Orthodoxy

Crossposted at New Voices

I sense that my readers probably believe that I’m pretty liberal. In fact, I sense that it’s simply taken for granted that if we can all agree on anything, it’s on how archaic, naive, and altogether hateful Orthodoxy is.

And that’s why I’m sensing it’s time to lay down the law on why I’m thinking of choosing an Orthodox conversion.

This list is supposed to be read all together; I tried to impose some sort of emergent order to it.

1.) This campus is slightly anti-Semitic (if you’re paying attention). When we were discussing Zionism in class, one girl spoke up to say she just could never understand how the Jews could “take away someone else’s happiness for their own happiness.” I’m not an expert on the subject, but it seems that the default position is that “the Jews took the land away (ideally, forcefully) from the defenseless Palestinians and they just want what’s rightfully theirs.”

Next, I am writing a paper for another class, given the following instructions:

 The paper will focus on the question of relating to other peoples. 

Read Nehemiah 13. How does Nehemiah attempt to secure the identity of the people? Why does Nehemiah act the way he does? Now read Ezra 9-10. How does Ezra attempt to secure the identity of the people? Why is intermarriage such a big deal? 

Read Jonah. Are the foreign sailors and the people of Nineveh depicted positively or negatively in Jonah? What is YHWH’s relationship with foreign nations according to this book? 

Read Ruth. While set in the days of the judges, Ruth is almost assuredly a story from the Second Temple period. What is the primary purpose for telling this story? What does the characterization of Ruth tell us about ethnic boundaries? Reflect on the difference between the attitudes toward the foreign wife in Ruth and in the post-exilic writings of Ezra (Ezra 9-10) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:1-3; 13:23-28). Could the book of Ruth be read as a protest against the extreme emphasis on purity in the post-exilic period? 

It’s clear to me that Nehemiah 13 and Ezra 9-10 are commentating on the subject of foreign nations to show that intermarriage is causing the Israelites to sin (particularly Nehemiah). There’s no “racial superiority” element. However, I’m fairly certain this is what my Protestant teacher is getting at, because we were told to write about how these texts promoted “Jewish ethnic identity”—not to mention the fact that he considers these writings evidence of “extreme emphasis on purity.” His idea, I suppose, is that the Israelites were insular, particularist, and simply couldn’t stand outside influence. I wonder how he feels about Jewish law against intermarriage today. Those Jews, why can’t they just be normal and Christian like everyone else.

Third, and less noticeable, is the way the Jewish students on this campus think of themselves. I often hear stereotypical jokes about how “Jews are good with money” among them all the time, or how “The Jews are serving FREE pancakes!”, or how they refuse to host pro-Israel events or speakers on campus, or how they are more concerned with promoting intercultural dialogue (and hosting Shabbat dinners with the Muslim Students Association) than with understanding their own religion.

The saddest thing was when we watched a short documentary film called The Tribe in my Judaism in America class, which went through the fact that Jews are 0.3% of the population, and it dramatically listed all the pogroms through the centuries, but it was awkwardly mixed in with humorous bits on how there are hippie Jews and yeshivish Jews and all the different types, and ended with this lady reading her poetry about how the Jews were attacked in every generation “now tell me I don’t look Jewish” and I was like “Whoa” and all my friend Hannah had to say afterwards was “LOL all those stereotypes are true!”

“Non-Jews are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.” -Jonathan Sacks

2.) To concede to “modern values” is really to concede to the French Enlightenment. As I learn more about the history of the splits, the more obvious it is that the Enlightenment had everything to do with it. Truth comes from reason. Look, there is nothing wrong with this statement. I’m in a symbolic logic class, after all. I know a thing or two about truth. But this “reason” came with a price—anything that couldn’t be immediately deduced via the scientific method was considered of an older, lesser era; and Jewish ritual—non-rational as it is—went along with it. The Enlightenment, along with its emphasis on reason, also emphasized universal brotherhood, “beauty,” “decorum,” and “elevated minds and spirits.” Judaism, then, started to be seen as dirty, base, and in need of revision.

Particularism, of course, had no part to play in this fraternité and egalité. This, along with the newfound freedom of the Jews in tolerant America, led them to feel assured that the ultimate way to continue living in non-persecutory lands was assimilation (i.e. universalism), and that the natural way to attain that goal would be to get rid of all those Jewish peculiarities that were impeding it. I suspect this happened without premeditation. “Reforms” happened, and only later on did an ideology attach itself to those reforms. It would be a mistake to assume that a group of enlightened people came along with new ideas of “individual autonomy” and the like and constructed reforms forthright. It’s likely that the reforms were simply emulation of Christian surroundings rather than a conscious effort to repudiate Judaism, but before long that is exactly what the reforms appeared to be.  (Rabbis dressing like Protestant clergymen and calling themselves “reverend” helped.)

3.) To concede to “modern values” is really to concede to Protestant values. Did you ever wonder why universalism is such an important value (does “we are all one in Christ Jesus” mean anything to you?) I have a feeling that a lot of our progressive values are really just Protestant values. You can’t really tell because, as we know, America itself was founded on these timeless virtues. Case in point: Modern Biblical criticism is quite distinctly a Protestant affair, and although they are far too professional to conclude that “it was all leading to Jesus,” they have no trouble claiming the “cult” was solely meant to “keep the Israelites’ identity separate from the Canaanite nations” and that a distinction must be made between Temple “cult worship” and unregulated worship outside of Jerusalem. Moreover, these scholars greatly enjoy shutting down opposing arguments by citing other scholars and claiming that “they know the Hebrew” when only a cursory glance will show that indeed they don’t (our History of Ancient Israel teacher once wished us a “tova shana”). But I digress.

Look, the Torah isn’t meant for everyone. (I’m looking at you, 1999 Reform platform.) Its ethics, yes. Its truths, fine. But I don’t think we should pursue universalism as a Jewish value. Nor is “ethical monotheism”—”shucking the husk”—desirable. It is a Protestant value to suppose we can get to the core of the matter without ritual, commentators or authorities; by scripture alone. We shouldn’t eliminate what makes us peculiar because it’s offensive to the untrained ears of Christian neighbors (this is why the Talmud and Aleinu were abridged, and also why the early reformers decided to change some words of the service around in English). I think this is the first step in allowing ourselves to completely synopsize and compress our religion into something palatable for everyone—and the 1999 Reform platform, which explicitly encourages spiritual seekers to find their home in Judaism, does just this—which is easy when it’s pared down to universal ethics. But that’s not what Judaism is.

The most noticeable instance of this is the separation of ritual and ethics, popular in Reform Judaism. I’m still surprised that no one noticed that this is probably the most Protestant idea ever, yet it is a central tenet of Reform. The ethical mitzvot are obligatory and the ritual are not (I wonder how they came up with that?)

4.) Liberal Judaism is about concessions. This doesn’t sound very nice, but think about it. Both Reform and Conservative platforms are written so as to appeal to what the largest amount of people want to hear. It’s as if they are trying to sell themselves to the largest amount of people, offending as few as possible. The Reform platform is extremely vague, and oddly although it doesn’t allow for people who believe the Messiah will be a person, upon inspection it would seem to allow for a Jew for Jesus to join its ranks.

The Conservative platform itself is better, at the very least setting ranges, but still in practice it seems forever condemned to making mainly utilitarian decisions. Its practice for issuing takkanot for non-dire situations seems quite impetuous at times. For instance, the driving teshuva was not only made during a time when, strangely, clergymen were actually encouraging their congregants to live closer; but also it was worded in such a way so as to apply forevermore. Gone, therefore, was any impetus for a person to one day move to be closer to the synagogue. Some say that this teshuva was a good thing because people just are moving away, but that’s what I mean by concession. It’s one of the more useful “descriptive” teshuvot, if you will. But others, of course, make all sorts of efforts to allow electricity and even television on Shabbat, “provided it’s tuned to an educational channel”! This is a real teshuva, and although our Conservative rabbi didn’t agree with it, a Conservative rabbi could choose to advocate for that teshuva. This concession was absolutely not necessary.

