conclusion in her “Half-Judaism” post is that both parties are
half-right. And half-wrong. They have each only acknowledged half of
think Ruchi is spot-on. Being an active, thinking Jew is more than
just being a good person, and it’s more than just keeping kosher. There
is a phrase from our tefillah [prayer], “The World stands on three things: Torah, Worship, and Acts of Loving-kindness.”
Not just one of these things, but all three.
Torah (Written – 5 Books of Moses; Oral – Mishnah/Talmud): The Jewish
Way as we know it. Kosher, Shabbat, marriage, birth, death, business
ethics, etc. It’s all in there. How each person interprets it . . .
well, that’s a whole other post! But we must acknowledge its place in
our DNA, and find ways to incorporate its spirit, if not always its
letter, into our lives. However, it can’t be our ONLY thing.
Worship: Fairly obvious. Except, it’s not. Many of us think of prayer
as something we do a couple of times a year in a big room filled with
lots of people and questionable art. Or maybe a Shabbat service here
and there. And for many people, “prayer” hangs over them as a
prescribed thing that is in a relatively foreign language and said to a
deity in which one may or may not believe.
I’m here to say that, at
least for me, “prayer” = the hopes that I have, the dreams that I have,
the gratitude that I have, and how I express all of that and acknowledge
the Divine presence in my life. It’s rarely in the form of what is in
our prayer-books. It is, however, a part of my daily life. I think
it’s integral to being a conscious Jew – being conscious others and of
the world around you. Like #1, it can’t be the only thing you do.
Being pious in prayer alone does NOT = good Jew.
#3: Acts of
Loving-kindness: “good deeds”. Chesed. Charity. Being a good person.
We all strive for this! But it has to go hand-in-hand with #1 &
1+2+3 = 1. A whole Jew. How we incorporate these things into
our lives is as unique as our fingerprints, but we can’t go “halfsies”
on this. This is our challenge: be a full Jew.
Nicely done Leah! Concise and yet thorough. You do rock.
Thank you, Leah! You said it better than I ever could.
Thanks for the guest post, Leah. I'm impressed by the friendship that you two have despite what must be some big and deep differences. I'd love to hear more about that. I will confess that I felt a bit unsettled by Ruchi's "half-Jew" post. I couldn't decide if her criteria for "half Jew" were actually a pretty good, and not necessarily negative, description of myself (since Jewish identity is not as central to me, although I am not sure still just what this means); or if it felt implicitly devaluing of me as a person if according to these criteria I am to be "only half" of what Ruchi and others here most treasure. This is not to criticize the post itself, which I recognize is from Ruchi's own deeply felt perspective and was meant to provoke kind practices and insight rather than exclusion, but instead to indicate the effect it had on me.
Leah's post, which emphasizes the interpretive possibilities for #1, and hope/gratitude for #2, for me reopen the sense that there is some space to make myself into an identity that feels not-just-half-Jewish to me, even if it does not measure up to other Jews' standards of being a Jew. This is one of the things, I figure, that will come up if I am to be a Reform reader of a mostly-Orthodox blog. There are true differences. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here [on the blog], like really I do NOT belong here in some essential ways. I'm not sure these differences are surmountable in the sense that we could ever agree on some of the basics (like how much room for interpretation there is in Jewishness). But if "Jewish unity" includes, as the friendship described here does, possibilites for big disagreement, then I am happy to inhabit those differences together–whatever that means, to be continued . . .
Heather: aw, thanks!
SBW – thanks! I am lucky to have a friend like Ruchi – SHE'S the one that rocks, let me tell you! We are both lucky to live in a community like Cleveland that has such an amazing Jewish community. I won't say every facet of our community is as open-minded as mine and Ruchi's, but a lot of it is.
I think the whole thing about feeling "half-Jewish" could be because our movement (Reform movement) for years under-educated us, or perhaps our parents chose not to have us educated, so we felt inferior to those who clearly knew more than we did. As a result, we often associate "real" or "authentic" Judaism with those who "do more" or know more. This, in my opinion, is wrong. In my opinion there are many paths to being a Whole Jew. There are many variations of "authentic." One is not more "right" than the other, IMHO. What I think it paramount, however, is that some form of conscious thought and action involving the above 3 things and your heart are a part of your life.
Ok, and you ABSOLUTELY belong here! You don't have to be Orthodox to learn from someone who is! And you may not believe this, but people who stop by here learn from YOU!!!
