Wednesday, 11 January 2012

More on the Triangle

My perception of Judaism and the Jewish community has transformed over the last decade and a half. I used to very much perceive the Jewish community as the hierarchy that I described here.

I made the mistake of confusing the strength of one's belief in God with the intensity of one's Jewish identity. My misconception was that those on the top of the hierarchy buy into the Jewish God hypothesis, while those on the bottom either don't, or do but to a lesser extent. I believed that, as an atheist, I automatically fit on the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of Jewishness. I come by my atheism honestly. My previously devout great-grandfather went "OTD" during WWII, and declared: *"קינדער. נישטא קיין גאט אין דער וועלט".  "Children, there is no God. What kind of God kills so many people and spills rivers of blood?". (With all due respect to my Gread Grand Deda, my answer to his question is : "A Jewish one". The Torah certainly has no shortage of senseless killing.)  I am a fourth generation secular Jewish atheist - so much for the theory that assimilation will kill off the Jews! Nevertheless, I perceived that my identity as Jewish was simply a result of halachic default . . . a loophole that made me Jewish because my mother is halachically Jewish etc. 

Once I began to strongly identify as an atheist, I did not feel myself to be genuinely a part of the community, and certainly wanted to distance myself from the doctrine underlying Orthodoxy. I was very uncomfortable participating in any religious activities. I felt I had no business as an atheist participating in something that was sacred for others, but not sacred to me. It seemed disrespectful. I also boycotted any religious synagogue services, including those on Yom Kippur.  In part it was for similar reasons: as an atheist who values honesty and integrity, there was something very hypocritical about going to shul - particularly since I was not fasting etc.

Also, as time went on, not only did I feel that the Orthodox synagogues were not reflective of my beliefs, they were counter to my beliefs. I could not - and continue to avoid tacitly or actively -  supporting organizations  that do not promote equal rights, and though many Orthodox people support the equal rights for women and gay people, Orthodox Institutions, IMO, don't. In any case, it was a gradual transition from rejecting Jewish Orthodoxy to embracing Secular Jewish Humanism (though I only discovered the label recently - in the last year or so).

My husband and in-laws, to their immeasurable credit, accepted me despite my "quiet rebellion" (or, truth be told, just didn't take it too seriously!), and through their unwavering welcome of me in the family, I began to appreciate the beauty in the shades of grey in Jewish life. Though my instinct, as informed by the "triangle", was initially to abandon all things Jewish, and say, "well, I'm just Jewish by default. Moving on", I saw value on a social level in the Jewish practices my in laws observed. When I cut out the "God" part, passover dinner was still a nice way to reconnect with the extended family, and Friday night dinner is a lovely tradition.  All experiences I had never had in our household as a child.

I bobbled along happily shnorring the Judaism off my in-laws' events until we had children. When my son was born, making Jewish choices became important once more. Things like the bris, having to start making decisions about education, how to celebrate holidays etc., forced me to confront where I stand Jewishly, and how I want to present being Jewish to my children. In part, the introduction of the concept of  Orthopraxy finally shattered the myth of "belief" as the distinguishing factor of the Jewish hierarchy. People find themselves in different denominations for different reasons. I've tried on this blog to point the multitude of factors that have informed my belief system. Had I been born into a frum family, perhaps I would be in a different category on that triangle, but maybe not. The triangle, thus slowly melted for me into a continuum (see below), and then became the circle - with no implicit gradations of Jewish. I finally saw myself as just Jewish, and just as Jewish as everyone else.     
The transition from a "triangle" to a "circle" representation also changed how I saw myself in relation to my MO relatives . In seeing the Jewish community through the hierarchical lens, the divide between my interpretation of Jewishness and theirs was defined by commitment to halacha. From this perspective, my MO relatives' lifestyle seemed closer to UO lifestyles than to mine. As I shifted in perspective to the more inclusive/pluralistic model of Judaism, I came to interpret Judaism more as "the shades of grey". On the one extreme, in highly seclusive UO circles (this is not ALL Haredim), where all knowledge is prescribed by Jewish doctrine ("black"). On the other extreme, complete assimilation, and no Jewish identity ("white"), and in the middle are the shades of grey. I have more secular influences informing my lifestyle, so I fall into a lighter shade of grey, and they have more rabbinic or religious influences, so theirs is a darker shade of grey. Nevertheless, for both them and me our Jewish identities are a fluid and transient mix of black and white.     
*Thank you R for the translation


  1. >equal rights

    But these are rituals. It's not a question of rights nor of an issue of justice. So you can say it would be nice if women were offered the same ritual involvement, but how does that become a "right"

  2. > I made the mistake of confusing the strength of one's belief in God with the intensity of one's Jewish identity.