Orthodoxy doesn’t generally provide concessions. Although with less amicable rabbis it may be a painful three-mile walk to shul on your cane, unlike Conservative responsa that allow something like driving for an entire community of Conservative Jews—truly needed by any given individual or not—Orthodoxy seems more wont to consider such cases on an individual basis. I often say that I don’t want to affiliate with a denomination that tells me I can be less observant than I know I ought to be. Where a liberal Jew, emboldened by the true spirit of Protestant values, might decide to forgo a certain observance because details don’t really matter—maybe say kaddish without a minyan or something—but if a person doesn’t make such decisions he thereby claims that Judaism is his most important valuable, and comfort or convenience is not (which confuses Americans, I think).

5.) Judaism shouldn’t need a “platform.” You may have noticed that there’s no Orthodox “platform.” There’s also no Orthodox central authority akin to the USCJ or CCAR. Reform probably gets it the worst here, with their many different (and how!) platforms, ranging from “we believe all ritual is archaic” (1885) to “we believe in studying the whole array of mitzvot” (1999). Their platforms are highly reactionary, and it seems that their goal is indeed to fine-tune their belief system with each passing generation—in as condensed a phrasing as possible. Is this discomfiting to you?

Similarly, although Conservative Judaism only has one platform, they seem unsure on where they stand—possibly they aren’t entirely sure what their stand on halacha is. (The example I always bring up is the fact that women are included in minyan even though no one’s really sure whether women are actually obligated in fixed prayer.) They too could not resist summing themselves up in a pithy saying, as if they were a sports drink—”Tradition and Change.” Conservative Judaism has also taken the strange step in distinguishing itself not only as a way of practicing Judaism, but quite consciously as an entirely autonomous branch of Judaism. As I’ve said elsewhere, a Conservative Jew would have to look at the texts through the lens of the USCJ, and that makes me uncomfortable.

My Reform professor unwittingly said it best while we were discussing the different branches and their platforms—after reading the Reform platforms and the Conservative one, we skipped a discussion on the Orthodox platform because “They don’t need a platform; their platform is the Torah.”

6.) Orthodoxy is not really the enemy here. It’s easy to believe that the Orthodox are looking down on everyone else, but I have two observations in my experiences as someone trying to be more observant in a liberal community. First, it’s very hard to accept halacha and to concurrently accept those who openly reject it; and more so since these people are encouraged by an entire institution saying that this is all right, which is unprecedented.

Second, liberal Jews certainly look down on the Orthodox as well. This is almost exclusively true for Reform Jews, I’ve found. I’ve spent time in both Reform and Conservative synagogues, and I know that the Reform people spent a lot more time disparaging our Conservative synagogue than the other way around. And they saved their worst for Orthodoxy. In Hillel, I overheard someone telling a non-Jew that “Reform and Orthodoxy are basically two different religions.” It seems that the less someone knows about Orthodoxy the more they have to say about it.

But apropos to the Orthodox “looking down on everyone else,” I’m now in the position to comment on this from personal experience as well. As someone who believes that Orthodoxy is the closest thing we currently have to how the sages envisioned Judaism ought to be practiced, I find it frighteningly easy to call Orthodoxy, as the Orthodox already do, “Torah Judaism.” Still, I entirely understand that observant Conservative Jews aren’t practicing their variation out of deviancy or laziness—I simply believe that their compromises with the modern world are far too casual with regard to their handling of halacha to deal with it. One thing to be said about Orthodoxy is that it takes an extreme sense of intellectual honesty to be able to say “halachic precedent doesn’t allow us to do what we want.” (Needless to say, there have been many dishonest instances, but they haven’t been institutionalized as far as I know.)

For me, dealing with the majority of people who don’t consider halacha binding is the difficult part. Stranger still, the majority who are secular. I have a hard time separating Judaism from mitzvot and mitzvot from divine obligation; and frankly I’m a little offended that I now have to. The idea that Judaism can legitimately exist without mitzvot is new and unprecedented and came straight from the 19th century. Needless to say—and I’m personally a product of what happens when that system breaks—I strongly disagree. I find halacha obligatory, and therefore I cannot find Jewish practice that considers halacha personal and voluntary a legitimate practice. Nor can I find a system that encourages this a legitimate system. As for “looking down” on people; I wouldn’t say I consider myself “better than them,” so much as I’m just very sad about it all. (I also have to admit that I think some of it must be laziness.)

This, interestingly, combines with the fact that many liberal Jews may consider someone who is sufficiently observant “too observant,” and so every time I hear an inquiry including the phrase “I don’t have to be religious on this trip, do I?” or “Don’t worry, you don’t have to be observant,” or a brazen admission that “I will never stop eating bacon/driving on Shabbat/etc.” I feel just a little more lonely in life.

I also often hear that Orthodoxy has brainwashed us all into believing that “their way is the only way” and that “there is a linear system culminating in Orthodoxy, when really liberal Judaism should have its own narrative entirely separate from Orthodoxy.” I am convinced that the idea of a linear system may be a myth; still, it is not meant to be disparaging to believe that one’s beliefs are true. That is called moral objectivism. To say that different authorities are authoritative for different communities is a good argument; to say that those authorities can legitimately and suddenly call halacha personal and non-obligatory is not.

Similar are my findings on how anti-religious and even anti-Semitic movements such as the LGBT and women’s rights movements are. You usually think of religion attacking the one, but never the other way around. Not so.

7.) Eventually, there is a divide between practice and ideology in liberal Judaism. Ideology can only get a person so far. It took me a while to realize this. Although Reform was never an option for me, I considered Conservatism for a long, long time (hence this post). It had occurred to me that many Conservative Jews aren’t practicing to their potential or even according to their beliefs, but I ignored this. When I was going to the Conservative synagogue back home, I quickly became one of the most observant people there…and I’d only been going for a year. After nineteen years of no Jewish education (I literally didn’t know mitzvah from mikveh). I’d envisioned better for those people. I simply couldn’t understand why they refused to learn rudimentary Hebrew or certain holiday basics or even the order of the service. It was all the more shocking because these were Conservative Jews, who ought to have subscribed to the position that to know those things was important. “Too busy,” they always said.

This is liberal Judaism. People are “too busy” to learn about Judaism—to practice Judaism—and that’s simply not me. Judaism has wholly and irreversibly taken ahold of every aspect of my life—how could I dare to say I was “too busy”? I am accustomed to asking myself first and foremost before ever embarking on anything how I would nourish my Jewish needs—when I buy foods, I always look at the ingredients or the kosher label. When I was considering studying abroad, the first thing I did was Google Map the nearest synagogues. I write “can’t work on Saturday” on my job applications. I deal with my caffeine withdrawal because I won’t use money to buy coffee on Shabbat.

This isn’t to say that Conservative Jews can’t do this, but I can’t imagine choosing a community where these questions don’t normally occur to people. I don’t like to have to guess whether my congregation will consider halacha important; I don’t want to feel that I ought to celebrate the “achievement” of actually finding that rare liberal congregation where people are very (and not just incidentally) observant. Nor do I especially wish to subscribe to a life where I constantly have to “teach” my peers Judaism. There’s something beautiful about living in a community where people know what to do with a negel vasser cup; and no complex theology or ideology will ever make up for the moment when a liberal rabbi has to explain to his congregants how to use it.

8.) Ultra-Orthodoxy isn’t the whole of Orthodoxy. For some reason this seems to be the biggest myth. I always hear “Orthodox” in a derogatory sense—”The Orthodox in Israel are bucking the system,” “The Orthodox don’t work,” etc. A good part of this, I’m sure, is the media. But it’s a myth that must be knocked down. I would likely associate with the Modern Orthodox crowd, namely because I am a womyn and wimmin don’t have many opportunities in Black Hatdoxy. There are bad apples making everyone look bad, really. Orthodoxy doesn’t preclude a person from being reasonable. I think that the thing that separates Modern Orthodoxy from Conservatism (and I admit I still find that the line is extremely blurred) is that in MO Torah comes first. And Conservatism, well, their motto is “Tradition and Change”—change inexplicably shares 50% of that core, and it seems that the only thing keeping “change” from being their choice dictum is that quaint and too-comfortable “tradition” is keeping them back. Orthodoxy can exist in the modern world too, but it doesn’t concede just to concede.

