Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In a Nutshell

I have had a few interesting email back-and-forths from a new reader (also a blogger) who found me through this (thank you JDJ), asking me what I believe, where I am at Jewishly, etc. I guess certain blogs follow a particular style and he questioned the absence of religious angst in mine.


Here's my attempt to neatly package up What I Believe:
1) I think that 95% of what is wrong with Orthodox Judaism is the fault of the people who practice it, not the doctrine. This is an important distinction.
2) The presence of evil in this world does not challenge my belief in God or Torah.
3) Sometimes I just face the fact that I don't like halacha and I don't understand halacha, but this doesn't mean that I am entitled to reject halacha.

This is not one of those blogs where I am going to post a great deal about my struggle with religion, mainly because I just don't struggle all that much. I question many things about my Orthodoxy and there are beliefs and practices in the Chareidi world that make me want scream. But questioning is not the same as struggling. I think that since I grew up Modern Orthodox and not Yeshivish, I don't have a lot of the issues that some other bloggers have, mostly because I wasn't subject to some of the hypocrisy with which they have had to deal. MO Judaism has its own set of challenges, of course.

Mind you, regarding these bloggers, the ones that do struggle, I am in awe of their scholarship, their thoughtfulness and their intellectual honesty (most of the time), and my heart goes out to them when I read that blogging is the only outlet they have to air out their issues. The closet atheists, Orthopraxs, self-proclaimed tongue-in-cheek apikorsim...most of them are functional Orthodox Jews who are so torn between what they feel, what they know, and what they must do. It's a little tragic that we have produced this sub-culture and that there are so few places in Orthodox society for them to go public. That said, their struggles are intellectually challenging, but they're not my struggles.

When I come face to face with an ugly aspect of my religion, I make distinctions between Jews behaving badly and Judaism behaving badly. I know that many other bloggers will write this off as hair-splitting, or worse, a cop-out, but I have known so many warped people that have hidden behind religion in order to play out their neuroses.

First case in point: I know a frum married woman who is terrified of sex. Instead of trying to work through it, she buries it in what she calls tsnius. Her husband, who has one foot off the derech at this point (largely because of this), is in a state of ongoing torment and guilt. I have had conversations with him where he lashes out at the oppressive Jewish upbringing that has made his wife so tsanuah, that it has wrung all the joy out of their intimate life. When he inevitably divorces her, he will surely look for a less-than tsanuah woman as his second wife. I try to convince him that nothing about Orthodox Judaism promotes this twisted view of tsnius, that it is just the opposite, and that it is his wife that is wrong, not Jewish feminine modesty, but he is in so much pain, he can't hear it.

Second case: I know a woman who is an agunah. Without going into her story in great detail, her ex-husband (who beat her during the course of their marriage) repels all demands for a get with the words "I am exercising my right as a Jewish husband to hold on to my marriage." Now, many of this agunah's supporters are furious with the halachot that are keeping this innocent woman bound to this psychotic monster, and feel that these halachot need to be changed. I don't. I understand the legal and halachic construct of Jewish marriage. I don't like it. I wish it didn't work the way it does. But I'm not angry with halacha, because what this get-withholding bastard is doing is clearly not the will of God and even more clearly a perversion of halacha. I loathe
him, not the halachic rules that technically empower him to keep his wife chained to him.

I don't struggle with the presence of evil in the world. It doesn't shake my belief at all. In many important ways, it strengthens it. My father, ah"s, was a force to be reckoned with. He survived the Holocaust, losing half of his family members along the way. When Dad would speak to my siblings and me about what happened to him, he would always wind it up with a warning that what happened in the Holocaust was the clearest indicator that it was the job of the Jewish people to bring light into this world. My father believed that the only way to stamp out the thinking that leads people to commit evil was through Torah, that ethical behavior, ahavas chinam and ahavas Yisroel, would replace the flames of Hitler's inferno with the fire of the Torah. Call this corny, call it a platitude, but it's hard to argue with a survivor.

Stephen King has a wonderful quote in his introduction to
Four Past Midnight:

"I still believe in the resilience of the human heart and the essential validity of love; I still believe that connections between people and the spirits which inhabit us sometimes touch. I still believe that the cost of these connections is horribly, outrageously high...and I still believe that the value received far outweighs the price which must be paid. I still believe, I suppose, in the coming of the White and in finding a place to make a stand...and defending that place to the death. They are old-fashioned concerns and beliefs, but I would be a liar if I did not admit that I own them. And that they still own me."
They own me too.

What about the bad stuff that happens in this world that is not caused by people, but by chance and nature? What about cancer, car accidents, tsunamis, babies dying, etc.? The honest answer is that I don't know. I simply don't know. And struggling with this question is noble. But I don't let what I don't know force me into rejecting what I still believe. I'm sorry if that's a weak answer. I guess much of this comes down to belief.

I don't believe in platitudes and I don't believe in making excuses for religion. It is what it is. If you don't like it, question it, challenge it, fold, mutilate and spindle it, but see it for what it is. I don't pretend to understand or like everything about halacha. But God didn't ask me what I thought when He designed the Torah, so it's my tough noogies. Luckily, He put many faces on the Torah, and gave us some leeway (though not much) to choose our roads to Him. Like a sign I saw on the West Side Highway over a yoga studio: One Truth, Many Paths. So my particular flavor of practice is Torah U'Maddah Modern Orthodoxy. It works for me, continues to strengthen my dveykus to God, and lets me sleep at night.

So, yeah, that's it.


Jacob Da Jew said...

Nice and well-written post!

Thanks for the links :)

And stay away from my beloved fishies


WebGirl said...

Thanks JDJ. And really, you just gotta get a dog. Can't snuggle with fish.

Fish are tasty though. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful post. It's nice to read a blogger that doesn't hate everything about Judaism, and it's also nice to hear that people can make the distinction between mistakes that Jews make when they practice Judaism, as opposed to hating the religion itself.