    The pyramid chart doesn’t illustrate “intensity of Jewish identity.”It illustrates levels of fundamentalism. One can be very religious without being at all a fundamentalist, and one can have a fundamentalist understanding of Judaism while not being all that religious.

    As for the rest, as I see it, there is the Jewish nation and there is the Jewish religion. One can be Jewish in the same sense that one is American (or Canadian). And one can be Jewish in the same way that a Christian is Christian. And the two have nothing to do with each other.

  3. HH: When women can't become rabbis and gay people can't get married, those are issues of rights to me.

    G*3: re: pyramid chart + intensity of Jewish intensity.
    Yes, I know, that's why I said "I made the mistake of . . . " It took me years to shake that perspective, since I thought that for most people belief dictated practice . . . I was just a bit slow on the uptake that that was not necessarily true, and that people practice for a myriad of reasons besides belief.

    >there is the Jewish nation and there is the Jewish religion . . . And the two have nothing to do with each other.
    But they do have something to do with each because the majority of Jews rely on halachic - i.e. _religious_ definition to determine membership in the nation. As long as secular Jews rely on halachic definitions to accept who belongs in the nation, the religion and nation cannot be so neatly tidied into two separate boxes. For a little laugh, here's one of my favorite videos on this theme:

  4. There are laws governing American citizenship too. So Judiasm’s citizenship laws have become identified with religious rules. So what.

    Chances are that matrilineal descent is based on Roman law anyway.

  5. >When women can't become rabbis and gay people can't get married, those are issues of rights to me.

    Why is a women not becoming a rabbi any different than me not being able to be priest?

  6. @HH: It's not, and I woudn't be surprised if the priests got the idea from rabbis in the first place. If I were in a Christian denomination where women weren't allowed to be priests (or take on prominent leadership roles), I'd probably be unhappy with that too. But I'll leave that to the like-minded Christian bloggers to sort out on their blogs!

    G*3: So we are in agreement that your statement "The two have nothing to do with each other" is not true?

    re: So what?

    So, I think for people who practice Orthodoxy there's a sense that Orthodoxy is a more "authentic" form of Judaism. For people "living Orthodox" Jewish national identity and religious identity are not disconnected entities. Am I wrong?

    But, for secular Jews, particularly for those to whom halacha has little to no connection to being Jewish, I dont understand, why on the question of who is Jewish they all of a sudden loyally defer to halacha.

  7. HH: I just realized that I had misread your question You asked: "[How is that] different than me not being able to be priest?"

    (I read the "me" as "you" and interpreted the question as: how is it different from a woman not being able to be a priest vs. as Jew not being able to be a priest.)

    ok - so re: the question you_actually_ asked.

    It's different because you can convert to Catholicism, and become a priest. I can't solely as a function of my anatomy.

  8. :-) I think you misunderstood. Judaism has the priesthood also. The Cohanim.

    You have the regular people: Israel. The Levites that serve the Temple and priests. And you have the cohanim that basically do all the Temple sacrifice jobs. These positions cannot intermix. And Israelite cannot become a Cohen no matter how much he feels he has a "right" to it.

  9. Ha ha! Yes, I totally misunderstood . . . Besides, how was I supposed to know you're not a Cohen!

    OK . . so I don't know enough about the Jewish prieshood (clearly), but I'll do my best to answer based on what I've gleaned from Wikipedia :) . . .

    The short answer: Being a non-Kohen is inconsequential, while being a woman is not.

    The long answer:

    Just so that we are on the same wavelength. I'm starting from the assumption that Orthodox Judaism is a man-made enterprise meant to serve human needs. And although equal rights were not valued at the time this enterprise started, or at the very least were understood differently, equal rights to me is integral to maintaining dignity, which I see as a human need.

    I'm pretty indifferent re: temple roles for Kohanim and their evolution into special rituals as prescribed by OJ because I don't think these make much difference in the quality of life of the vast majority of Jewish people. Few non-Kohen's are missing out on any real opportunities because they aren't Kohens.