9.) I know there are problems with Orthodoxy. But I want to live in a community where difficult questions are answered honestly and deliberately. I know that many great books have been written by individual Conservative rabbis coming to very valid conclusions. Still, for all the above reasons I’m choosing, at the moment, to associate with Orthodoxy and face its problems from there. Although I agree with a lot of Conservatism’s outcomes (and disagree with just as many), I can no longer accept the process of how they come to such conclusions. My biggest concern, as you may very well know by now, is the role of women in Judaism. It would be so easy to simply accept the Conservative line of thinking and rejoice that I can count in the minyan and wear tefillin etc., but I can’t deny that I find the arguments wanting. I applaud such efforts as JOFA and Shira Hadasha in trying to come up with halachic opportunities for women. I’m not looking to be some housewife. But I have to be honest about it, and Judaism comes first. It’s hard to voluntarily set something as an authority and imposition over you—verily, it’s easier to say feminism comes first—but if Judaism is right than it can’t impede something from emerging if that thing is also right. I’ve been finding for the past few weeks how important Judaism is to me, how irrationally important Israel is, how hostile the outside world can be to both (sometimes inadvertently), and how outside (American Protestant) values are not necessarily conducive to my values.

Look, maybe it’s useful that all my Jewish friends are liberal. Fortunately or unfortunately, I know all the arguments against Orthodoxy; so now I can really say I know what I’m getting into.

About these ads

38 thoughts on “Orthodoxy

  1. “You may have noticed that there’s no Orthodox “platform.” There’s also no Orthodox central authority akin to the USCJ or CCAR.”

    So why don’t the RCA or the Agudah count?

    “Similarly, although Conservative Judaism only has one platform, they seem unsure on where they stand—possibly they aren’t entirely sure what their stand on halacha is.”

    This is entirely by design, IMHO. In order for an opinion to be adopted (e.g., the so-called “driving teshuva”) requires a sub-majority vote. If a sufficiently large MINORITY of the Rabbinic authorities vote in favor, the opinion can be published. Naturally, this leads to a less strictly defined space of opinions.

    “Still, I entirely understand that observant Conservative Jews aren’t practicing their variation out of deviancy or laziness—I simply believe that their compromises with the modern world are far too casual with regard to their handling of halacha to deal with it.”

    Eilu v’eilu. This is quite reminiscent of the argument the more moderated voices of the Orthodox right wing make about why Modern Orthodoxy is bad, btw.

    “I simply couldn’t understand why they refused to learn rudimentary Hebrew or certain holiday basics or even the order of the service. It was all the more shocking because these were Conservative Jews, who ought to have subscribed to the position that to know those things was important. “Too busy,” they always said.”

    I dropped in once for evening minyan at a right-leaning Orthodox shul (no minyan showed in the end). While we were waiting, I ended up discovering through casual conversation that the guys who were there didn’t really have the Hebrew/Torah skills I might have expected. Specifically, they would have no idea how to read Rambam’s Mishneh Torah to look up a particular question (because it’s in Hebrew–I was ready to look it up myself, actually). It was illuminating.

    “I deal with my caffeine withdrawal because I won’t use money to buy coffee on Shabbat.”

    I have a cheap coffee pot with a timer that I set up before Shabbat. While an early teshuva by RMF seems to prohibit this, my understanding is that modern practice would allow it (I asked my C Rabbi, as well, FWIW). You also could get a hot-water urn and have tea or instant coffee. (Consult a halachic authority for details.)

    Anyhow, to sum up: my personal feeling is that Orthodoxy has many issues (especially wrt. converts) and Conservative Judaism has many issues (especially wrt. accommodating strongly traditional observance). My answer to that is to deal with the issues of Conservative Judaism, because they relate to things that are more under my control–I can go out of my way to wash before bread, bentsch, lay tefillin, etc. whether this is fully integrated into communal practice or not (and these ARE normative, btw, just neglected).

    But I strongly sympathize with the other side that you espouse. There is something special in knowing that you will not have to go out of your way to observe as you see fit while you are in your community. But then again, if you are too egalitarian-minded, you may be right back in the “adjusting my practice to deal with the community’s limitations” boat.

    Yasher koach.

  2. Okay, I don’t have a ton of time right now to address as much of this as I’d like (or your last post, which I want to do, too), since it’s ten at night here, and I have work tomorrow, but this begs a few questions. I’ll be honest and say that my feelings pretty closely align with Geoff’s; it’s generally easier to buck the trend and be closer to Orthodox in a Conservative community (especially as a convert) than to be closer to Conservative in an Orthodox community. Shira Hadasha, for instance; I suspect that in the majority of Orthodox circles (even Modern Orthodox circles), an announced intent to daven with that kind of minyan post-conversion could raise some serious eyebrows or stall the conversion process completely (I hope I’m wrong, incidentally, because I’ve heard great things about the Shira minyanim and would love it if they were embraced by the wider MO community). I think in the context of an RCA-governed beit din, it would be a non-starter.

    I’m curious about whether you still want to study at JTS. If so, how do you square that with your feelings about Conservative Judaism and the fact that you’re planning to pursue an Orthodox conversion? I mean, it seems like you don’t think the Conservative movement has a lot going for it in terms of intellectual integrity, at least in comparison to Orthodoxy, so why the desire to study at its flagship institution? I have a hard time understanding that. Unless you’ve decided you don’t want to study there, after all, in which case, ignore this question. Heh.

    Secondly, do you think the decision to go Orthodox is in part a reaction to the overwhelmingly secular and anti-traditional observance attitudes you’re encountering at your school? That’s not to pooh-pooh your decision, BTW, because I’m a big proponent of picking the community that fits you best, regardless of which community that may be, but it seems like a lot of your stated goals could be problematic for an Orthodox conversion, at least based on what I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances who have gone through the process. If your rabbi or beit din say, “Right. No attending JOFA or Shira-style events, no studying at JTS, or no conversion,” what happens then? Also, beyond the synagogues in your hometown and near school, have you had the chance to get up to DC or New York to check out other communities there? There’s a pretty broad range of communities out there, and I have to say, the Conservative Judaism you describe doesn’t really jive with what I saw happening in my synagogue in the States, which was that people were moving closer to shul in order to be in a position to walk and be a part of a Jewish community, people did attend Hebrew, Yiddish and Talmud classes, there were two minyanim a day, et cetera. Was everyone frum to Orthodox standards? No, but there was definite encouragement for congregants to increase their levels of observance.

    Thirdly, what’s changed since your earlier post about the role of women in Judaism? You make a pretty convincing argument there for women taking on more time-bound mitzvot, and your biggest gripe with the Conservative position seems to be that they’re being wishy-washy about obligating women in things like tefillin or thrice daily prayer (I agree, incidentally), as opposed to fundamental halachic issues. Or is it just the process they’re using to reach their conclusions as opposed to the conclusions themselves? If you wrote about this earlier, I may have missed it, in which case feel free to just link to the post. I’m curious because I’ve heard all of the arguments one usually hears in defense of the, “Women aren’t just exempted, they’re banned,” position, and I don’t really buy them at all. If there’s one I’ve missed, though, I’m happy to consider it!

    And this is longer than I planned. In any case, good luck with your decision. I hope you find a rabbi that’ll play ball with what you’re after while helping you get the kind of conversion you want.

    Oh, though I do have one more question, though I think it’s the one you’re never supposed to ask in polite company: if you think the Conservative movement is fundamentally broken from a halachic standpoint, what do you make of the people that movement converts?

