Thursday, November 30, 2006

All Kinds of Awkward

In the last 18 hours or so, I have experienced two distinct types of awkard interaction.

Type 1: Ex-boyfriend awkward
To demonstrate the situation, I have made the following drawing. I am the pink girl, the roommate, is the red girl, boy 1 is blue, and boy 2 is green.

Clear? Good. So we are all on the subway together this morning. For the record, boy 1 lives on the East side, and boy 2 lives in Riverdale, so neither of them really should have been getting on the train at my subway stop. Anyway, so I dated boy 1 fairly casually, and we remain good friends. No problem. But then boy 2 gets on the subway. I dated boy 2 more seriously, we obviously broke up, and he got married over the summer, and I haven't really seen him since. Or called. Because I am awkward, and thought that I didn't have his number (I did). So in trying to ameliorate the awkwardness I tried to talk to everyone. That did not work out so well. And then I bullied boy 2 into giving me his phone number so that I can come meet his wife, only to find out that I already had it. Way to go Annie!

Type 2: 10 years gone awkward
Last night I met up for dinner with a guy that I haven't seen since I was in 7th grade at a summer camp. He now works for a fortune 500 company making more money than me by an order of magnitude. Awesome. Now, I could either have put in some serious effort and made conversation, or, since he is a nerd, I could just let the conversation founder. I did the latter, as I was exhausted from work/life.

Really, I promise that I have social skills.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Making Jewish Babies

For someone who does not like babies, I am often surprised at the amount of time I spend discussing them. Before I continue, allow me to establish that I have nothing against infancy or childhood. I recognize that these stages are a necessary point in human development and I wish babies and children well. Often, new friends are surprised at my stance on children, even after I explain that I have no problem with the procreation of others, that I do not judge the choice, and that I will happily be someone’s Cool Aunt Harley, so long as it does not require actual childcare. I am often told that I seem like someone who would be very good with children, which I am, but being good at something does not mean you like doing it or would choose to make a career of it.

I began to be more vocal about my disinterest in children when everyone I have ever known suggested I become a school teacher upon graduation. Teach for America, New York Teaching Fellows, National Teaching Fellows are all necessary programs whose efforts I applaud, but they are not for me because I am disinterested in children and being in my vicinity would be detrimental to them. Having firmly established that, I still experience the onslaught of baby questions. As a Jewish woman of child-bearing age (not to mention child-bearing hips), I am asked the marriage question regularly, every person I date clearly being vetted for future betrothal (regardless of how many times I state my views on marriage). But marrying a Jewish mate is not an end in and of itself: it is a good only insofar as we use our union to create Jewish babies. And so we’ve come full circle.

Recently in this space (see “Dis-Parity) and on David Kelsey’s blog (see the discussion following “Conflating Modern Orthodox Mores and Secular Realities”), we discussed gendered choices and gender parity in the job market. If you’ll recall, in Dis-Parity, I addressed the conflation of womanhood with motherhood, that to reject the role of motherhood is to become, socially and politically, non-gendered. This process of un-gendering women based on their procreation choices has two effects: (1) you must have children to be considered a “real woman” in this society and (2) to become successful professionally, women must become non-gendered. Either you are a successful woman, meaning you have children or you are successful professionally, meaning you are not a mother and therefore not a woman. (Disclaimer: I am not saying this argument holds true to this extreme, but that the original article logically leads to this conclusion.)

At the time, I did not delve into the psychological and emotional effects of the former statement for women living in a pronatalist society, such as the U.S. The issue is compounded for women who adhere to pronatalist religions (or have cultural or religious identities that also promote child-bearing as the primary expression of womanhood and as a basic duty). This overwhelming duty and compulsion (not to mention the biological imperative that everyone tells me will feel like a time bomb when I hit thirty) effectively forces women into making personal concessions and constraining their professional lives. And it takes a force of will (exercised daily) to choice a different path, a path that is viewed, socially and religiously, as deviant. As a choice-feminist, I believe that all women should have the freedom to choose their paths, but I recognize that, even in this day and age, that freedom is often illusory. Am I willing to give up my professional life at the expense of my womanhood? Am I willing to deny my femininity and undermine the basic tenants of my religion to pursue personal and professional satisfaction. I am not arguing that woman cannot achieve professional success and also raise children. My life is filled with women who are living examples of that daily tight rope walk. I know the choices are not as binary as I paint them, but I would like to lay bare the pressures women feel to make choices, choices that society does not place the same pressure on men to make.

So other than the fact that I am often confronted with the question of children, what inspired this diatribe? Initially, Nancy Rome’s piece in The Washington Post inspired me to reflect on women who were childless by choice (or not) in the Jewish world. For a psychological perspective on the effects of not choosing children in a pronatalist society, I read Larissa Remennick study on childless Jewish Israeli women, who also have the double-pressure of a country that privileges progeny and a religion that promotes procreation as a primary mitzvah. Remennick’s research echoed Rome’s article (and confirmed some of my fears):

Infertility became a "master status" for these women, undermining any other merits and achievements they might have. Most women fully internalized and endorsed the pronatalist discourse by way of pursuing long-term and burdensome infertility treatments, at any personal cost. The paper argues that resistance to stigma of infertility is only possible where women dare question the motherhood imperative, which is clearly not the case with most Israelis.

On top of the Biblical imperative for Jewish women, there’s the current Jewish population crisis, detailed in the UJC’s report on marriage and fertility rates. The report concludes that fertility rates are too low to replace the Jewish population, noting that “Because proportionally more Jewish than U.S. women have attained higher education, the connection between education and fertility disproportionately affects the Jewish population.” As if I weren’t already feeling guilty.

For those of you who still don’t see the undue pressure on women to choose family, read Judith R. Baskin’s paper on Rabbinic Reflections on the Barren Wife. I know I’m beating a dead horse asserting that Judaism promotes procreation, but what I’m trying to stress in bringing in these sources is that, while ideally a partnership between men and women (or women and women or men and men, but we’re dealing with the pressure of hetero-normative ideals here), the explicit imperative for having children is aimed at women, the pressure is placed on women. To the extent that having children is still viewed traditionally as women’s work and men’s choice (and, yes, DK, I know that biology places the burden on women for childbirth, I did take sex ed and I do have a uterus), women are placed perpetually in a position of making concessions. Don’t get me wrong, we all choose ultimately whether to produce fruit from our loins (or not), but in order to make that choice, we must also be aware of the way in which our world, our nation, our society, and our religion shape that choice.

The Chicago Plan

Like the Marshall Plan, but sadly, with fewer Marines. Far fewer.

Sadly, none of this.

Reasons that I need to move to Chicago:
1) I have already dated all of the Modern Orthodox Guys in NYC (not quite, but close)
2) Witzy wants to live in the Midwest, and she is my heterosexual life partner.
3) It is far from my parents' house. Maybe my father will stop pressuring me to move "home" if I go to a new city.
4) Trial run for making aliya(?)
5) Less expensive than New York.
6) It will be an adventure, just like going to Wah Fu* was an adventure. Except with fewer industrial plants. I think. Do they still pack meat in Chicago?
7) Maybe I'll finally get the song "Uptown Girl" out of my head. Every time that I take the Uptown 1/2/3 train, it starts.
8) Snow.

*If you don't know where Wah Fu is, consider yourself lucky.

Jews Love: Craigslist/Chicago

At least my apartment does. And not for the "get a good deal" aspect. No, no, for the amusement value.

