...

I hear you, Stacey. I know it bugs people to hear that. But I don't want anyone to prove anything to me. I am convinced that Jack knows more about Judaism than both me and my husband put together. One doesn't have to be frum to be a committed and knowledgable Jew.

Stacey said...

"I know it bugs people to hear that"

Yes, it is quite annoying because it implies that you aren't "really Jewish" or "Jewish enough" unless you are Orthodox or frum.

And the number of us non-Orthodox Jews outnumber the Orthodox ones, so it would be in your best interest not to alienate us.

Anshel's Wife said...

You can talk to anyone in blogland and they will tell you that I always say a Jew is a Jew, PERIOD! Because I don't answer the phone on Shabbos, among other things, doesn't make me anymore Jewish than you or any other Jew who does talk on the phone, among other things. And if that is what you are getting from me and if that is what other people get from what I say, then I will not post again. This blog was set up so that Jews from all different backgrounds could say what they want to say about THEIR Jewishness. If people are going to be offended because I keep Shabbos, and kosher, and the other mitzvas to the best of my abilities, what does that say about them? Perhaps you are feeling a bit defensive? Why? If you are comfortable with your JEwishness, why say anything to me? What I say is my point of view. Maybe I don't like the fact that a bunch of nonobservant Jews are saying it's okay to go to the movies on Shabbos with their family because that's family time and they aren't working. What if someone who is confused about where they want to go with their Judaism or someone who isn't even Jewish sees that? What do we say? Well, not all Jews follow the laws exactly as they are written. Many Jews have interpreted the Torah in a different way. Fine. I don't like that explanation, but I know many who live by that. But that doesn't make me anymore Jewish than the next Jew. That's what I keep saying. If you are comfortable in your Jewishness, then that is great. I'm sure you are helping to give your children a strong Jewish upbringing. YOu seem like that kind of person. Hey, my father used to tell us that if anyone called us kike, we had permission to beat them up. That was the extent of my father's involvement with our Jewish upbringing.

Stacey, if I have offended you or anyone else, I'm sorry. And if my opinions are not welcome here and if the stories I plan to relate are not ones that anyone wants to hear, I'll ask to be removed from this blog.

I believe very strongly in ahavas Yisroel (loving your fellow Jew) and I don't want to make any trouble.

Stacey said...

You can practice and post whatever you want. How you live your life is not my concern and I am certainly not offended by the choices you have made. We are all free to live as we choose.

But when you post such things as "Have you ever heard that there are two kinds of Jews? Frum and not-Frum-yet?" you need to expect you will get commentary on that, because you are addressing me and all Jews when you say such.

Anshel's Wife said...

Never say never.

Chaim said...

Stacey, it was a joke, let's not fight over here, that's just what I started this blog to teach us not to do.

Yetta, that joke was gonna offend, come on.

As my baby sister say's let's "chill-ax"

hAve a happy shavuot folks.

Stacey said...

"This blog was set up so that Jews from all different backgrounds could say what they want to say about THEIR Jewishness."

You just don't get it, do you? So let me spell it out for you.

When you say: "Have you ever heard that there are two kinds of Jews? Frum and not-Frum-yet?" you are NOT talking about YOUR Jewishness, you are talking about others.

And then you said: "Maybe I don't like the fact that a bunch of nonobservant Jews are saying it's okay to go to the movies on Shabbos with their family because that's family time and they aren't working."

When you speak of how others observe Shabbat, you are again not talking about YOUR Jewishness (as you purport). You are talking about others and you are making a value judgment.

Again, your posts are your thoughts and your words. But when you make statements as you have above, you need to be prepared for disagreement.

Anonymous said...

My father always said, "never try to stop two Jews from arguing. Jews are meant to argue."

So I won't. You are free to argue, of course, and I'll chime in with my two cents.

I've known many Ba'ale Tshuvah, so when I read Yetta's joke, I chuckled. Yetta does admit that she's still under the Ba'ale Tshuvah spell.

I hope you don't get turned off this site, Stacey. I value your presence here.

I agree with you that there are many types of Jews. "Frumkeit" is hardly the sole measure of the Jewish soul.

It's interesting how in the smaller communities, the walls will come down so easily. As I drove (yes, drove) to services last night, I saw one of my fellow congregants walking from his home to the congregation.

He joined us for services and gave a D'var Torah, being one of the more learned congregants. Not for one second did he look down on anyone in our "post-denominational" congregation for driving up to the building or using the elevator.

Some of our congregants (and the rabbi) wanted to continue learning all night. Some of us confessed we would be going to work Monday and had to get to sleep. Nobody disrespected either choice.

I hope we can all share in tolerance and generosity like that.

Stacey said...

Thank you, Mirty. That means a lot to me.

And I agree with you about the smaller communities. I have found the most wonderful shul here in TX (who woulda thought?). It's certainly warmer and more friendly than the one I grew up in back home in a very Jewish area.

And your shul sounds fabulous, too. I think I would feel at home there. I enjoy reading about it in your posts.

Stacey said...
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