  3. Well, I have lots of thoughts but no time right now… But I can offer you one solution to your problems!

    Get one of these. Grind coffee before Shabbat. Buy an urn, fill it with water, and plug it in before Shabbat. Now you don’t have to go without caffeine, and you can have hot drinks all day Saturday.

  4. “I sense that my readers probably believe that I’m pretty liberal. In fact, I sense that it’s simply taken for granted that if we can all agree on anything, it’s on how archaic, naive, and altogether hateful Orthodoxy is”.
    To me, there’s a huge difference between realizing why what I perceive to be archaic practices that do not work for ME religiously… and condemning a religious movement that obviously enriches and guides the lives of millions of my co-religionists. It’s like political parties; I want all of my co-citizens politically involved, but I’d be pretty darn stupid to think they’d all naturally want to be registered to my party, right?

    “And that’s why I’m sensing it’s time to lay down the law on why (when the time comes) I’m choosing an Orthodox conversion….1.) This campus is slightly anti-Semitic..“
    Please, for the love of all that is Holy, do NOT base your soul, status, decisions on one college campus. I know 26 seems so long away. I know because I was at Hendrix College, one of 10 members of Hillel (who, strangely enough, if you substitute love of Israel with secular Judaism at your campus, could be a carbon copy). Because I was alone in driving to my only Jewish outlet in Little Rock on Friday nights. I was alone in trying to make Purim about something more substantial than a “Carnival” to “share Judaism with the non-Jews on campus” and I was disgusted at having my only seder opportunity be the interfaith one held on campus (please to be NOT mentioning Jesus at my seder table ever again, tyvm.)

    I moved away after graduation. I loved Arkansas, and can really see raising a family there. But I love my Judaism more and would never do it. My point is that I was once 20 years old, a sophomore in college, angry at the inadequate opportunities for me to do Jewish and be Jewish as I saw fit. If I had acted on those moments of loneliness, rage, depression, and utter, utter isolation, I… well I shudder to think what I would be today.

    I converted when I was 26. Yes, I started and stopped 3 times prior to finding my home. Yes, I was miserable at 19/20. But (hope this doesn’t come across as patronizing like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project or anything), it does. It does get better. And my hope for you, as for all Jews, is that you are drawn to a movement because of the light, structure, values, rituals, and MEANING it provides for you.
    This post reads entirely too defensive to me, and not… explanatory enough. I don’t think it comes from a place of inner-peace and contentment with your decision. No one here is going to berate you for converting Orthodox. I do think that a lot of us are seeing your genuine unhappiness in this current environment and just trying to remind you that this environment isn’t permanent, and we know because we’ve been there. We’re trying to remind you that things you have spoken of passionately in the past do not mesh with this new proclamation. Not to dissuade you from moving forward, but to ask you to give pause. If you’ve changed and those old passions and goals no longer make sense for you, great. We all change. But if they still speak to you (whatever the level), then we eagerly wait to listen to how you are going to incorporate facets of your old self and new self.

    I can’t speak of all of your readers, but I AM rooting for you. Not for what I think is best for you. Not for what I think others should do. But for you to find a place where you can be content, at peace, and doing and being Jewish in the way you need to. And it will be worth the wait, I can guarantee it.

  5. These are all really great questions.

    Geoff:

    So why don’t the RCA or the Agudah count?

    I always saw the RCA as being a sort of representative rather than actually coming up with comprehensive responsa. Even the fact that there are both RCA and Agudah show that neither is meant to speak for the whole of Orthodoxy. Obviously, there are some limits, though (and the boundary is the mechitza)..

    This is quite reminiscent of the argument the more moderated voices of the Orthodox right wing make about why Modern Orthodoxy is bad, btw.

    Good point.

    I have a cheap coffee pot with a timer that I set up before Shabbat. While an early teshuva by RMF seems to prohibit this, my understanding is that modern practice would allow it (I asked my C Rabbi, as well, FWIW). You also could get a hot-water urn and have tea or instant coffee. (Consult a halachic authority for details.)

    This is surely something I must look into. I’ve been using my “free coffee” cards.

    But I strongly sympathize with the other side that you espouse. There is something special in knowing that you will not have to go out of your way to observe as you see fit while you are in your community. But then again, if you are too egalitarian-minded, you may be right back in the “adjusting my practice to deal with the community’s limitations” boat.

    That’s actually a really large part of it.. and oddly enough, egalitarian or not I’d still have to adjust my practice in Conservative synagogues (the majority of them anyway; I did once go to a good minyan in NYC where people knew what they were doing). So, to use a bad example, if I came in late and tried to make up pesukei de zimra, it might be weird because people aren’t accustomed to anyone actually bothering to make it up. It wouldn’t matter whether or not I’d “obligated myself as a woman” or whatever—in fact, in my limited Conservative experience, people would certainly be shocked by a woman doing extra.

    And still, even in Conservative circles the egalitarian thing would depend on the community. At our Conservative synagogue, women didn’t wear tefillin. I guess it never caught on.

    Diplogeek:

    it’s generally easier to buck the trend and be closer to Orthodox in a Conservative community (especially as a convert) than to be closer to Conservative in an Orthodox community.

    I don’t like to do things just because they’re easier. You’ve got to fight for your rights. And if I ever hear tittering about how I had to convert, I will kick them in the shins

    I’m curious about whether you still want to study at JTS. If so, how do you square that with your feelings about Conservative Judaism and the fact that you’re planning to pursue an Orthodox conversion? I mean, it seems like you don’t think the Conservative movement has a lot going for it in terms of intellectual integrity, at least in comparison to Orthodoxy, so why the desire to study at its flagship institution?

    I still want to go to JTS because I like their full tuition scholarships and their interesting new MA program at the Davidson School. I’d hesitate to go to their graduate school and learn Torah using the “critical method” (i.e. the Documentary Hypothesis). And I’m guessing it’s not like the Conservative Yeshiva wherein they take a class all about what Conservative Judaism means today.

    I think the Conservative movement has intellectual integrity, but I’ve found that they can be careless when it comes around to decision-making time. They know how to look at source texts, but they tend to sometimes use them to placate the people instead of making the right long-term decision.

    Hey, if YU’s graduate website was a little more user-friendly, I’d consider them too.

    Secondly, do you think the decision to go Orthodox is in part a reaction to the overwhelmingly secular and anti-traditional observance attitudes you’re encountering at your school?

    That’s actually a really great question. I’m thinking back to when I lived at home and people were a little more friendly about someone being observant. I remember thinking that we probably had a much more traditional practice than other congregations (regarding the service, not people’s observance). But even then, I think it did occur to me that some Conservative rulings weren’t well-reasoned. Mixed seating was probably the most noticeable (as old men enjoyed sitting right behind me in an entirely empty sanctuary). And still (this may or may not be the standard), the congregants expected our rabbi to be observant in their stead. I know not every congregation is like this, but I’m pretty certain that most are.

    Anyway, I have to admit that might be part of it. Still, how could you ever tell? Is this such a bad thing? Living here has made me think that if this is the “change” of “tradition and change,” I don’t want to consider it an entire 50% of my value system. And what if I lived in an Orthodox community and wanted to be Conservative; couldn’t someone say just as well “You only want to be Conservative because you don’t like what you see in your Orthodox circles”?

    If your rabbi or beit din say, “Right. No attending JOFA or Shira-style events, no studying at JTS, or no conversion,” what happens then?

    What happens is I go to a more understanding rabbi. Or if I was trying to have an RCA conversion, I would likely acquiesce. You have to do what you have to do.

    Was everyone frum to Orthodox standards? No, but there was definite encouragement for congregants to increase their levels of observance.

    I’m so tired of the “opportunities” and the “programming” and “encouragement” from the higher ups to increase observance. Like I said in my post, I don’t want to live in a community where I have to hold my breath waiting to see if other people “decide” whether becoming more observant is “right for them.”