Things that we learned last night:

1) Evan hates the women in his office.
2) I make more working for non-profit than I would as a mistress. If I found my "protector" on Craigslist. Maybe if I found one elsewhere it would be different.
3) I need a new hobby.
4) I need to move to Chicago

For those of you who are unaware, I have something that I like to call "the Chicago plan." It is as follows: after I finish my current job (tenure of up to two years) I will move to Chicago with my friend Witzy. It isn't really a well-developed plan yet. CJ is not a fan of the plan. His response was: "Do you like warmth? And topography? And having things to do? Then don't go to Chicago. It is colder than New York."

I would like to submit though, that I would be willing to switch prospective locations. After reading Chris's post on KosherEucharist, New Zealand seems to be a good choice. They not only have a transexual member of parliment, but also kiwis. And some fabulous rugby. Also, Chris, I don't know that "sleeping with a fat chick" is a war crime. In fact, according to my upstairs neighbor, that, and teaching girls how to hookup both fall under the category of "non-profit work."

A couple hard at work saving the world. They are so giving.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Turkey and Roasted Papas

Does anyone else find it humorous that the Pope visited Turkey right after Thanksgiving? I know, I know, it’s an American holiday and blah blah blah. But still. Now every time I read an article on the Pope’s visit, I get hungry (not to mention that when I took Spanish as a child, I always confused the word for Pope and the word for potato). So far, angry protests aside, he has yet to offend anyone; he only landed today, but that’s still long enough to insert papal foot in mouth. Both The Washington Post and the New York Times report a tense atmosphere in Turkey in anticipation of the Pope’s arrival. Against the Grain offers an extensive background on attitudes, from religious and secular groups alike, about Pope Benedict XVI. Just be aware of his possible pro-Catholic, right-leaning bias. For totally unbiased coverage, visit the official Vatican website, where you can find their press release on his trip.

More on the trip when something actually occurs, as opposed to endless speculation about what might possibly transpire considering the tense and hostile atmosphere of a controversial Pope.

Jews Love: Dating

So much so that we have a ridiculous number of websites that cater to us specifically. A rundown:

Jdate: According to their site their mission is to "strengthen the Jewish community and ensure that Jewish traditions are sustained for generations to come. To accomplish this we provide a global network where Jewish singles find friendship, romance and life-long partners within their faith."

Frumster: They say that "Frumster’s Jewish dating web site provides a private and comfortable environment for Jewish singles sincerely searching for a marriage partner. We maximize a member's prospects for success through hands-on management and innovative communication solutions." As the name would suggest, it tends towards the more traditionally observant. And more irritatingly (for me at least) categorizes people by observances such as what type of kippah they wear, and how often they pray.

FutureSimchas: The tagline is "brought to you by OnlySimchas" which some of you may know is the site that serves as a sort of billboard for engagements, weddings, and other happy occasions within the Orthodox Jewish community.

SawYouAtSinai: The only one of these services that has a matchmaker associated with it. Or several matchmakers actually. According to the site "combines the power of technology, the accessibility of the internet and the personal touch of a Jewish matchmaker to make matches that meet your unique personality and needs. Our experienced Jewish Matchmakers are from diverse backgrounds, and focus on different age groups, religious levels, locations and personalities. Our matchmakers work with Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish/Black Hat Jewish singles from communities throughout the world."

Jmatch: I lied. Apparently Jmatch also has matchmakers.

JLove: Apparently "Jewish love begins here." Although I have found that Jewish love begins at shabbes meals, that is just me. They say that "JLove is devoted to preserving traditional values and keeping the essence of Jewish unity alive. We are committed to winning the hearts and minds of the global Jewish community and to do so JLove is dedicated to delivering the most outstanding service possible."

Did I miss any?

At any rate, the proliferation of these sites has had somewhat of a backlash. That is right, blogs about the horrors/joys of dating within the Jewish community, either online or otherwise. There are, of course, many many many dating blogs, but here are some of those that I particularly enjoy.

Jewcy has a dating blogger section. I wonder what it means that my first question on reading every entry is: "is [name of person being dated by the blogger] Jewish?" It isn't so much that I care whether or not they in-date, as that I am curious. I am such a yenta*.

The original Jdating blogger, Esther Kustanowitz, has a site JdatersAnonymous which is all kinds of fabulous. You should go and worship on the altar of her awesomeness. Or not, 'cause that is avodah zara**. On the same note, Nice Jewish Guy has a blog Attention Frumster Shoppers which details his post-divorce search for a soulmate. Cute Jewess just joined Jdate, and as lame as it sounds, I am kind of excited to see what happens. Meanwhile, Smeliana just deleted her Jdate profile.

Of those who are not affiliated with a particular site, my favorite (am I allowed to have favorites?) might be Amishav of Chai Expectations. He earnestly admits that his blog's raison d'etre is "shameless self-promotion" and he not only gives accounts of his dating prospects, but asks his readers to weigh in on such issues as "goatee or no goatee." I basically find it charming.

Although she does not blog exclusively about dating, Jessica of Suburban Kvetch does mention the golden rule; "Jewish dating rule #1: always date a Jew." (Sorry Harley, we can have a fight about interdating-vs-indating later) Leah Jones, of Accidentally Jewish (via Shebrew in this case) is having some trouble following that rule. According to her she dated more Jewish guys as a gentile than as a Jew, and in her column (see the link) explains why.

In a hilarious aside: I promised my father that if he could find me three boyfriend prospects, that I would move back to Virginia for grad school. Needless to say I can only imagine that he is spending his discretionary time on our home computer trolling Jdate for guys for me.

*Yenta is a Yiddish word and means a busybody, someone who is always in everyone else's business, especially as pertains to their romantic lives.

**Avodah Zara is the Talmudic/Biblical term used for idol worship or any other form of paganism.

Jewish Geography

Search terms that have led people here:
naked charedi women
is rob lowe jewish (x5)
sufficient to have stood
mincha widget
short quizzes on Isaac the son of abraham

Search terms that I wish had led people here:
Annie is super hot
place for super-cool sexy people
tall masculine orthodox jewish boys looking for b'sheret

And because I have to at least include a link, Treppenwitz has a post about obsessively checking one's blog statistics; a habit that Smeliana seems to share.

Fat is the new fit?

Appropriate for those who gorged themselves at Thanksgiving:

The New York Times (paper of record, you know) had an article on size-ism this week called "Big People on Campus"mostly about the discrimination that those who are obese suffer on college campuses. As the other roommate pointed out, the article does not really address the fact that you can be as "body-positive" as you want, obesity is a health risk. Laura B of Bumblebees and Manatees had a different concern, also echoed by the other roommate:

whenever the Times publishes any kind of article dealing with anything that smacks of feminism, legitimate social concerns involving women, or even MEDICAL or SCIENTIFIC studies involving women, they always publish it in the Fashion & Style section. Way to go, guys. Let's trivialize any subject that holds valid interest for women by classifying it as nonessential information on par with where mid-level celebrities had lunch yesterday and why men's dressy shorts are sure to become a blazing hit on Wall Street next season.

The Slate, a Washington Post partner, in its "Explainer" section talks about the links between food and sex vis a vis evolution. In an article called "Girth Control" William Saletan talks about "food and sex without the consequences." He says that Birth Control pills have allowed people to have sex (which is enjoyable so that we will do it and procrate) without the natural consequence of childbirth, why should we not be able to eat fatty, sweet, salty foods (enjoyable so that we can build up fat) without the natural consequence of becoming fat? Saletan suggests that we are none too far from that goal where we can just take a pill and eat whatever we want. Figleaf of Figleaf's Real Adult Sex disapproves of Saletan's tone, he says that "Saletan sees both pregnancy and obesity as consequences of having too much "fun." Lisa V of Vindauga isn't a fan, but for a different reason, she claims that birth control "scares [her]" but at the same time wants a "vasectomy for the stomach." I was under the impression that gastric bypass surgery was fairly close to the second, albeit with more complications.

