On a recent post, Diplogeek commented:
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it kind of interesting that you’re investing this much time in tearing apart the movements that would happily accept an openly gay or lesbian person for conversion while defending the one that, at least right now, is least likely to do so.
It made me wonder: What or whom am I against? And do I owe something to the progressive movements for their stance on homosexuality? I’ll try to answer both of these questions.
I’m a pretty analytical person, so possibly what I see as “unbiased investigation,” others see as “tearing apart the movements.” What I might consider “thoroughness,” others might consider “investing too much time.” Recently, I’m getting a lot of complaints about my writing, and I don’t think I’ve changed. I don’t think my readership has changed. My subject matter has changed a bit. I used to write a lot on Orthodoxy and women, and now I write a lot trying to figure out for myself which denomination I align with.
And guess what? You’re along for the ride! You, my readers, get to experience every inconsistency and dead end as I do. This experience may make me appear quite hypocritical, “mean” even. “Why are you criticizing Conservatives so much when only a month ago you were about to apply to JTS Rabbinical School?!” My basic policy is “If you see something, say something.” What I think, about Orthodoxy or JTS or anything else, changes often, but eventually I’m supposing it will reach a synthesis.
And I also write about various aspects of this journey. Sometimes, when I say something about my synagogue, it really only is about my synagogue. And sometimes I say something about my synagogue, and it represents to me a broader issue. It can be confusing. It’s confusing for me too much of the time.
Now, then. Am I trying to “tear apart the movements”? I wondered. My first instinct was to say “Of course not! They are all useful and important, without any one of them their constituents would be astray!” But then I realized, Maybe I am trying to tear apart the movements. Maybe they’ve overstayed their welcome, and maybe they’re becoming vast bureaucratic American institutions with things like headquarters and Committees. And they are all against each other. And they’re all vying for numbers. And all they really want is survival and expansion, like any good institution, whether they’re doing any good with it or not.
I do want to tear apart the movements, in the sense that I want them to be able to be evaluated rationally without someone coming from behind and going “You just hate that denomination! You think it’s not real Judaism!” I want the movements to be made to evaluate themselves by objective standards. I want them to do better. Much better. I can’t take them as they are, and I can’t honestly say that “They are all equally good and all their specifics are equally valid.” Perhaps I’m biased in that I think there is one Judaism, and the movements are all sort of based on it. Platonically, I might even say none of them are Judaism, since they are all interpretations of that. (It’s sort of like how there’s this sense that to do anything Jewish on our campus, we have to ask our Hillel first. You don’t have to ask Hillel first. To do something Jewish, you don’t need to go through a denomination first.) Therefore, I find no problem in criticizing any and every movement as harshly as needed to get to the core.
It’s the difference between “pluralism and unity,” as Samuel G. Freedman puts it. One side is ready to accept almost any view for the sake of shalom bayit, and the other wants a unified group, so long as the group has an identical ideology. I think it’s dishonest to accept any movement no questions asked. If it’s leading people away from what Judaism is essentially, either by calling mitzvot an “obstruction” or failing to provide education or anything else, I don’t find it important to try to keep it alive against all odds. If you see something, say something.
So maybe that spills over and starts to sound like I’m criticizing Jews personally for my problems with their movements. But when I complain, for example, how the person next to me is reading so slow cause they never learned Hebrew, I know I’d take time out to help that person learn Hebrew in a second if they wanted (and I have). You guys don’t see that part. I’m not against the person, I’m against the fact that the movement doesn’t have proper Hebrew education, that it’s too busy emphasizing the synagogue center to educate its members. I note the fact that Sunday Hebrew school has proven to ultimately be a failure. The kids in the Hebrew school aren’t the failures. The system was.
I have no stake in the movements. If Conservative and Modern Orthodox become Conservadox, I will be fine with that. If Orthodoxy breaks in two, which I don’t think it will just by structure, I will be fine. Because, like I said, it’s not Judaism that’s breaking in two. The movements are labels people put on what they’re experiencing and putting a List of Principles on a package of their experience. The Conservative movement, for instance, went something like fifty years before it officially became a movement. Since they’re not living and breathing to me, I’m not frightened by the prospect of looking at them from every angle. I read books about them. I learn their sociology and their history. I see them as an outsider might. It’s nothing personal. They’re just constructions to me.
That being said, what do I owe them? What do I owe Reform for accepting my patrilineality? What do I owe Conservatism for accepting homosexuality or equality for women (on paper, at least)? There are times when I want to reject Orthodoxy for knowing they will probably never really completely accept me, but when I think about it I know I wouldn’t want to be non-Orthodox, just for my own theology and frankly, for pragmatic reasons. (“In 2010, only 9% of adult members of Conservative congregations are under 40.” -2011 USCJ Strategic Planning Commission.) Should I stop criticizing the non-Orthodox movements just because I should be grateful they’re kind enough to tolerate me? I’m glad people do, don’t get me wrong, and I secretly love when people would confess that they considered me Jewish “despite what the rabbi thought,” but I know I can’t join a movement that accepts me when I don’t agree with the method by which they came to accept me. It’s the problem of an analytical person.
The reason I’m still “clinging” to Orthodoxy despite the imminent rejection is because it is my belief, basically. I won’t say any more than that, but if you continue with my idea that all the movements are just replications of the form of Judaism then how could I drift from my own beliefs (best, though not wholly, represented by Orthodoxy) just because the movement won’t ever fully accept me? It’s quite a predicament, as you can probably imagine. But joining the Conservative movement instead wouldn’t exactly solve the problem, though maybe superficially.
If I believe in patrilineality, I won’t convert at all, that’s only natural. If I believe that someone can be a feminist and still be functionally Jewish, I’ll do whatever I can to try to become halachically Jewish. My beliefs will always be mine no matter which movement does or doesn’t accept them. That in itself might be “hypocritical,” since obviously if Orthodox rabbis don’t want a gay or feminist candidate, just thinking you can legitimately be that and a viable candidate isn’t a very Orthodox belief. But is it a Jewish belief? That’s my concern. Does it make me suddenly Conservative? Do you see the arbitrariness?
Whatever rulings and laws we have RIGHT NOW that are labeled “Orthodoxy” are going to change. That will come and go. But Judaism doesn’t come and go, and I think what is Orthodoxy NOW best represents that Judaism. I know if you’re not Orthodox and you’re reading this you probably disagree. I know you’re probably saying that “halacha evolved” and “all ways are equally valid.” And I can understand that viewpoint. This isn’t to say that you have to BE Orthodox to be Jewish or you have to BE Orthodox to be practicing “real Judaism,” though at the same time I do think that there are practices that don’t represent Judaism well. That doesn’t meant I want a cherem, it just means I don’t think it’s accurate to say that calling mitzvot optional, for example, or the way certain changes were made, is representative of Judaism. That is very different from saying “there’s only one way to follow the law.” There’s one law, and many ways to follow it. But not following it, for example, or being blithe about it, is another matter.
But basically, it’s not about the movements. It’s not about which community is more likely to accept me. I care about Judaism and I care about people. And I care about truth. And if I say something in the future that you think is “rude” or “elementary school” or “dickish” or that I “lack ahavat yisrael,” come back and read this post again. And if anyone else says I “lack ahavat yisrael,” I will refer them to this post. Cause arguing in a circle isn’t the way.