    Thirdly, what’s changed since your earlier post about the role of women in Judaism? You make a pretty convincing argument there for women taking on more time-bound mitzvot, and your biggest gripe with the Conservative position seems to be that they’re being wishy-washy about obligating women in things like tefillin or thrice daily prayer (I agree, incidentally), as opposed to fundamental halachic issues. Or is it just the process they’re using to reach their conclusions as opposed to the conclusions themselves? If you wrote about this earlier, I may have missed it, in which case feel free to just link to the post.

    I don’t really understand this question, although it has a glimmer of something I feel like I want to reply to. I don’t think anything has changed since my last post. I still think women easily could take on time-based mitzvot, and they ought to be encouraged to do so, but I don’t think the Conservative movement has gone about it the right way. Their position is more confusing than anything. I might not even differentiate between their process and conclusion, because they’re entangled when it comes to obligation and voluntary action. In theory, they “encourage” women to wear tallit and tefillin, but they don’t go all the way. They aren’t actively encouraging it, which isn’t something I expect from Orthodoxy but is something I’d expect from Conservatism, given their position of ritual equality. Men are still considered obligated but women are only “encouraged.” The only difference, if you ask me, is that it’s written down on some Conservative statement of principles that women should be “encouraged.” That means nothing in practice, and they don’t deal with the fact that there are two classes of women which can’t be differentiated (voluntarily obligated and not). They’ll never consider women rabbinically obligated, though, because for some reason women don’t want the responsibility.

    I’m curious because I’ve heard all of the arguments one usually hears in defense of the, “Women aren’t just exempted, they’re banned,” position, and I don’t really buy them at all. If there’s one I’ve missed, though, I’m happy to consider it!

    I don’t argue that women are banned at all. Could you explain what you mean?

    Oh, though I do have one more question, though I think it’s the one you’re never supposed to ask in polite company: if you think the Conservative movement is fundamentally broken from a halachic standpoint, what do you make of the people that movement converts?

    Luckily, this is impolite company. I don’t think it’s broken in an unfixable way, but I do think they relly need to stop while they can. I think the Conservative movement is moving leftward. Anyway, I don’t know what’s exactly involved in detail in Conservative conversions, but I’ve decided that I find them acceptable from a classical standpoint. I think the problem with them from the Orthodox view is that the beit din rabbis aren’t observant enough “because of a flawed view of Torah.” If this is the only reason, I think Conservative conversions are entirely halachic provided that kabbalat ol ha mitzvot happens (I think rabbis’ practices have something to do with a conversion’s validity, but not their beliefs). I think it might be a problem if a Conservative rabbi was on the more liberal side, allowing American (non kosher) cheeses and television on Shabbat and things like that (wherein the convert might be accepting a strange altered form of mitzvot). Of course, you can’t tell, so all in all it’s not so problematic. I wouldn’t say the same for Reform or Reconstructionist conversions.

    Another reason I don’t want a Conservative conversion is because I’d always be wondering what exactly it is that I’d just agreed to, especially if the rabbi was less than strict. For me, I’d consider my own conversion invalid if I knew that a rabbi on the beit din was driving on Shabbat, for instance. And because that’s an acceptable practice in Conservatism, I know that I couldn’t in good conscience convert to Conservatism (i.e. you can’t convert and then consider your branch too lenient; that’s weird). But I don’t really want to look into everyone’s Conservative rabbis.

    Ilana:

    I really do need a serious urn.

    mikvehbound:

    To me, there’s a huge difference between realizing why what I perceive to be archaic practices that do not work for ME religiously… and condemning a religious movement that obviously enriches and guides the lives of millions of my co-religionists. It’s like political parties; I want all of my co-citizens politically involved, but I’d be pretty darn stupid to think they’d all naturally want to be registered to my party, right?

    True. That’s why I don’t condemn observant Conservative Jews. I know that, pragmatically, Reform is keeping in the sheep that would otherwise be lost, but I won’t say that “what’s wrong for me might be right for you,” because I find the idea of non-obligatory halacha flawed…that’s not just a difference in detail.

    I was alone in trying to make Purim about something more substantial than a “Carnival” to “share Judaism with the non-Jews on campus” and I was disgusted at having my only seder opportunity be the interfaith one held on campus

    Um, ew. I would have transferred out of that dump.

    Please, for the love of all that is Holy, do NOT base your soul, status, decisions on one college campus.

    I was trying to show that liberal, secular values can be hostile to Judaism. But since you picked up on it, I am quite lonely, enraged, isolated, and depressed. Thanks for noticing!

    And my hope for you, as for all Jews, is that you are drawn to a movement because of the light, structure, values, rituals, and MEANING it provides for you.

    I’m choosing a movement that puts Judaism first, and I think we can agree that for better or worse Orthodoxy does that.

    This post reads entirely too defensive to me, and not… explanatory enough. I don’t think it comes from a place of inner-peace and contentment with your decision.

    I’m an angry person; you think I ever have “inner peace” about anything?
    I was also attempting to show the slight differences between Conservative and Orthodox, which in practice are obvious but in ideology are too similar to warrant a “positive list” on Orthodoxy which would preclude someone saying “hey, that looks like Conservatism! Why don’t you just be Conservative?” This is my answer to “why not.”

    We’re trying to remind you that things you have spoken of passionately in the past do not mesh with this new proclamation.

    Like I said, ideology is mattering less to me. I want a challenge. I don’t want a group that tells me “we won’t judge you; everything you’ve ever thought or felt is all right,” shocking though it may be. I think this is right. Obviously there will be tribulations along the way, but I don’t feel entirely good about liberal Judaism, either.

  6. “I think the Conservative movement has intellectual integrity, but I’ve found that they can be careless when it comes around to decision-making time. They know how to look at source texts, but they tend to sometimes use them to placate the people instead of making the right long-term decision.”

    Probably. But replace the word “Conservative” with “Orthodox” and I don’t think the statement becomes any less true, possibly more so. That can be a flame war for another day, though.

    “I think it did occur to me that some Conservative rulings weren’t well-reasoned. Mixed seating was probably the most noticeable (as old men enjoyed sitting right behind me in an entirely empty sanctuary).”

    OK, I’ll bite. Yes, this is creepy. But how does it prove that Conservative rulings on whether or not mechitza is required to be not well-reasoned? I ask this as one who “secretly” thinks mechitzas can be very useful, and that certain (unrelated) Conservative teshuvot have been ill-advised.

    “I think Conservative conversions are entirely halachic provided that kabbalat ol ha mitzvot happens (I think rabbis’ practices have something to do with a conversion’s validity, but not their beliefs).”

    From the “classical” halachic perspective that you mention, I don’t think the Rabbi is even all that relevant. The core d’oraisa requirements as I understand them are milah, tevilah, and kabalah. The Rabbi serves as a witness to provide halachically admissible proof that those requirements were met, but does not enter into the d’oraisa equation of effectiveness at all.

    Nevertheless, I do concede that basically any Orthodox person you meet is likely to be thinking about it in the terms you used, and not my terms.

    ” And because that’s an acceptable practice in Conservatism, I know that I couldn’t in good conscience convert to Conservatism”

    I agree; don’t convert to Conservatism. Don’t convert to Orthodoxy, either. Convert to Judaism, to the religion of the Avos. But your method of doing so is your choice to make.

  7. Probably. But replace the word “Conservative” with “Orthodox” and I don’t think the statement becomes any less true, possibly more so.

    Of course, when Orthodoxy does it the end result is the status quo; then Conservatism does it, the box has been opened and you can never close it. I’m only thinking of the really big decisions, though; and I’ve still yet to find any public Orthodox responsa.

    OK, I’ll bite. Yes, this is creepy. But how does it prove that Conservative rulings on whether or not mechitza is required to be not well-reasoned?

    Well, I’m pretty sure the practice goes back to the 19th century, when some Orthodox synagogues were doing it too, because everyone was getting on the reforming wagon back then.. but if I’m not mistaken, there is not really any reasoning behind it besides the aggadic legacy of egalitarianism, which I would venture to say was only attached to the practice later on. So Orthodoxy put the mechitza back up, citing the Talmud; but Conservatism kept it down, citing a personal stance. I don’t really know the whole history of this; it’s just one of the most immediately noticeable things.