In conclusion? My roommates and I, instead of dieting, are all doing Yoga/Pilates in our living room every evening. If you know where we live you are welcome to join in the absolute ridiculousness that is my apartment.
We look something like this, only sillier.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving: Accomplished

Two quick Thanksgiving-related anecdotes.

1) Only recently did a supermarket in my community start carrying kosher poultry. Before that, if you wanted kosher meat you had to drive 1.5 hours each direction. Yeah, there are places where that is worse, but it sucked. One of the first things that we got was kosher turkey for Thanksgiving. When it came in, community rabbis asked that even those who did not usually keep kosher purchase the turkeys, so that the store would be encouraged to carry them.

Fast forward a few weeks, and it is Christmastime. A rebbetzin is shopping at this supermarket, and the store manager comes up to her. He has good news! The store will be stocking kosher turkeys, just in time for Christmas dinner! Well, hilarious as this was, the community wanted to support this type of enthusiasm, so many a family in my community had turkey dinners during Hanukkah that year.

2) As per my request Aunt L provided two types of potatoes. Seperately, she provided whiskey sours which pretty much put me in the key of "giggly" for the entireity of dinner. Moral of the story? I pity those who marry into my family. We are nice, but have a number of strange quirks. And certain members can best be described as "a bowl full of crazy."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving is Swordfish

Well, it’s official. Thanksgiving? Originates from Sukkot. The question is, does that make the holiday kosher or does that fact that right-wing Christians (yes, the Puritans were the Quiverfulls of their day) appropriated and Christianized the holiday make it treyf*? Not only is Thanksgiving based on Sukkot, notes the Jewish Journal, but the parallels between Jews and pilgrims abound:

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history. After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.
Danny Sims, a Christian minister from Fort Worth, Texas, recognizes that the great American holiday has Jewish roots. Although he had previously blogged that Thanksgiving has no ties to religion, he posted today that it has indirect ties to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (AKA: Sukkot). Apparently, some Christians (even those who do not consider themselves Messianic Jews) celebrate Thanksgiving by staying in Sukkah-like booths. Danny and his family will be staying in their tent camper twice this week and, “When we do, we'll talk about God’s blessings. This is not exactly celebrating the details of the Feast of Booths. But it is celebrating a spirit of thankfulness.” Now, isn’t that nice? In related news, the Roseland United Methodist Church has a Sukkah also (which it calls its Succoth booth) that it uses to house its canned goods drive.

The AJC has a podcast on the connection between Sukkot and Thanksgiving, which is more of an advertisement for a reader they put out highlighting the diversity of America. While I am impressed that they know how to make a podcast, I didn’t need to plug in my earphones to listen to a 30-second radio spot. For the content of the reader, it’s better to visit the website, America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Reader, where you can download a free copy, since I know you are all interested in hearing the AJC’s take on American pluralism.

Joseph Farah’s article, originally posted on World Net Daily, decries the divorce of Thanksgiving from its spiritual and theological roots (it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas).

Yet, there is no way to divorce the spiritual from the celebration of Thanksgiving – at least not the way the Pilgrims envisioned it, a tradition dating back to the ancient Hebrews and their feasts of Succoth and Passover.

Undeterred by the failure of their first approach to economy in the new world, a form of socialism that failed miserably according to the article, they embraced capitalism and, guided by the hand of God, had a plentiful harvest. They set up trading posts with the Indians and started life devoted to free enterprise and God.

But it wasn't just an economic system that allowed the Pilgrims to prosper. It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that's what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.

Fairytale is my favorite genre, too, but at least he agrees that the holiday has biblical roots.

Subversive Influence has a post on Sukkot in relation to Thanksgiving, which you really need to read to believe. I gather Brother Maynard, who writes the blog, is some form of Christian, but damned if I can describe what. Not only does Thanksgiving have biblical roots, according to Maynard, but it’s still part of a vibrant tradition of connecting to God through harvest. Neat.

And lastly, something entirely different: for information on the history of turkey, check out the Oxford University Press, who posted an article by Andrew Smith called “A Traditional American Thanksgiving.” Highly informative, even though it has nothing to do with Sukkot or God.

In answer to my original question, I think Thanksgiving is like swordfish: maybe it’s kosher, maybe it’s not, but it sure is delicious.

*treyf: not kosher

Jews Love: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving may or may not be a goyishe (non-Jewish) holiday, but many Jews celebrate it nonetheless.

Jumpin' Jewess at Jew York City is very excited about what she calls the "impending foodfest," and I can't say that I blame her. I personally parlayed a bit of sibling rivalry into two types of potatoes... hey I know which battles I can win. Phoebe seems a bit less excited about Thanksgiving, if only because the preparations require a trip to Fairway, which is mobbed. Josh Goldman of Why Josh Can't Be Left Alone doesn't focus on the food, but instead on the football. In his case the Indo-Jewish football game, apparently a Chicago tradition among his high school friends that has been getting a lot of press lately.


Not everyone is so sure about the holiday though. Dovbear presents two views, for and against the observance of Thanksgiving, and whether or not it is in line with traditional Judaism. However, for some others it is not just a question of the holiday itself. On the side Beyond BT there is a great deal of discussion about how to navigate a family-centered holiday if one has less in common with family than one used to. Issues dealt with are kashrut, shabbes, and how to preserve shalom bayit*.

There is some question as to whether or not Thanksgiving is a specifically Christian holiday. Danny Sims, a Christian blogger suggests that Thanksgiving is an "American Sukkot."I'm not sure about that, but within Jewish families the observance of Thanksgiving often mirrors that of Passover, as described by Mark Rubin in his blog Chasing the Fat Man. The latter comparison actually makes more sense to me, as both Passover and Thanksgiving have a large festival meal as the focal point, where family are gathered around a table. I guess that technically Sukkot is a harvest festival, but for me the defining characteristic is being outdoors in the somewhat cold, so the meal is rushed. But then again, I am from the (sort of) South.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Know Your Jewish Community: Jewish Youth Culture Publications

Gawker seems to want to know where Not Chosen works. In the interests of helping them, I'm going to give a run-down of a few of the major Jewish publications.

Heeb: hipster, counter-culture, and generally quite entertaining, focuses a lot on pop-culture.

According to their website: "Armed with poisoned pens and some duct tape, Heeb Magazine was brewed in Brooklyn in 2001 as a take-no-prisoners zine for the plugged-in and preached-out. Still wreaking havoc with unflinching coverage of arts, culture and politics, Heeb has evolved into a critically-acclaimed lifestyle magazine and the self-anointed voice of young Jews today. Now a multi-armed media monster, Heeb reaches hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide who look to it as the unholy gospel of the smart, funny and absurd."

Also, DK writes for them.
For more click here.

Zeek: A bit more highbrow, if with lamer release parties, Zeek is a "literary journal." This means that not only are their contributors unpaid (I think), but also that the content is supposed to be arty. The contributors are not limited to the younger generation, either for good, or for bad, and they, like Heeb have a theme each issue. Founded in 2002, it is, according to its website:"an independent Jewish journal of thought and culture, which features innovative writers, artists, and critics whose work speaks to questions of Jewish culture, society, and spirit." For more click here.

Guilt and Pleasure: a product of Project Reboot, an attempt to attract young Jews to Judaism with culture. Or to solve the problem of (lack of) affiliation. Or to create Jewish culture. Or something. Anyway, aside from the reasons for its conception, Guilt and Pleasure is terrific. Highbrow, beautifully written and designed, fantastic art, and always has interesting pieces. Its goal, as per the website is to "make Jews talk more." Not so sure that that was really an issue with Jews as a people, but it certainly serves as the basis for many conversations, like "did you know that there was an official IDF magician?" or "why aren't there so many Jewish boxers anymore?" Long story short? I love G&P.
For more click here.

