Friday, August 03, 2007

Sick and Sickened

I was out sick for a week with a virus that made me want to pull a Max Cohen and put a drill through my frontal lobe (am I the only one who thinks of Pi imagery when I'm feeling really under the weather? Does that indicate some severe mental issues on my part?). Yet, I didn't feel truly nauseated until I read Norman Lamm's response to Noah Feldman's New York Times article in the Foward (lots of possessives there, sorry-- the Feldman piece was in the Times, Lamm's response was in the Forward).

We've been over this issue again and again. You all know both how I feel about in-marriage and how I feel about the absurdity of our attitudes towards exogamy. We've discussed at length how I think that our attitude toward out-marriage and patrilineal descent (and by "our," I'm referring to the more traditional strains of Judaism, who don't recognize P-descent) alienates Jews and shrinks our community unnecessarily, how I think that it instills bigoted attitudes, and reinforces a tribalism that's unhealthy for anyone who lives in a global community.

I don't care if it's halakha or if it's biblical; it's not an argument to which I'll concede; laws codified several hundred years ago (not to mention those that come from a text written when selling your daughters was legal and considered normal) don't hold moral suasion to me, now.

Norman Lamm says that it makes him weep that Noah Feldman has undergone "self-imposed alienation" due to his "weakness of the flesh"? He asks:

For Heaven’s sake, do you prefer that religion — any religion — deal with any
thing but that which is important in life? Is this the Judaism you want? One
that will make you feel warm and fuzzy and cuddly, one that will make
grandiloquent pronouncements and issue pretty pieties — anything but what is
really an “important life decision”?


I think that Noah may wish for a Judaism that doesn't enshrine bigotry as tradition, that provides his wife with the opportunity to have a Jewish household or to exist in a Jewish world, that treats her like a human being, even if she chooses not to convert. Who wants to convert into a religion that will only have anything to do with you on the condition that you convert; that only values you as a wife and mother if you convert; that looks beyond the fact that your children attend shul and that your husband engages in Jewish life because you chose not to convert? That may not be the intent, Jews do value non-Jews, but the effect is to devalue Feldman's wife as a person, even before she was his wife.

And the argument that a major value of Orthodox and Conservative Jewry is in-marriage and so that justifies their attitudes is specious, to me. Maybe it's time to question a "value" that "forces" the community to treat a human being like a sack of air or that denies membership to a valued scholar because of whom he marries.

I think Noah may wish for a Judaism that has moved beyond the mindset that Judaism can only survive if we fend off assimilation. I know I do.

I know that outside influences change and shape Judaism, but I refuse to see those changes as dilution. I refuse to look back fondly on shtetl life, a ghettoization we were forced to live under for hundreds of years, and see it as an optimal way to live my religion. The Judaism that exists today is new and different: different from that of a Jewish nation in ancient Israel and Judea, different from that which thrived in kahalim across Europe, different from the pockets of competing traditions that peopled the Lower East Side at the turn of the century.

We spend so much time being afraid of losing ourselves, we spend so much time focusing on what we had, that we no longer look to the richness of what we could have.

I realize that what I say means very little. As a liberal, atheist, non-halakhic Jew, I might as well be speaking gibberish. Change comes from within and, like Noah, I've put myself without by the nature of my views and my choices. But when people like me opt out because they no longer see Judaism as a tenable choice, no longer see the community as one with which they can struggle, what does that say about Judaism?

I attended the (Conservative) seminary because I was fascinated with the history of Judaism and its texts. After thousands of years, we have so much to offer the outside world, so much wisdom, so much ritual, so many intricacies. Since when is halakha more important than humanity? Where's my Judaism? I would hate to accede to The Rooster, especially because I know how much he'd enjoy it and I'd hate to give him the satisfaction, but Jews like Norman, who'd cut off his nose to spite his face, all in the name of law, make it so difficult. Law may be all we have, but when it forces us to act inhumanely, we have to look closely at our values and wonder if the great, often liberal (for their time) rabbis were alive today, would they approve or our exclusivist, reactionary take on the religion they molded?

I hope not.

2 comments:

The Pedant said...

Judaism, like every other religion with adherents that try to live in the Western world (and not recreate the 1600's there), has a serious problem with how to deal with people who want to keep the religious label but want to ditch what were previously core tenets of the religion.

Jews have a little more of an out than, say, Episcopalians, because we are made up of a claimed common tribal heritage as well as having a religion, so in the clutch we can patch over our differences dogmatically because we all have a kinship tie.

But still, we just don't know how to deal with people who are basically doing all the stuff we don't consider part of our religion and calling it "my Judaism," or worse, Judaism "for the modern age." Nobody likes hearing "look! I'm flouting our religious tenets, which you only care about because you're a neanderthal!"

Nobody reasonable wants to bring back inquisitions, excommunications, and stonings for blasphemy. But there is a point somewhere that a believer has to be able to say "look, that's just not how we do it, and basically you're a heretic" without censure.

It is perfectly fine to be a heretic in this era, but one can't expect that the original religion will ratify your heresy or even continue to consider you one of their own still.

Sultan Knish said...

his wife has the opportunity to live in a jewish household

it is not a choice that either she or noah have made

what exactly then gives noah the right to demand that a religion reshape itself to meet his demands?