    From the “classical” halachic perspective that you mention, I don’t think the Rabbi is even all that relevant.

    Hm, perhaps. I will have to look at it again.

    I agree; don’t convert to Conservatism. Don’t convert to Orthodoxy, either. Convert to Judaism, to the religion of the Avos. But your method of doing so is your choice to make.

    Wise words.

  8. “Of course, when Orthodoxy does it the end result is the status quo”

    I see this as the foundational myth of Orthodoxy. For an appetizer, I would refer to Dovbear and this recent Slate article:

    http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2011/11/three-about-israel-in-slate.html
    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2011/11/the_unmaking_of_israel_how_government_policies_have_caused_the_surge_in_ultra_orthodox_judaism_in_israel_.html

    And of course we have the issues over conversions themselves. Refusing to accept, and even “undo” conversions are prominent among the status quo-destroying inventions of 19th and 20th-century Orthodoxy.

    In case it wasn’t previously clear, it probably is now. I suffer from a debilitating, possibly terminal condition: I actually buy into the ideas of JTS-Conservative Judaism. I’ll be announcing the benefit telethon shortly. ;-)

  9. And if I ever hear tittering about how I had to convert, I will kick them in the shins.

    That’s not what I mean. Though there are the issues of shidduchim and all of that stuff, what I was referring to is the fact that as a convert, you often don’t have the freedom to be as experimental with your observance, in an Orthodox community, as you would like. You can’t push that left side of the envelope if you want to, because that could endanger the validity of your conversion (and of all the other conversions that rabbi has performed). JOFA and Shira are pretty fringe elements of the Orthodox community. I think because we hear so much about them, it seems like they’re not, but when you look at the entire community, from Haredi to MO, they really are, and while a born Jew can be as frum as they want or drop out entirely pretty much whenever it suits them, everything a convert does gets turned political and becomes a reflection on their rabbi. That’s more my point than people pointing and whispering that someone’s a ger. I mean, whatever, that can happen in any movement. But at least I know that if I opt to daven in a Reform shul one week (or an Orthodox shul one week), no one’s going to start tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Um, excuse me, but you’re in a one year probationary period, and that kind of thing doesn’t fly. Guess you’re not really Jewish after all!” I don’t have a problem believing that there are MO rabbis out there who would be cool with attending places like Shira, incidentally, but the ever right-moving RCA? That’s tougher.

    I still want to go to JTS because I like their full tuition scholarships and their interesting new MA program at the Davidson School.

    Okay, this is going to sound bad, I’m sure, but in the spirit of impolite company and with all due respect, the above sounds… somewhat hypocritical, to be honest. You’re happy enough with Conservative Judaism if they’ll give you a full ride to JTS or whatever, but you don’t actually trust their rabbis to convert you or their communities to give you what you need or think that Conservative Jews (in sufficient number, anyway) “put Judaism first.” That, to me, is what this kind of boils down to. They’re not “doing it right,” but hey, they’ve got a full scholarship opportunity and a couple of interesting courses, so hey, why the heck not?

    Anyway, I have to admit that might be part of it. Still, how could you ever tell? Is this such a bad thing?

    I think it can be when you’re basing a decision on what’s going on in the jacked-up community on your college campus and a couple of other synagogues you’ve been to, but haven’t really had the opportunity to go to a place where there’s a wider range of congregations to choose from across the spectrum (and by that I mean from Orthodoxy through Reform). I have to say, that’s the only good thing about the fact that it took me more than ten years from deciding I was going to convert to actually getting with a rabbi and making it happen, is that I ended up bouncing around to synagogues all over the place and got to really see what’s out there. I mean, honestly, if I were trapped on your campus, I’d probably be saying, “Screw it, Orthodox it is,” too, but like Mikvah Bound says, it seems inconsistent, in a lot of ways, to see someone who has been very vocal about womens’ role in ritual Judaism in particular to then say, “Yeah, it’s really important… but if the RCA said I had to give all of that up, and that was the kind of conversion I was pursuing, c’est la vie.”

    Like I said in my post, I don’t want to live in a community where I have to hold my breath waiting to see if other people “decide” whether becoming more observant is “right for them.”

    Who says you have to? The people at my shul who have gone frum just did it. They didn’t hang around looking at people and waiting for something to happen. Now, to make that work, you have to be in a place where there’s a Conservative shul with minyanim and stuff, granted, but those actually do exist. I mean, I didn’t take a vote before I started laying tefillin. I asked my rabbi to show me how to do it, he gave me a loaner set and I just got on with it. If other people want to ignore the richness of observance, that’s their prerogative, but that doesn’t have to dictate what I do. But then, I’m not prepared to give up being able to openly perform these mitzvot with everyone else in order to join a community where, say, no one drives on Shabbos (which in a lot of places wouldn’t even be the case, since you get the “park around the block and walk so we can pretend we’re following the rules” thing, anyway), so I’ll freely acknowledge that we have different priorities.

    The argument that what you’ve seen with a bunch of apathetic college kids in a college with virtually no Jewish population is what represents the “change” of Conservative Judaism is what makes me question the wisdom of basing this decision on a comparatively limited range of Jewish experience. I think the argument could be made that the Conservative kids who do value observance and their Jewishness or whatever would instinctively shy away from W&M because they’d take one look at the Jewish community and go, “Uh, no way.”

    In theory, they “encourage” women to wear tallit and tefillin, but they don’t go all the way.

    So it’s better to go to a movement where you wouldn’t just be discouraged from doing these (and other timebound) mitzvot, but barred entirely? I have a hard time seeing that logic.

    I don’t argue that women are banned at all. Could you explain what you mean?

    I was reacting to your statement that you thought the handling of women and timebound mitzvot was problematic in the Conservative movement; I took that to mean that you found it problematic in a halachic way, not in the sense of failing to come right out and say, “Look, it’s required,” which I agree they should do, incidentally. Shit or get off the pot, I say.

    And I have more to say, but I have to get my daven on and get to work, so I’ll post this for now and come back with more later. I do want to say, though, that my feelings on Orthodoxy pretty much mirror Mikvah Bound’s. I have a huge amount of respect for a lot of things I see in the Orthodox community, and I know a lot of very cool, very sharp Orthodox people. But for me, being relegated to the back of the synagogue (literally or figuratively) and being told that I’m not permitted to do mitzvot that I’m completely convinced it’s permissible to take on because it might “make the congregation look bad,” essentially, is something I’m just not prepared to deal with every time I set foot in shul (this, incidentally, is the reason I usually give when people say, “So why don’t you just convert Orthodox? Everyone will accept you then!” which I seem to get a lot, weirdly). It sounds like you are, and more power to you- seriously, not being a patronizing douche. The only thing I question is what seems from here to be a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction based on the community you’re in now, which I’m not sure is the greatest idea.

  10. Very interesting article. Of course, it’s about ultra Orthodoxy (see my #8)..

    Refusing to accept, and even “undo” conversions are prominent among the status quo-destroying inventions of 19th and 20th-century Orthodoxy.

    Yeah, I hate this, and I’m still bitter that I have to “pick a faction.”

  11. I’m guessing from this post that none of the reading we’ve been doing for classes about how Orthodoxy was invented in the 19th century right alongside Reform and Conservative has changed your view of it at all?

    I won’t talk (write? ;p) your ear off because you already know how I feel about most of this stuff, but I my main issue with Orthodoxy can be summed up by the name of the sector itself. I just can’t get down with a Judaism that places so much emphasis on right belief and shunning of ‘heretical’ Jews/Judaism because imo that flies in the face of what makes Judaism so different from other Biblical religions. Part of what attracts me personally to Judaism is that it doesn’t demand all Jews be identical in belief or practice.

    Also, wtf is up with everyone at W&M being so depressed lately. :( I am depressed right now too.

  12. I was waiting for you to find this!
    I know how you feel about Orthodoxy.

    Orthodoxy was invented in the 19th century right alongside Reform and Conservative has changed your view of it at all?