Jewcy: Tahl Raz's new project (did I mention that he is super-cutie?) it is supposed to be a sort of Slate-like, open source content, online magazine. The content is fairly uneven, but there are some terrific pieces, like the wikified Amidah, any content by Laurel Snyder or Joey Kurtzman, and of course their t-shirts. The tagline: "what matters now" seems a bit pretentious, but considering that the paid staff of Jewcy aren't claiming that they are the arbiters of what matters, I'm willing to let it go. I intitially agreed with Steven I. Weiss' view of Jewcy, but it's been growing on me.
For more click here.

Nextbook: I am not sure that this counts, but it should. A Jewish "Arts and Letters" Nextbook is just fabulous. They have online content, podcasts, a newsletter, and some programs that I wish that I could go to including a program called "one book, one congregation" where an entire synagogue can be a book club with books written specifically for the purpose. The topics include biographies of Maimonides, Emma Lazarus, Barney Ross, and others. For more click here.

For the record, I don't think that Not Chosen works at any of these magazines.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ties that Bind

In addition to the question, “Who is a Jew,” which alludes to halakhic debates about lineage and parentage, maybe we should ask, “What is a Jew”?

Jews who reject halakha often feel somehow deficient. They choose the non-halakhic life (whether by study or by inaccessibility), but balk at the label, “Bad Jew.” The attitude of the traditionally observant to the non-observant is that if they were truly educated, truly aware of the depth and richness of following halakha, then they would be “Good Jews.” That the choice to opt out of halakha, the intellectual, philosophical, and often emotional choice to live life not by the rabbinic law code, marks them as “other” and even “less then;” in the realm of those to be pitied, along with the goyim. The question is: does being a non-halakhic Jew make a person a Bad Jew? Is a Good Jew primarily defined as a person who follows halakha (which begs the question: which halakha)? In which case, why bother? If I truly believe that I am not bound by halakha, that God did not give those laws, but rather they are man-made, and if I reached this point through extensive study and consideration (I know, I know, I’m young, how much study can I have done so far?), then am I a Bad Jew? Unquestionably Judaism is a struggle. I don’t know a single Jew, even a traditionally observant Jew raised in a traditionally observant household, who doesn’t struggle with his or her religion. I think that struggle is the result of having an inclusive literature and an action based doctrine. It should not matter what you believe, so long as you do (we can discuss the nuances of that claim another time). So what happens when what you believe restricts what you do? When observing halakha without the attendant belief is no longer an option?

Neil Gillman teaches that once our myths are broken, we practice anyway. We choose Judaism, Jewish myth, Jewish ritual. For a myriad of reasons, we place our feet firmly in the stream of Jewish tradition, even if we know that stream to be a human construction. If we fail at this task, then what remains? What is Judaism, if not a system of laws that govern behavior, a call to ritual and prayer?

The Center for Cultural Judaism frames Judaism as “the history, culture, civilization, ethical values and shared experiences of the Jewish people. [Cultural Jews connect] to their heritage [through] languages, literature, art, dance, music, food and celebrations of the Jewish people. It is not religious beliefs that connect them to each other, but the entire civilization of their extended Jewish family.” Okay, that’s one perspective. Culture is certainly compelling at a Weberian level, but is it enough to cohere a people together? Does it provide enough positive content to answer the question, “What is a Jew?”. Nextbook and JVoices have also been attempting to address the question of positive Jewish content beyond halakha through a series of interviews with non-traditional Jews. Both series are worth perusing (although the Nextbook pieces go into greater depth and are in a more formal interview style), particularly because they offer unusual perspectives from:

A writer, who’s encountered her share of tragedy;

A band manager and bar owner, who inherited a questioning cultural identity from his atheist parents;

The product of a Muslim-Jewish union, who’s raising his son Jewish;

A woman who connects to Judaism through activism;

A Reform Progressive Jew;

A gay Jew, who reflects on growing up in a mixed religion household;

A woman who continuously reaffirms her choice to be Jewish;

And an aspiring writer of Yiddish punk songs.

And, lastly (for now), Eric M. Selinger describes the struggle of the non-Halakhic Jew:

Let's strip it down to something practical. I know many, many non-Halakhic Jews, both religiously affiliated and utterly on-their-own, and almost of them feel any real nostalgia for "halakhic certainty." None would trade their misbelief, disbelief, or make-believe-belief for any sort of blessed assurance. Does this mean that they do not feel nostalgia? Not necessarily--but what they miss, or feel they miss, might be better understood in purely social and psychological terms than in religious ones. And even here, they're savvy enough to know that the price of what they feel nostalgia for--some version of "community," I suppose--is far higher (in freedom, in modernity, etc.) than they'd ever be willing to pay. And some don't feel that they're missing anything, really, at all. That may not be a Nietzschean confidence, but it's not loss & rupture, either.
He's close, but I can't say I don't feel like I'm missing something. Sometimes, in choosing one road, you have to pay the price of loss, even if it is of something you cannot quite quantify or in which you cannot quite believe.

Oh, babies.

So now that Jewcy has launched, I basically read it all the time. Some of the articles are awesome, but many are awful.

However, there is an article by Laurel Snyder on the topic of haredi women who have many, many children. (Apparently I love talking about the haredim lately) She is basically freaked out by their reasoning, and also worries about the lack of social services both for women who cannot concieve, and those who have 18 or so kids.

In contrast Newsweek has an article about the "quiverfull" movement. Probably the most creepy name ever for something involving children. The gist of the movement is that some Christians have stopped using birth control a) because it is sort of a pre-abortion, b) because only G-d gets to choose who has kids, and c) because there should be many Christian babies.

Like this, but with babies.

What really gets me is the creepy rhetoric: the quiverfull people are "opening their wombs to G-d" while the haredim are having lots of kids so that the messiah can come. And for the record, both of those are severely reduced versions of the arguments.

And how does this relate to my personal life? (Because you know that you care) CJ decided to tell me his list of baby names for his own personal male offspring. He had 3-4. And that is only for the boys.

Another Modest Proposal

Female modesty is apparently a hot issue in Judaism right now. A few examples:

Treppenwitz posted about a recent meeting of Haredi rabbis whose major concern was standards of dress within their community. He compares this "urgent" conference with the cancelled conference on the issue of Agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce). By contrast Orthomom says that she can "understand the reason behind this gathering," and suggests that it might signal the end of "Hot Chanies" at least in that particular community. OnionSoupMix doesn't advocate for or against greater modesty of dress, but she does suggest that the haredi girls should be more literal in their reading of the torah and include nose rings as a part of their attire. JustAnotherSWJF on her blog Want Some Cheese With That W(h)ine does seem to advocate a return to modesty, but struggles with what that modesty should entail. She comments that "women get the short end of the stick when it comes to guidelines for dress" but also that she watches "Pants off Dance off" when it comes on tv.

One specific aspect of female dress that gets a lot of coverage (no pun intended) especially in the current political climate is the mitzvah of kisui rosh or headcovering for women after marriage. There is a great deal of discussing of this in the blogosphere by Christian women, which sort of fascinates me. One such example is LisaM of Old Fashioned Lady. While I did go to a parochial Christian high school (Luthern Missouri Synod), and I sort of got that some Christian women wore hats to church, it didn't occur to me that there was an ideology behind it. Which I guess is sort of silly of me. At any rate LisaM says that she "came to understand that a woman covering her head is natural, submissive, modest, and even beautifying."