    By contrast, the prohibition of women to become rabbis, and, by extension taking on any real community leadership roles, has huge implications for women. As students, since the Orthodox education system works under the assumption that women will not become rabbis, and therefore don't need to know as much Judaism, girls (as far as I understand) are given a less rigorous religious education than their male counterparts, which - though as a teen I probably would have been grateful for the lighter workload - is really an insult to their intelligence, and later puts them at a disadvantage in voicing opinions re: Judaism.

    While being a Kohen, does not offer any opportunities for employment and leadership (other than symbolic ones in synagogue rituals, as far as I know), being a man does.
    The Orthodox version of the religion - halacha - is pretty much all written and revised etc. by men. Women - though they are 1/2 the population - have little to no voice/decision making power in questions that greatly affect their lives.

  10. Equal rights is equal rights. The Kohen Gadol is ideally the religious leader of the nation (in those times). What would you have said to an Israelite that felt discriminated by the simple fact that he was not born into the right tribe?

    I guess this is where we disagree. Where I can see your point that having a female rabbi might have benefits, I lose you when you start calling it some intrinsic "right." In my opinion, it is a shame that there are a lot of women out there have been taught that unless they serve at the same capacity as a man, it diminishes their dignity, that's just my humble ol' opinion.

    BTW- If you go to more modern orthodox schools, you will find plenty of girls learning Talmud. Personally, I don't think the education given to the boys is superior to girls. It's different, but not superior. Seriously, just look at some of the fanatic males that come out of a 15 hour Talmud day. Do you REALLY want to see women like that too? ;- )

  11. HH:

    This answer is a way of avoiding CL's overt, sociological perspective, which is about what is relevant TODAY.

    If the system two thousand years ago discriminated against some, then maybe the Israelite SHOULD have felt disenfranchised. Clearly that was not a very sustainable system, to have to tithe so much and travel to Jerusalem three times a year, etcetera.

    However, whatever the societal flaws of yesteryear, the point is, when we choose to retain elements of the legacy from that era, are we retaining the bad with the good?

    Today, it is clear that the Cohen's role is small and symbolic. No "Israelite" loses a paying job opportunity, or real effective power in the synagogue or elsewhere, because he is not a Cohen.

    Because of their exclusion from formal roles in the synagogue, on the other hand, the message to women is that they are not meant to be leaders, intellectuals, community counsellors or full-time religious professionals. There's a cognitive dissonance going on, because of course women are all of those things in their secular lives, but the religion still seems to be saying "separate but equal", which just doesn't hold water:

    You say: "it is a shame that there are a lot of women out there have been taught that unless they serve at the same capacity as a man, it diminishes their dignity, that's just my humble ol' opinion." But, if this "capacity" that is reserved only for men is also held to be the highest position in our communities, then it is logically and *necessarily* a diminution of women's dignity if they are told that they should not even strive for it.

  12. Amen Blusterfly!! Hi and welcome :).

  13. Like what I said above. It's one thing to say you wish more invovlement of women, it's another to say it is somehow a "right" that you intrinsically own, but someone is denying you it.

    >but the religion still seems to be saying "separate but equal", which just doesn't hold water:

    Says who? How is it that you get to decide that the values and suppositions of Judaism and its "dagesh" on roles does not hold water? "Seperate by equal" was a mean to an end. Racism. But there is no difference between white and black. Skin color means nothing. But that can't be said of sex. Judaism sees a difference between the sexes, assigns certain roles for each and moves from there. Now, you say that doesn't work in this case. But based on what? Are you saying it doesn't work because objectively it doesn't work, or because post 60's there has been more of a push towards "sameness" between the sexes, and therefore, we claim from that , that it is absolutely wrong and that all of womankind before that we diminished in their dignity?

    I mean, we are both working off different values, therefore our conclusions will differ. Sorry that I repeat this, but I don't see how you can claim some form of right within a religion. If the Israelites 2000 years ago felt disenfranchised, SHOULD they have changed it? Since laws of Kohens are pretty much black and white, do you change THOSE laws, or do you work on the problem why people are feeling disenfranchised. Are orthdox women today REALLY feeling disenfranchised? If you would conduct a survey on orthodox women, do you believe that most would say that they are disenfranchised by a lack of female rabbis? That they dignity is dimished? Or is everything here projecting a bit?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...