I very deeply believe Jewish Unity MUST include possibilities for respectful disagreement. Otherwise, I would not be here. And Ruchi would not have me here if she did not believe that as well.
SBW: I sometimes feel the same way about reading and commenting on this blog, like "I'm not worthy!"
Leah: I love your post, especially the part about prayer, and I love your comment as well, especially the pph about feeling "half Jewish." I have never heard a perspective like yours and I'm going to check out your blog! Thanks for posting. =)
Ladies, so you REALLY feel that way? That both surprises and saddens me. But I've seen that in real life too sometimes. I don't mean to be intimidating, but somehow it seems my Orthodoxy has that effect on people. As the Cat in the Hat would say, What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.
Please don't stop visiting and commenting. Without your viewpoint, it's not a conversation – it's a superfluous soliloquy.
And Leah: thanks for inviting the candor.
Few forums allow one to plainly express opinions and disagreements in a safe and respectful environment. Kudos to both Ruchi and Leah!
And Sbw, I don't think of this as a mostly Orthodox blog at all. But perhaps to you that's how it feels.
Ruchi, I will never stop saying how I enjoy and learn from this blog–which is why I'm grateful that you not only let me (and other Reform and other-stripe types) hang out here but invite me/us in (and post my looooongwinded comments).
It does feel Orthodox to me (and why shouldn't it? you and most of the posters are Orthodox), and yes often quite foreign, with some bits that feel less foreign, all offered with warmth and generosity. What makes it feel Orthodox or like I don't belong? Some of your most basic principles, what you love and identify with and take as the basic categories of Jewish existence and existence in general, I do not share as my own. And so if for you and your mostly-Orthodox readers sharing those principles/loves/identifications/categories is the quintessence of Jewishness, then yeah, I don't really fit in.
Here's a statement that might look like I'm stepping in a minefield but I don't mean it that way: Actually the blog has helped me understand in a way that I never did, i.e. in a truly nondefensive way, how Orthodox Jews might believe that people like me are not "really Jewish". I do NOT mean this to say that you or anyone here has ever suggested this, absolutely on the contrary. But reading your posts I have learned a great deal about what "Jewish" means to you and to Orthodox Judaism, and indeed a lot of that is not part of my life. So now I see much better how that whole conflict can appear from an Orthodox point of view–again, not at all to suggest that you participate in that exclusion of non-Orthodox Jews, and also not to suggest that I feel that the Orthodox definition of Jewishness is the only 'correct' or acceptable one.
Ahhh. I smell a blog post brewing 🙂
I never, ever understood why Reform Jews think that Orthodox Jews think they're not Jewish.
Now I think I understand where this is coming from. "Jewish" and "Jew-ish" are NOT the same thing – but, then Orthodox and Reform Jews define Jewish differently – which cuts both ways. Thank you so much for helping me to understand this… I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about but I will elucidate in a future post(I think you win the prize for inspiring posts here!).
Um, and yes – it sure is a minefield. I try to avoid them because I don't relish getting killed 🙂
Ruchi, that's a post I really want to read. It's something I've been very aware of – as a Jew who has embraced and enjoyed aspects of both Reform and Orthodox Judaism at different times. After spending time with Orthodox friends, I totally understand how if the Torah and Tanach and Talmud are ALL "from sinai", then not observing all the mitzvot as prescribed is just wrong. I get that… but then I also see the other side. It's a difficult line to straddle, and frankly I don't know if it really can be done without just shrugging and continuing on blithely.
Becca, Thanks. It's a wacky, uncertain Jewish world when we realize how much we don't know. For example, I got to college and had never heard of a mikvah! seriously! And I was raised in an active Reform family! [well THAT has changed – our HS students at our Temple visit a mikvah and learn about it in the context of the Jewish values of modesty and taking care of the Divine vessel that is our bodies.]
When I got to Hillel and met all the Conservative and Orthodox Jews I was MORTIFIED at what I did not know. I swung around for years, trying to find my place. It is only very recently that I have returned to the Reform movement, secure and confident in my beliefs and the knowledge that me and the Holy Presence are good. *insert Divine fist-bump here*
Becca and SBW I encourage you to stay and learn, and share your views so we all may learn from you.
Leah, it had not occurred to me until now that anyone here would learn from me, thanks for turning that around and showing me that possibility.
p.s. Can I still vote in the poll? I didn't see it until yesterday. I vote "never thought if it" (which held true until I asked Ruchi about this a few weeks ago).