    OK, if Orthodoxy was invented and Conservatism was invented and Reform was invented, which one is closest to the original?

    Part of what attracts me personally to Judaism is that it doesn’t demand all Jews be identical in belief or practice.

    I’ll say it again: Rejecting halacha or calling it personal and voluntary is new, and that is in an entirely different category than simply having different practices. If that’s what you mean by “heretical,” then I shun that idea too. Judaism does demand some things. (It’s odd to me that you consider it the polar opposite of Catholicism. There are obviously requirements in Judaism.)

    Also, wtf is up with everyone at W&M being so depressed lately. I am depressed right now too.

    I’m so depressed, I don’t even understand. Of course I’m listening to depressing Pixies songs right now too, but I’m seeing how this is considered a high depression rate school. So haunted.

  13. “I just can’t get down with a Judaism that places so much emphasis on right belief and shunning of ‘heretical’ Jews/Judaism because imo that flies in the face of what makes Judaism so different from other Biblical religions.”

    Well, while I feel the same way, in fairness, defining ourselves by how we differentiate from heretics has been our M.O. in Rabbinic Judaism for a long time (see, e.g., Sadducees, Karaites). Ever think about why, e.g., we says “who has COMMANDED us to kindle the light of the Sabbath”? The Talmud also relates details about how the Yom Kippur service was done that were explicitly noted to be for the purpose of showing that the Sadducees are heretics and we don’t hold by them.

    But I agree that the strong focus on belief over practice is a relatively modern point of departure, and one which I find disturbing.

  14. I don’t think there was ever one monolithic original traditional Judaism either. There has always been variation. (um i’m not going to defend Reform though, lol)

    So is viewing halacha as the only focus of Judaic identity, especially if you take halacha to mean one highly specific interpretation of the mitzvot that allows no room for alternative views. (not saying that you do, but certainly some Orthodox thinkers seem to think this way)

    It’s totally different from Catholicism. Of course Judaism has requirements, but the whole way it approached them is different. In Catholicism it’s more important what you believe than what you do; For example, I saw a bumper sticker that this morning that said “You Can’t Be PRO-CHOICE and CATHOLIC!”
    Nevermind if you never personally have an abortion, or actively work to reduce the number of abortions, but are ‘pro-choice’ because you feel like the alternative is going to cause even more harm. Nope – Catholics says you must judge people for what they think, not what they actually do.
    Then, paradoxically, if you ‘fuck up’ all you have to do is go confess your sins and the priest can ‘absolve you’ of them with a special blessing, and you are good to go. Oh, and they also believe that babies are born sinful and remain in sin until they can baptised. The whole thing about what happens to babies who died before baptism is where you get the idea of ‘limbo’. (although some hardcore Catholics will still unapologetically declare that those babies are going to hell)

  15. Well, yeah, I guess I should clarify that I was referring specifically to rabbinic Judaism vs. rabbinic Judaism. If there was no such thing as heresy *ever* then there would be nothing stopping Hebrew Christians from calling themselves Jewish…. ;p

  16. (not saying that you do, but certainly some Orthodox thinkers seem to think this way)
    Still, it’s not the whole of Orthodoxy that does this. There is certainly room within Orthodoxy. Note how this comment thread includes mentions of things from Agudah to JOFA, for instance. All Orthodox.

    “You Can’t Be PRO-CHOICE and CATHOLIC!”

    Thought experiment:
    Fill in the blank:
    “You can’t be _________ and ORTHODOX!”
    Stipulation: Remember rule #8—Orthodoxy doesn’t mean ultra-Orthodoxy, and it doesn’t mean “Only those opinions in Orthodoxy you don’t like”

  17. Though there are the issues of shidduchim and all of that stuff

    I, uh, won’t be needing that.

    You can’t push that left side of the envelope if you want to, because that could endanger the validity of your conversion (and of all the other conversions that rabbi has performed)

    Here’s the thing. I’ve heard the range of opinions on what happens when someone ends up not being a model convert. The textbook conclusion is that they can’t take your conversion away no matter what (unless it was found that you didn’t intend to keep the commandments at the time of conversion). Perhaps that would only apply after the probationary period. But the other extreme is that they can revoke your conversion at any time for any reason. Where is the truth?

    I don’t have a problem believing that there are MO rabbis out there who would be cool with attending places like Shira, incidentally, but the ever right-moving RCA? That’s tougher.

    I really wish I could do it through the Israeli Rabbanut…but it wouldn’t be too sad to go through a regular MO rabbi who knew what they were doing. I just talked to one who didn’t seem shocked that I wanted to go to JTS, for instance.

    You’re happy enough with Conservative Judaism if they’ll give you a full ride to JTS or whatever, but you don’t actually trust their rabbis to convert you or their communities to give you what you need or think that Conservative Jews (in sufficient number, anyway) “put Judaism first.”

    A fair critique. I trust JTS more than the average suburban Conservative community, for what it’s worth. Same for “putting Judaism first.” Anyway, this is exactly the problem of having to pick a team—if I’m Orthodox, I can never go to JTS; if I’m Conservative, I can never go to YU or whatever other Orthodox schools there are. Why? Because I have to form alliances with my chosen branch. That’s why I don’t want to go into synagogue education; I’m looking at their experiential education degree—I want to work in the Jewish community.. and when things like Storahtelling or G-dcast or whatever start selling themselves to only one BRANCH of Judaism, there is a problem. That’s all.

    I have to say, that’s the only good thing about the fact that it took me more than ten years from deciding I was going to convert to actually getting with a rabbi and making it happen, is that I ended up bouncing around to synagogues all over the place and got to really see what’s out there.

    Or I could start trying to convert as soon as I can, and then if it appears it’s not working out with Orthodoxy, then maybe I’ll switch. Waiting ten years and THEN hesitantly picking a branch won’t work for this cowboy

    it seems inconsistent, in a lot of ways, to see someone who has been very vocal about womens’ role in ritual Judaism in particular to then say, “Yeah, it’s really important… but if the RCA said I had to give all of that up, and that was the kind of conversion I was pursuing, c’est la vie.”

    It would be disgustingly easy to pick Conservative because it agrees with my ideas on women (though we come to the conclusions a little differently). But it’s sort of similar to my search for religion in high school. I briefly considered Buddhism (as all high schoolers do) because it said everything I wanted to hear. I didn’t have to do any work. I’d rather be in the Shira Hadasha knowing they did all that halachic research than in a Conservative synagogue where there’s nothing to struggle with.

    I feel like that’s an odd sentiment to people, but it makes sense to me. I remember being in our Conservative synagogue (and don’t worry, it’s really apparent to me right now that my synagogue experience is limited) seeing the women get aliyot and I would get upset if it was less than half, and I would count the women wearing kippot, and the point of this is it doesn’t matter how egalitarian a synagogue is, I will never be happy about it.

    what makes me question the wisdom of basing this decision on a comparatively limited range of Jewish experience.

    Yes, but even barring where I am right now I’ve never lived in a place where I could easily gather five people who knew what they were doing. I need an observant community, and the Conservative community that is that is rare. (Not to mention the fact that lately I’m really not fond of such innovations as English responsive readings and complex singing arrangements and decorum and etc. just aesthetically speaking.)

    So it’s better to go to a movement where you wouldn’t just be discouraged from doing these (and other timebound) mitzvot, but barred entirely? I have a hard time seeing that logic.

    Women aren’t unequivocally barred. I suppose they are in communities that follow certain sexist poskim, but I’ve heard from various sources of Orthodox women who wear tallit and/or tefillin, albeit in private. Halacha doesn’t bar women, and that’s what I’m concerned with. (Also I probably wouldn’t go to a shul where they’re that against it.)