And last but not least, Michelle of In My Humble Jewish Opinion has a post, post and a half, about the issue of modesty and belly dancing, or other types of dancing, even in spaces where men are absent. She suggests that belly dancing is not really so acceptable, although technically according to the law it might be ok. She says: "Why do I deem it inappropriate? It just is." Which reminds me of the conversation that I had with CJ last night where his argument was "I'm not wrong here." As someone who as taken belly dancing classes (single sex, and modestly dressed, don't worry!) my concern was whether or not it qualified as avodah zara*, not whether it was modest. But then again, I also go jogging in Central Park.

*Avodah Zara is idol worship, or any practice which is the ritual of another religion. For instance, some people believe that it is forbidden to do classical Indian dance, even out of context, because it was used as a part of religious ceremonies.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Not a Sermon...

Just a thought.

Ok, that was funny if you are from the DC Metro area/know who Lon Solomon is.

Anyway, two things:

1) Apparently I am not the only person who wishes that Rob Lowe were Jewish. A number of people have found this blog by googling the terms: "Rob" "Lowe" and "Jew/ish." Sadly, he is still not a member of the tribe.

2)I went to Kol Zimrah on Friday night. It really isn't my scene, but that wasn't such an issue, I went in knowing that it would have a guitar, egal services, and lots of singing. I was actually in the mood for a good, sing-y version of Kabbalat Shabbat. Sadly, although there was singing, I had a couple of issues:
a) The guitar was out of tune. It nearly killed me.
b) All songs were started too high, and it was really hard to sing along.
c) Those leading not only had fair-poor voices (which can usually be made up for with enthusiasm), but were also seemingly unclear on the nusach*.

And then on the way home I was cat-called more than I have ever been in my life. To be fair this is not KZ's fault. However, it does make me wonder. What about a knee-length skirt and modest top yells "please proposition me?"

*Nusach are the traditional melodies for prayers, which vary by geographic region, and also by whether the service takes place on a holiday, weekday, or shabbat.

Friday, November 17, 2006

If You're Going to Yell, Please Yell Softly

So, Jewcy has gotten in on the Newsweek/Washington Post concept of fostering dialogue online. Their “Big Questions” series opens with a discussion between Sam Harris and Dennis Prager.

“Author of the thundering anti-theist polemics The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris may just be the Thomas Paine of an emerging movement to wrench religion out of American life. Prager is a nationally syndicated talk radio host who trumpets the virtues of the Judeo-Christian tradition and skewers the arrogance and moral idiocy of atheists. For the next four days, each of them will send us one e-mail per day.”

I can’t imagine why atheists would be angry, when Jewcy refers to Harris’s work as polemic, and describes him as a person who’s attempting to “wrench religion out of American life,” whereas Prager is lauded for “skewer[ing] the arrogance and moral idiocy of atheists.” Fair and balanced; nothing upsetting there. I'm going to assume they were being tongue-in-cheek because I know the Jewcy guys and they have good senses of humor.

Now on to the meat of the post (you knew it had to come eventually).

Periodically, I post parts of an on-going discussion that I’m having with The Rooster about atheism and religion. What you don’t know is that these posts are a microcosm of the actual argument. Were I to post every detail, no one would ever get any work done; least of all me. In the interest of contextualization, I’ve been keeping up on the explosion of the atheist/theist debate in magazines, journals, talk radios, newspapers, and online. It seems that everyone’s having the same problem we’re having: attempting an argument on two different levels, with too many variables. We’re arguing about two distinct topics: God and Religion. The Rooster, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins may not believe in God, but God is not truly the target of their anger and frustration. They are called a-theists, but what they truly are is anti-religion.

Now, whenever someone places the “anti-“ prefix in front of a word, everyone gets their panties in a bunch and the dialogue goes down the toilet. These men do not believe that religion is the root of all evil, nor would they argue that eradicating religion would suddenly make the world a perfect place filled with sunshine and rainbows. The truth of the matter is that they believe that the mindset of religion, one they characterize as inherently false because it rests on believing not provable or disproved myths, combined with the explicit assertion that a particular religion is The Pathway to The Truth, creates a culture of conflict and paves the way for bloodshed, particularly when dealing with fundamentals and absolutes. Without religion to foster falsehoods, they contend, our minds would be free to pursue other, newer methods for accessing the Truth of the Universe: science and reason. Religion served its purpose thousands of years ago, when wisdom literature attempted to deduce the hidden order of the universe, but our methods have since improved and it is time for our minds to improve along side them. This argument is entirely atheistic, which is to say that it has nothing to do with God. So let’s leave God out of it.

I know, I know. My atheists will argue that God is at the root of the argument, at the crux of the issue, but really, God is beside the point. So when Harris and Prager argue on Jewcy, Harris talks about the effects of religion on society and Prager talks right past him, about the atheistic belief that there’s no God. And then we enter into the abyss of proving an alternative hypothesis. When arguing about religion, why can’t those defending the faiths talk about the benefits of religion? Why do they (we?) always find recourse in attacking the philosophical claims of atheists without addressing the meat of their arguments and the source of their anger. Surely, the argument that atheistic states have committed as many atrocities as theistic states is true, but not one that adequately defends religion. I know because I’ve offered this defense, to no avail (and felt slightly icky afterwards). They are saying that religion has nothing to offer but pain and suffering, that it is an outdated system that only does harm, that the meager benefits it may offer in terms of culture and community only compound the suffering it causes by creating false boundaries between people. Those of us who choose to associate with religion (or those who feel it’s inborn and not a choice, but an internal reality, like blue eyes and fair skin) should be able to offer positive content.

Why choose religion? What benefits does religion offer? How would the world suffer if religion were gone (not abolished, the aforementioned atheistic states tried that to calamitous ends)? Frame the argument without “Because God said so” or “Because we have no choice.” Not because those may not be valid truths (I’m not even touching that), but because they are beside the point and aren’t compelling to people who do not believe in a God who demands that we follow a set of laws and rituals, who do not believe in God at all.

Chayyei Sarah

This week's Torah reading is Chayyei Sarah, or the life of Sarah, which is ironic because she dies something like two lines in.

I am fairly heavily invested in this torah portion, as it is the first appearance of my Hebrew namesake, Rivkah/Rebecca. For those who are not as familiar with the story, Isaac/Yitzhak, son of Abraham/Avraham needs a wife. Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to go take care of that. He prays to find someone, saying: Let the girl to whom I shall say, “Please offer your jar that I may drink”, and who shall say, “Drink, and I will water your camels”—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.’ (Genesis 24:14) Sure enough, immediately Rivkah shows up and offers to do just that.

And here is where things get dicey. According to many sources Rivkah was 3. I'm not going to debate the factual problems with a 3-year-old carrying enough water for camels up and down the type of wells that were then in existence. My main issue is that the commentators, and modern people accept this midrash. For example Aaron Freeman in his Comic Torah suggests that "a slow 40 year old and a precocious 3 year old were a perfect match." Maybe I am just oversensitive in the wake of Foley et al, but eeeew. Dovbear is similarly perturbed by this reading, but says that he doesn't feel like he is "equipped to decide between these arguments." Alex Israel of Thinking Torah shares my concerns, but reconciles them through a neat bit of exegesis; positing that the sacrifice of Yitzhak is not actually linked to the death of Sarah, as many commentators suggest.

