For years – maybe forever – I never really mentioned here my religious affiliation outright. Part of it was because I didn’t want to be placed in a box. Part of it was because I found it so hard to define. Part of it was because I honestly didn’t know.
In an article published today in Jewish Ideas Daily, author Yehudah Mirsky nails it:
…while Datlashim are no longer halakhically observant or formally religious, they have not merged into the secular majority. Rather, they maintain a complex relationship with Jewish texts and spirituality, bringing much of their past into their new, present lives. As the popular quip has it, the difference between Datlashim and ordinary religious defectors is that Datlashim want their children to be Datlashim, too.
Really, it’s my exact profile: I came to Israel, where we are honestly able to question, move around, disconnect, reconnect, with greater fluidity than I’ve found in other places. Or as the author describes it: “a gigantic open-air laboratory for experiments in Judaism and Jewish identity, mixing and matching old and new forms, deliberately and on the fly, with vision and no little improvisation.”
And so many of my friends who have made aliyah seem to be in the same exact way. I was recently talking to my brother about it while we were visiting New York last month. Something about being ‘home again’ makes you wonder who you are and where you’ve gone.
Well, I concluded then that today, certainly in diaspora, it seems you’re either going towards the right or left, towards the hyper-halachically observant or the culturally-open traditional. Modern Orthodoxy is not sustainable – especially financially – so as I put it, “basically, pretty soon, we’re all either Herzl or Vilna Gaon.”
And that’s a major turn-off for me about living outside Israel, though I do see some of my friends back in New York going the same route. But what community will sustain them there? How will they remember the holidays if they’re not national culture? Stay away from seafood if it’s not hidden from view?
On the other hand – the quote above is not just a ‘popular quip.’ It’s my concern. I don’t know what will happen to my children if I continue this way. Can I provide a strong enough bond to the texts, to halacha, to tradition, if I’m not bound completely to it?
I feel my generation/community’s parents weren’t necessarily educated by the book the way we were – the gift they gave us in the Diaspora, post-Holocaust, was the gift of an academic Jewish education. We know halachot, we know the words of the ravs, we know too much. We know enough to ask digging questions that uncover dysfunction.
So here we are, with too much knowledge. What are we going to give our kids?
I highly recommend reading the article.