    I took that to mean that you found it problematic in a halachic way, not in the sense of failing to come right out and say, “Look, it’s required,”

    It’s a little problematic in that they’re not telling women that if they’re going to be doing a mitzvah they ought to be doing it as an obligation—especially if it concerns releasing someone else’s obligation. So women can say kiddush for a congregation but I’m not sure they’re told that women are actually obligated in kiddush (which they are in Orthodoxy also). And it really riles me that bat mitzvah girls are always given teeny girly tallitot and boys are given normal ones—perpetuating the Conservative idea that boys are obligated and girls get an accessory.. it’s odd how they go about these things..

    “So why don’t you just convert Orthodox? Everyone will accept you then!”

    So weird! I never, ever get this. I usually get “Ew, why do you even care to CONSIDER Orthodoxy?!”

    The only thing I question is what seems from here to be a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction based on the community you’re in now, which I’m not sure is the greatest idea.

    We shall see. A good first might be actually going to an Orthodox synagogue for once in my life…I just met the first Orthodox person I’ve ever known (YU admissions people don’t count!) and he’s pretty cool

  18. No doubt, but at a certain point the line between Orthodox and Conservative is very blurry. There are organizations which call themselves ‘Orthodox’ which are maybe more properly ‘Conservative’ – at least if you ask most other Orthodox groups. Remember all of those synagogues in our reading that started out calling themselves Orthodox but are now Reform?

    I mean, when you get right down to it, even Mordecai Kaplan was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi. ;p (apparently like three times? i don’t get it, i plan to ask dr. gurock about this. also his book on kaplan is hilarious and a great read. i want him to sign my copy hahaha)

    also, easy enough

    IN DISAGREEMENT WITH MAIMONIDES

    haha ;p

    or, in my case, A RABBI or A RELIGIOUS JUDGE (being a woman and all)

    I can come up with more later but I have to do my very important homework about prescription drug policy, which is central to my life as I explained to you on the phone. ;p

  19. No doubt, but at a certain point the line between Orthodox and Conservative is very blurry. There are organizations which call themselves ‘Orthodox’ which are maybe more properly ‘Conservative’ – at least if you ask most other Orthodox groups. Remember all of those synagogues in our reading that started out calling themselves Orthodox but are now Reform?

    This is why I wish I wasn’t boxed into picking a team at all.

  20. Diplogeek writes:
    Also, beyond the synagogues in your hometown and near school, have you had the chance to get up to DC or New York to check out other communities there? There’s a pretty broad range of communities out there

    I want to second this. It sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences with the liberal Jewish communities in your area, but there are other liberal Jewish communities out there (especially nondenominational ones) that may be more along the lines of what you’re looking for — with critical masses of Jewishly educated participants who take Judaism seriously. I’m not saying this to convince you to change your mind about getting an Orthodox conversion (since it sounds like you’ve made your decision), but just because whatever community you end up in, it is valuable to have a perspective on what else is out there.

    If you’re ever interested in visiting the DC Jewish community, feel free to drop me a line. And I hope you’re still thinking about going to NHC (regional retreat or Institute) in 2012.

  21. there are other liberal Jewish communities out there (especially nondenominational ones) that may be more along the lines of what you’re looking for — with critical masses of Jewishly educated participants who take Judaism seriously.

    Yeah, yeah…of course, I’m planning to move to New York at some point in life, so if I happen to find some place there that’s great who knows? Maybe there will be a “Why I’m converting Conservative” post in the future.

    If you’re ever interested in visiting the DC Jewish community, feel free to drop me a line.

    You know I will. Which minyan are you a part of, is it still Segulah?

    And I hope you’re still thinking about going to NHC (regional retreat or Institute) in 2012.

    I still really want to, if I have the funds. I’m thinking of trying to go to the Institute if I don’t get stuck taking summer classes in August.

  22. You know I will.

    Great!

    Which minyan are you a part of, is it still Segulah?

    Yes. And there are also other great minyanim to check out in DC, including Tikkun Leil Shabbat.

    I still really want to, if I have the funds. I’m thinking of trying to go to the Institute if I don’t get stuck taking summer classes in August.

    Super! And scholarship funding and travel grants are available, so I hope funding won’t be an issue.

  23. OK, if Orthodoxy was invented and Conservatism was invented and Reform was invented, which one is closest to the original?

    None of them. Judaism can’t be defined independent of its relationship with the world (since unlike Christianity and Islam, we have never been anywhere that was so pervasively Jewish that we could ignore everything else, even — or perhaps especially — the modern State of Israel), and the pre-19th-century world no longer exists.

  24. And “the original,” if you posit that there is one, involved carrying a giant tent through the desert and slaughtering animals as the primary method of worship. No present-day Jewish movement seriously resembles this, nor should it.

  25. Super! And scholarship funding and travel grants are available, so I hope funding won’t be an issue.

    Oh yeah, I forgot all about that. As soon as the info comes up, I’ll try to apply for that.

  26. None of them. Judaism can’t be defined independent of its relationship with the world (since unlike Christianity and Islam, we have never been anywhere that was so pervasively Jewish that we could ignore everything else, even — or perhaps especially — the modern State of Israel), and the pre-19th-century world no longer exists.

    Yeah, I was thinking of that since I said it, and maybe in some sense you might compare today’s delineations with the ancient ones (although I don’t really know what categories existed in between the times of the Pharisees and Sadducees and then today’s).

    But I was telling a friend earlier, and I think this is a good description of where the splits went awry, it was pretty much unprecedented when they announced in the 19th century that halacha is voluntary and personal. That, barring all else, demarcates traditional from non-traditional Judaism. And then all the things that follow from that pronouncement, including abridged liturgy and “personal systems” of kashrut etc.

  27. For the time being I would just like to say that I only just found this blog and I love it. Beautiful, deeply considered, and strongly felt Judaism. Thank you.

  28. But I was telling a friend earlier, and I think this is a good description of where the splits went awry, it was pretty much unprecedented when they announced in the 19th century that halacha is voluntary and personal.

    That was a 20th-century idea. The original objective of Reform Judaism was to reform Judaism (as a whole). When 19th-century Reform rabbis said that a particular mitzvah didn’t apply in the present time, they didn’t mean that it was a personal choice, they meant that it didn’t apply to anyone (much as the sacrifices don’t apply to anyone). So the liberal denominations (and nondenominations) have been through multiple approaches over these last couple centuries.

  29. That’s true. I’m not sure when exactly the “individual choice” thing started becoming a tenet but I know it came after the initial reforms. So they sort of are gradually bringing mitzvot back, but in many cases I think the “individual choice” is hindered by the fact that the basic hashkafa is to not do many things that someone might otherwise choose to do. (Like not light their candles an hour before shkiah, for instance…you want to do it on time? Too bad! The congregation’s doing it now!)

  30. As long as you’re moving to New York / the Upper West Side, you should really consider studying at the non-denominational / egalitarian yeshivat hadar this summer—I think the rebbeim there (particularly rav eitan tucker—ordained by the Rabbanut, understand halacha as binding, but still egalitarian) will do a lot to help you develop your understanding of halacha, as well as crucial text skills. FWIW I’m not affiliated w/ Mechon Hadar–I just think they’re a great organization w/ a lot to offer.

  31. I really do want to go to Hadar. Actually, I wrote to them and they’re the ones who told me that I ought to go to Pardes first (which is a plan in the works). It seems like a great place.

  32. We go to conservative b/c most observant synagogue near our house.

    I hate mixed seating. Blech. Even at kiddush. Often we de facto wind up with tables segregated by gender. Last weekend, my husband sat next to me at the de facto girls’ table. When he went to the bathroom, I shoved his chair in so when he came back he took the hint and gave me my space with the girls. *sheepish grin*

    I love him though. He’s such a sweetie. And he is such a good sport about things like that.

    But seriously, it’s such a kavanah killer when he’s sitting next to me in services. I wish he wasn’t so stinking cute. (Well, maybe I don’t mean that. But you get the drift.) AURGH!!!!

  33. I hate mixed seating. Blech.

    I know, right? I like it at kiddush though because I still suspect that the men have more interesting conversations. And I like to sit near the rabbi because I am a nerd.

WRITE SOMETHING

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s