Chaim B. of Divrei Chaim doesn't address Rivkah's age, but uses the presumption that she was three at the time of her marriage as the basis for a practice of young girls lighting shabbes candles. He does admit that: "I am not sure a three or five year old is ready for the mitzvah yet (especially using matches and a candle), so in our house we wait for the girls to get a little bigger." Although three may not be old enough for lighting candles, or marriage, according to the torah it is old enough for nose rings. Lazer Brody of Lazer Beams starts his discussion of the portion with the quote: "And the man[Eliezer] took a golden nose ring…and two bracelets… And he asked, "Whose daughter are you?" (Genesis 24: 22-23)"

Aside from the age issue, Rivkah and Yitzhak actually are two players in a beautiful love story. Unlike other matriarchs, Rivkah actually chooses her fate, as it says:"And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’" (Genesis 24:58) Not only is she an agent of her fate, she was chosen based on merit (the camel-watering incident), but she also, at least in Yitzhak's mind, takes the place of Sarah. The end of the chapter reads:"Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death." (Genesis 24:67) The whole Oedipal thing might be a little gross, except for the fact that it is prefaced with "and he loved her." Not the usual biblical "and he knew her" or "and he took her" but that he loved her.

Akiva, a guest poster on Mystical Paths discusses this love in more depth. While the more practical Josh at Parshiyos suggests that Yitzkah's acceptance of a wife is the first step towards assuming the reins of Avraham's leadership of the Jewish people.

I prefer to read it as a love story, but then again, I'm still waiting for my b'sheret*. Anyone know a Yitzhak?


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Things I am Over

You know what I'm over? I am so over identifications with caveats. As in, "I am a Reform Jew but not one of those "non-denominational-post- congregational-wiser-than-my-elders" smart asses;" I hear it all of the time: I’m a girl, but not one of those girls. I’m an American, but not one of those Americans, or those Americans, or, heaven forbid, those Americans. There’s always a smug superiority in that phrase that has the dual purpose of simultaneously identifying ones-self as part of a group, but placing ones-self above the members of that group. Don’t worry, I’m one of the better ones. I’m Jewish, but not one of those Jews, I’m one of the good ones.

Also, I’m over dissing the post-denominationalists. Don’t you all have better things to do with your time than dismiss the beliefs of others? You already think you’re superior, surely the superiority of your version of the faith will manifest itself over time and the loser “smart asses” who dare to label themselves differently and worship different will be revealed for the heretics and charlatans they are.

I am the perfect Jew

Harley and I just read this blog post by Jewish Philosopher. In the course of which he says: "Even if God would command me to slaughter my own precious son, I would be obligated to do so, as indeed Abraham was willing to slaughter Isaac at God’s command (Genesis 22)." Which is intense. Even more so are the comments, an anonymous commentor says that: "Either you are lying or you have a monstrous nature just like the concept of your god is monstrous." To which Jewish Philosopher responds: "And you, my little Anonymous, have no concept of loyalty or discipline. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die."

Harley: What? There is all sorts of stuff in the bible that we don't follow.
Me: No there isn't. I follow everything in the bible.
Harley: Liar.
Me: Hey, I have an altar in my living room, I sacrifice stuff all the time. The odor is pleasing to G-d*. But don't worry in my incense mixture I make sure not to add honey. Cause that makes it invalid**.

*NUMBERS 15:16 make a freewill offering, or at your fixed occasions, producing an odor pleasing to the LORD

**There is a paragraph recited during the Saturday morning Mussaf (additional) service that comes directly after the prayer Ein Kelokeinu (there is none like him) that gives the directions for making the biblical spice mixture. One of the requirements is that honey not be added, or the mixture is invalidated.

Jews Love: Christians

Or they should. According to Mobius of Jewschool they certainly love us. Or Israel. But who, aside from Ahmadinejad and DK (l'havdil*) think that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are different? Really.

In all seriousness though, I can't help but wonder what this means for Orthodox/traditionally observant Jews. Basically, a Lutheran woman just won a religious discrimination case where she claimed that she was being discriminated against because she refused to work on her Sabbath (in her case, Sunday). For those who are unaware, many traditionally observant Jews do not work, or perform any of the 39 prohibited categories*** of action on the Sabbath, which is defined as sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night (when you can see three stars in the sky).

*L'havdil is a statement that means, basically, I am using these two together, and they may have some similarities, but you should not really compare them. It is generally used in a religious context, when comparing (or not) religious to secular people/ideas/etc.

** The 39 prohibited categories are known in Hebrew as the "Avot Melachot" a single one is a "melacha." These categories come from Exodus 31, where it states "You must keep the sabbath;" lists the activities that were done in the building of the tabernacle, and then finishes with "the Israelites should thus keep the sabbath." Commentators took this to mean that "keeping the sabbath" entailed abstaining from these labors, and used the process of exegesis to tease out what behaviors/actions could be considered as "melachot." That is why I don't use electricity on Shabbes.


In an otherwise superb article on gender, race, and politics, I came across this gem, “Fredrick Harris, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, sees a post-gender future out there, and its name is Condoleezza Rice. The secretary of state, he notes, "is unmarried, has no children, is completely dedicated to her job, for pleasure she plays the piano and works and that's about it."” Directly related to the argument that Annie and David Kelsey have been having on his blog about gender parity, this comment reveals that they are arguing over what is essentially a false choice. The question is not whether women choose more flexible careers and hours because they want to have families, but whether that choice honestly exists in this society. If men had an equal obligation to make that choice, then the issue of gender parity would truly be based on life decisions left to the individual (or to partners). Just as women choose to take the obligations of time-bound halakha, men choose to take the obligations of family. But this choice is not necessary for them to have a family. The “post-gender future,” for women, is to choose between having a family or not. The implication is that you are either a woman, and choose to marry and have children, or you are not a woman, and choose to dedicate your life to your job and playing piano.

Odds and Ends

I have a news aggregator on my computer called "Findory" so I often get bizarre, but interesting stories. On the top of my "suggested" list this morning was the following story.

From USA Today: An Idaho town is mandating that all of its residents keep guns in their homes to protect against, wait for it.... Hurricane Katrina refugees. Ok, so that aside, the debate is centering around the relationship between bearing arms and citizenship in the US. Considering that I am currently reading Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America, it was interesting to see the parallel debates tying good and responsible citizenship to soldiery and armament. By the way, the book starts slow, but picks up about 50 pages in, after the interminable introductory chapter.

Anyway, I'm not going to get into a second-amendment debate here (although having grown up somewhere without guns for 5 years, clearly NOT Virginia, I am on the Brady side of the line), but I'd like to point something out: they Idahoans are demonizing the Katrina refugees as bringers of crime and danger. The predominantly minority/low income refugees. This is bad enough, but did no one tell them that Greenleaf is a suburb of BOISE? Nowhere near the gulf coast. Not even a little. I'd be more worried about a submarine-launched attack by the Japanese (which happened in Oregon during WWII) than Katrina refugees. But that is just me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Awesome Reasoning

R. Sheshet said: “A woman’s hair is erva*, as it is written (4:1) ‘Your hair resembles a herd of goats. . . .’” From Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought

Why is hair like "a herd of goats" considered attractive enough to tempt men to sin?

*Erva is a classification for body parts/hair that require covering because it/they are alluring

An Update

In case you were not thoroughly confused, already, I took one last quiz: User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.

The website explains:

Left Wing Modern Orthodox: 71%
Right Wing Modern Orthodox: 70%
Left Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 31%
Right Wing Yeshivish/Chareidi: 8%

What does it mean?

Congratulations. You're Modern Orthodox all right, but wait! Just when you were ready to live an idyllic happily-labeled life they announce Left Wing and Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy. What the heck is up with that? Maybe you need to rethink and refine some of your positions, and then take the test again so I can put you in a little box.

I need an aspirin.

Sufficient to Have Stood, But Free to Fall*

I do not know how many of you were once 13 year-old girls, but I remember that time if not with fondness, then at least with a nostalgia that has dampened memory of the trauma. That was a time of self-discovery and self- reflection. And what does any young girl do when she wants to figure out who she is, what she wants, where she’s going? Online quizzes! What Superhero are You? (Spiderman); What Sex in the City Character are You? (It’s complicated; let’s just say that I’m not at all Charlotte); What Kind of Pie are You? (Pecan Pie: “very nutty and quite rich”).

