Where I am religiously. Part 2.

So – did you smile?

I guess I’m feeling a bit philosophical lately because today alone I managed to get myself into a gun control debate that, ahem, triggered… well… no resolutions for me… as well as a different thread about religious observance, pride, and – yeah – Rashi.

Basically, a friend posted the above image on her Facebook profile, and it gave me a good laugh – I haven’t read Rashi in years, but man that handwriting sticks with you. So I shared it again on mine, with the caption ‘and proud!’

It spurred an interesting thread, raising points I hadn’t at all considered when I had first found the humor in the picture. I’m not going to copy/paste for privacy’s sake, (and keep in mind it was more than two people), but in summary:

  • Why would I be proud to have shed my observance (which is actually not completely true) and be able to read Rashi script?
  • Actually clarified that my statement of pride was for being able to read Rashi. In my words: “as Facebook might say, for a lot of us, ‘it’s complicated with Religion.’ actually, probably for everyone ever. anyway – yes, I’m proud I learned this. I’m proud of the education I got. I’m proud I have a ton of info with which to use as the background for making life choices. for many people, staying as observant as they were growing up might be obvious. for me, it isn’t.”
  • And still for others, it is pride in no longer being observant, after a lifetime of being exposed to some ways, and then being able to make choices about going outside the box.
  • But why do you have to be datlash to read Rashi? What about everyone else? And why flaunt your non observance to everyone else? To, for instance, baalai tshuva who have chosen to embrace observance? And during the 9 Days we shouldn’t be flaunting our divisions, but focusing on unity.
  • My response to some of it: “I’m not really sure how any of this was flaunting or division… the way I took this light hearted attempt to make (some of) us smile is that, as someone who’s in the middle of a process, I might forget day to day where I come from, but it’s things like reading Rashi that remind me of where I came from… I have a sort of baal tshuva background within a modern orthodox mold. I’ve never felt I fit in anywhere. and a testament to that is the fact that along with abc which I do, and xyz which I question, and 123 that I’ve left behind, there’s… Rashi. which I can still read when I’m reviewing the parsha. that makes me smile. on top of that, I feel absolutely lucky (or maybe the word is blessed) that I was given the opportunity to study. that I gained this form of education relatively early on. for myself. so it’s not taken for granted, if that’s a concern.”
  • More talk of flaunting observance/non observance.

I couldn’t understand where the idea of flaunting came from. Divisions. This was a harmless joke. Why did it offend some, and rally others? I actually turned it over and over in my head. And after going out for a night walk in Tzur Hadassah – where both tank topped me and my Beitar Illit neighbors passed each other on the same road twice – I came back with this:

ok I’ve been puzzling over what I saw as a disconnect. does this help? (excuse the english-major worthy deconstruction) – I think the point of this image was to be humorous as long as the right type of person is sharing it. I think in the beginning of the thread, folks seemed to take it as ‘why would reading rashi only make you datlash?’ but if you’re less observant or no longer observant, it’s funny since that always stays with you; that’s the punchline – you may no longer be observant, but you can still read rashi. I’m not sure where this became about divisions. I also don’t think because someone is proud of the state of their observance or non observance, after years of consideration, that should be an offense to those who are observant. if we’re going to make it as a nation, I think a basic truth we have to come to accept is that after years of diaspora and challenge, bnei yisroel is going to be diverse. forever. and because of the world we live in today – one where democracy is embraced by much of it, education and enlightenment are long ‘rights’ – well, we’re all individually going to be different as well. forever. and there’s the 9 days lesson for me. yasher koach.

So I’m glad I was able to sneak in some 9 Days relevance before this weekend. I’m usually embarrassingly late to that game.

(And it’s ‘part 2’ because…)

Finally nailed it: This is where I am religiously.

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.