Now an adult (or what passes for an adult), questions of identity still trouble me, if you hadn’t noticed. So what to do in these tumultuous times of trouble? Online quizzes! Imagine my disappointment that these quizzes were not as fulfilling as those of my youth. Perhaps the internet has developed in the last 10 years, but quizzes have not improved. In the interest of blog research, I subjected myself to six different quizzes. I was hoping to parse my religious identity, find my place along the grand spectrum of practice and belief. Instead, after answering a panoply of barely relevant and periodically enraging questions, I discovered that I am an Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Satanist Jew. Satanist wins, since I got the answer thrice, but Orthodox Jew was my favorite because: what?!?! There must be some major disconnect between those who write these questions and the religious beliefs that they are supposed to symbolize if I could possibly be labeled Orthodox, even in an anonymous online quiz.

What I found most disheartening about these quizzes was not their inaccuracy, but the extent to which the questions in no way represented a spectrum of belief or were reflective of the questions that actually matter when a person searches for their religious identity. Questions such as, “If you had to choose which TV or movie character you identify with most, which of the following would you choose?” flatten the possible choices of belief, leading people to think that they have to choose to be Tevya or that guy from Northern Exposure, either an Old World yid or a disenfranchised secularist. I realize that these are just quizzes and I shouldn’t take everything so seriously (or so Annie says), but I do think they are representative of a general attitude toward religious belief and practice. To the extent that we focus on labels and force people into categories, we deaden and dampen their potential to express themselves religiously. Traditionally observant Jews identify as Reform and Conservative, as well as Orthodox. And my penchant for reading Jewish texts does not magically transform me into a “highly traditional” Jew.

So, without further ado:

1) Most confusing: What Am I Chopped Liver?

Tzimmes Jew: Like this Sabbath-evening fruit and sweet-potato side dish, your Jewish identity is highly traditional, even as it adapts with changing times. A basic recipe is supplemented with various individualistic flourishes. Judaism plays an integral role in your life, though your identity is not defined solely by it.

2) Most angering: What Kind of Jew Are You?

Orthodox Jew

3) Most thorough: What Kind of Religion Are You?

Satanist (67%) (I also got Satanist on an older version of this quiz.)

4) Second most thorough: the Belief-O-Matic

Unitarian Universalism (100%)

5) Most stupid: What Religion Best Suits You?

Satanist, again

6) Most impossible to answer: What Religion Should You Belong To?


For those of you who are now worried that I will be heading out to worship the Dark Lord, according to my reasearch, “Satanism… focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes.” Great. Now excuse me while I go buy some black lipstick and get in touch with my inner-Ayn Rand.

*Milton, Paradise Lost (Book 3, line 99)

Know Your Jewish Community: Modern Orthodox

If any of you actually read through yesterday's conversation, you would see that I defined Modern Orthodoxy as: "being modern, being religious, seeing the issue, and saying: Well, f**k."

Apparently I am a prime example of the "100th Monkey Syndrome" (brought to my attention by YoYenta!). According to XGH of Existential Angst "every blog" in the jblogosphere went over the question of "What is Modern Orthodoxy" a year ago. I am behind the curve. In the interests of creating new material, he focuses instead on what it means to be "Orthodox." Which is a short list.

XGH was responding to a recent post by Rabbi Gil Student of Hirhurim, on what it means to be Modern Orthodox (MO). While I don't really love his flippant "You might be Modern Orthodox if..." style, the points are unobjectionable, and describe me pretty well. Until the end, where he cautions his readers to "note that stringency and meticulousness in halakhah is not on this list." WHAT? I am unclear as to whether he is saying that MO does not include this practice, or if it goes without saying because the practices/beliefs are otherwise Orthodox.

No, drawing kippot on famous people never gets old.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac of the blog Voice from the Wilderness, in a post which he calls "remotely relevant" to the discussion on Hirhurim, gives three examples from a talk on Modern Orthodoxy of the problems that he sees with the ideology. They are: New ways of studying the Bible; the critical study of the history of halakhah; and new approaches to women's ritual roles.

In the blog post that started this debate Jshick of The Zionist Conspiracy asks a number of questions about how to classify Modern Orthodox people as Modern Orthodox. He says that "many who would be placed on the MO side of the divide are serious about Jewish observance and Torah study. Many on the charedi side have a positive view toward Israel and to secular knowledge and a negative view toward out-of-control daas Torah that leads to book bans and edicts regarding the Internet." He, in turn, is responding to Chananya Weissman's article in the Jewish Press on labelling observant Jews.

So, basically, the answer is: "Well, f**k."

Songs I unironically love

That have little/nothing to do with Judaism.

1. Ridin' Dirty by Chamillionaire
2. Bananaman by Tally Hall
3. How to Save a Life by The Fray
4. Winter by Joshua Radin (although most of his album is amazing)
5. Gasolina by Daddy Yankee
6. Dierks Bentley, enough said
7. World Spins Madly On by The Weepies
8. Broken Road by Rascal Flatts
9. Life is Short by Butterfly Boucher
and last, but not least
10. Call on Me by Eric Prydz

There Are No Words

To describe this:

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. The name-calling is really juvenile, and it reminds me of nothing so much as Americans directly post-9/11 when "we" put Osama's face on urinal cakes, and dart boards.

I kind of hoped for more from the Israelis. At least more clever, or something.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Respectful Disagreements

This morning, Annie and I had an argument about this post, a rabbi’s answer to a gentleman asking about whether his parent’s opposition to intermarriage was racist, considering their lack of Jewish content. Aside from my views on whether Judaism is a race (see Judaism: Not a Race), I took issue with the rabbi’s answer. The following dialogue resulted:

Annie: He’s saying, Jewish content makes Jewish marriages

Harley: He did not say that. He said Jewish marriages make Jewish marriages and that if you marry a non-Jew, you are accepting something as part of yourself that is inherently alien

Annie: He did, and also that Jewish marriages are an important part of Jewish life. I agree. Just like marrying someone from a foreign country is inherently alien; although you are still an American, you have incorporated non-Americanism into your being

Harley: Jewish content means Jewish marriages, I do hold that view.

Annie: And to some extent Jewish marriages make Jewish content

Harley: But that does not imply that Jewish content necessitates two Jewish partners?

Annie: He isn't saying that, but he is saying that two Jewish partners create Jewish content

Harley: He's saying that Jewishness is inherent and that, regardless of practice or belief, you should marry another Jew

Annie: That is what the Jewish religion believes: that religion is inherent

Harley: Because there is something inherent about them that is true that is not true of other people? But then what about converts?

Annie: We assume that they were actually at Sinai

Harley: Judaism believes that Jews are separate? Then the nationality analogy holds no water. You are not inherently French. You were born in France. God did not make you French

Annie: No, but in terms of identity, you were born French, but you marry an American, so issues of America become part of you

Harley: That's a good point, that you deal with another person's identity when you marry, but he's not saying that. He's saying they are implicitly different because they are not Jewish, which implies that even if they embrace Judaism, so long as they do not convert and were not at Sinai, they are inherently other

Annie: But they are implicitly different. They didn't grow up Jewish and we waive that for converts

Harley: Yes, but what does that mean beyond observance? And culture

Annie: They didn't grow up with the culture, with the specifically Jewish values

Harley: He's saying that it does not matter if the person has NO Jewish content, they are still Jewish [which I agree with to the extent that anyone who self identifies is Jewish, but not that this accident of birth makes them more appropriate for marriage]. Given that, even a person with no positive Jewish content, who happens to be born of Jewish parents, is still inherently different from someone who grew up the exact same way, but with Christian parents (by birth) or atheist parents

Annie: I think so

Harley: That people are inherently Jewish? Even if they have no positive content? You believe we were all at Sinai together?

Annie: I don't think that people were born by accident into a Jewish family. You are assuming that people just "happen to be" born into Jewish families. but according to Jewish theology, the "chosen people" idea extends. You aren't just Jewish, you were born Jewish, which assumes a pre-birth selection

Harley: And for converts, they were born into the wrong family? A pre-birth selection by God? God looks at souls and says: you are Chosen; you will be born into a Jewish family?

Annie: Yeah. basically, and converts are retroactively selected. They opt-in

Harley: So Jews are superior to non-Jews? Or just different?

Annie: Just different. our whole religion is based on the idea of "separate." I am not saying that they were born better, but are you going to argue that if you were born Jewish that your life is different qualitatively than someone who isn't? Even if you have no Jewish content. That by being aware of the fact that you are Jewish, is a different situation than being Christian/Muslim/etc?

Harley: That's contextualizing yourself historically and has nothing to do with an inherent identity. The same could be said about being born American and not Malaysian

Annie: I am saying that both are true

Harley: You are not saying born better, but you are saying Chosen and you are saying different.

Annie: Because you are inherently Jewish, you have a different experience. If you are Jewish, but don't know it, for instance, you cannot measure whether or not the person has a different experience/identity because they don't know

Harley:: Like Madeleine Albright or George Allen? According to your argument, they are inherently Jewish, they are Chosen, but the danger in the argument is not necessarily that being separate or being Chosen affects your life experience (b/c the same could be true of being American, being Senegalese, being German), it's that in saying you are inherently different because you're Jewish buys into all essentialist arguments about identity and feeds into other arguments about difference: “Jews are inherently different”

Annie: Ok. I understand what you are saying, BUT I don't think that you can take it out of context. I think that you have to accept that we live within a world. so to separate "inherently different" from "different life experience based on that inherent difference" is meaningless. You can't measure inherent difference and I think that that is what the rabbi is trying to say. Not that b/c we are inherently different in a vacuum that marrying a non-Jew changes that, but that b/c we are already a separate nationality/religion; it does make a material change who you marry

Harley: It is something you have to consider when you marry, yes. Just like you have to consider all other sorts of beliefs and values, but that is not what he's arguing. He's arguing that regardless of those values and beliefs, regardless of whether someone is raised with those values and beliefs, that you should marry a Jew. And arguing that there's an inherent difference creates a false separation since you can't measure inherent difference. To say that there is one and you should make such a serious decision based on something that he argues is not quantifiable beyond birth parents is absurd. He's not arguing from "raised as a Jew." He's arguing from "born as a Jew," even if you are eating bacon in a church on YK

Annie: When you marry someone, they become part of your life, part of your identity, you forever have been married to this person. When you are raised a Jew, it affects you, whether you buy into the idea or not. Whatever it means to be raised as a Jew, even if you are just ware of the fact that you are Jewish, but he isn’t arguing it in a vacuum. Born as a Jew in a world where being Jewish means something, regardless of practice

Harley: That makes no sense in terms of marriage

Annie: He is saying that observance is irrelevant and identity is not

Harley: In that sense, you should only marry someone who's background reflects your own in every way? So you cannot marry a Black man? Because being Black means something in this world

Annie: Not that you cannot, but that it changes your identity and if you put primacy on in-marriage, it is a change that you do not support.

Harley: But if he's Jewish, then the argument still holds. His upbringing is different from yours; he's had different effects on his identity by nature of his race

Annie: You are not incorporating values that are not the same, not the values that you want to transmit, because he has opted in.

Harley: Your original argument is that being Jewish in the real world has implications in terms of identity, "being born as a Jew in a world where being Jewish means something, regardless of practice" can also be said about being born Black in a world where being Black means something; it's also identity and an identity with an affect on your life. My point is that by your argument, it is better to marry someone with the same identity as you because identity means something in this world, it affects you, regardless of practice. That argument is generalizable beyond religion to any trapping of identity

Annie: But the only one that is negative, in this context, is non-Judaism. I can marry a Yankee, as long as they are Jewish and as long as I accept that Yankeeism is going to pervade my life in some way. I have to decide how important it is to me to be Southern. If I marry a non-Jew, I have to deal with Christmas.

Harley: I'm saying that the argument can be generalized, so that it sounds not very flattering. You can say that you want to marry a Jew because you have positive Jewish content and Judaism is very important to you. Just like being pro-choice is important to me or marrying someone with an open mind, but we're not talking about you. We're talking about someone born Jewish and that’s it. That’s the extent of their identity.

Annie: Right. but if someone is born Jewish, in THIS world, that affects who they are/their experience. If they marry someone who is not Jewish, it affects their life differently than if they marry someone who is and fundamentally affects their identity. They are forever "intermarried" with whatever that means. There are two separate beliefs that I am espousing: 1) Jews are born Jewish/opt-in which is an inherent difference, regardless of what they do with that; 2) being born Jewish/ opting-in comes with a great deal of attendant identity issues, which someone who is not Jewish can appreciate, and sympathize with, but do not own. Someone can feel for me as a woman, but if they aren't a woman, they don't own it

Harley: I disagree with the first pt b/c I don't think Jewish is inherent. I don't disagree with the second point, but I do think you need to recognize the implications of your argument

Annie: Fine, but it is very difficult to be religious without accepting the first. I recognize the implications, but I think that you need to narrowly define it to Judaism as a positive/negative value. It changes you to marry a non-Jew. It also changes you to marry a Jew

Harley: Then marriage changes you, period. If your argument is only that marrying someone changes you, then that's fine and straightforward. Of course it does. If your argument is that marrying someone with different beliefs and values or with different hurdles will affect your marriage, I still agree with you. But we're talking about people whose goal is NOT Jewish content, so your argument boils down to: there is something easier about marrying someone who is also Jewish, regardless of the ways that manifests itself, which can be applied to race, as well and other trappings of identity

Annie: Well, it is easier. That doesn't make it better in terms of race, but as someone who wishes for the survival of the Jewish people, regardless of race

Harley: And regardless of content

Annie: I have a stake in Jewish content continuing, even at the lowest levels

Harley: Survival of Jewish people regardless of whether they have Jewish content?

Annie: As Jewish people, self-aware, even if totally non-practicing and unaware of what that means because where there are aware Jews, there is a chance for content

Harley: Wouldn't it be better to marry a non-Jew who's willing to embrace your values and raise your children Jewish than a Jew with no content? What does Jewish identity mean if there's no content? I agree there's no such thing as a bad Jew, but you're not willing to date people who are not frum in the same way. You're really arguing that blood is more important than action?

Annie: I am saying that someone who has not decided to be Jewish cannot own Judaism in the same way, positive or negative, no matter how supportive they may be of your lifestyle

Harley: But someone born Jewish who has not decided to be Jewish is no different. You argued that inherent difference was not quantifiable.

Annie: That is false, they are different, by virtue of being aware of their Judaism

Harley: If there's no content, then what's the difference between being aware that you're Jewish and being aware that that you've Russian ancestry?

Annie: Very little. I see the issue, don't think that I don't. That is what Modern Orthodoxy is about: being modern, being religious, seeing the issue, and saying: "well, %$#@%$" I live two frickin lives. It would be so much easier for me to be orthoprax* totally and sectarian.**

*orthoprax: orthodox practice, only chill with Jews, read Jewish stuff, separate myself form the world because I am chosen

**sectarian: I don’t engage with other views, because they have no value; Jewish values trump all