Sunday, September 21, 2008

The "Other" Orthodox Jews

In practice, dress, belief and observance, I am probably what you would call a mainstream, centrist, middle-of-the-road Orthodox Jew. Whatever the hell that might be. Everyone thinks they are mainstream and centrist, right? It's the other guy who is way off to the left or way frummed out to the right. I am perfectly balanced. Hah. If only.

But objectively speaking, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say I'm truly somewhere in the middle. I think something like 95% of Jews who call themselves Ortho would feel comfortable eating in my home after spending 10 minutes with me [swing to the right] But I've got a tv and listen to rock music [swing to the left]. I daven every day [swing to the right]. I went away to a secular college and lived in a co-ed dorm freshman year. [swing to the left] I covered my hair when I was married [swing to the right]. I let my bangs show when I wore baseball caps [swing to the left]. I don't wear pants [swing to the right]. I wear pants when I'm rafting, skiing, and on more advanced hikes [swing to the left]. I think the noblest job a woman could hold is a stay-at-home Mom [swing to the right]. I think that a frum woman should be encouraged to pursue virtually any career she chooses [swing to the left]. I wear sleeves to my elbow, scrupulously [swing to the right]. I don't bother wearing sleeves over my elbow, unless I'm somewhere where that would be disrespectful [swing to the left]. I give occasional shiurim, to women only [swing to the right]. I think secular learning is really important and I think just about everyone should go to college [swing to the left]. I respect guys who observe the prohibition of Kol Isha [swing to the right]. I respect guys who think the prohibition of Kol Isha is too much for them and go to concerts and musicals [swing to the left]. Etc.

You get the idea. I'm everywhere and nowhere. Which puts me squarely in the middle. I think.

But I am drawn to a particular culture of Ortho Jews, not so much as a personal choice for me, but just as people I really enjoy hanging with and observing. Call em hippie Orthos or Carlebach Jews, or whatever you like. They are Orthodox Jews that find their spiritual home outside of the mainstream. You've seen them. They are the guys with the ponytails or earrings, who wear a kippah srugah all the time. They are the women with the flowy skirts who are the first ones to get up and dance at a Neshamah Carlebach concert. They are offbeat and interesting and pretty religious. They are sometimes misguided, but that's rare. They really love music, or dressing unconventionally. They are almost always volunteers at chessed organizations or involved in some other organized way to show kindness to other people. They often sound spaced out, but they aren't. They just sound that way. I used to think most if not all of them were ba'alei teshuvah, but this not so. Some FFB's end up in their ranks as well.

I love their confidence in themselves, their style, their utter freedom from conventional thinking. They have taken real Jewish values and infused them with creativity and off-center implementation. In a way, they bring in the best of the sixties and leave the shmutz behind. I love this sort of stuff.

But strictly as a spectator. I'd never marry a guy with a kippah and an earring (though I might be tempted to date him). That's just not my style. But I'll go to the Carlebach concerts and those strange frummie jam sessions in Park Slope and just wallow in the culture. Recently, I spent an hour on the phone with an Ortho Hippie friend dissecting a very cool section of Tehillim. He learns Tehillim with such love and passion, something I wish I could do, but know I never will. He is a true student of Reb Shlomo in his love of God and constant celebration of life. He owns like 2 pairs of pants. He never eats bleached flour. He's a little bit of a wack job.

I love that kinda guy. I love that kinda stuff. I love that kinda Jew.


ADJ said...

I know this is a very personal question, and I would understand if you don't want to answer it, but are you shomeret negiah? (And I'm fully prepared for your answer to somehow be both a swing to the right and a swing to the left.)

WebGirl said...

Well, I guess this is why I have an anonymous blog.

It's complicated. I'll start from the extreme: I don't think I'd ever sleep with someone I wasn't married to. I say "I don't think" because I don't want to be a hypocrite...who knows what I would do in ten years if I'm not married. I wasn't sexually active until I got married, though I wonder if much of that had to do with my upbringing rather than being shomeret negiah, because, growing up modern Ortho, I used to hold hands with boys when I was in high school, and I would kiss them goodnight, etc.. But there was never any question of doing much more than that. When I moved to the right hashkafically after college, I certainly was shomeret negiah in public (no pda whatsoever), but if I dated a guy for a while, I always slipped into doing a little mild, harmless stuff. I felt not particularly great nor guilty about it. I think it would be the same now. I wouldn't want to get sexually involved with someone I wasn't married to, because, among other things, it hurts that much more when you break up. But I do think that repression of normal urges for affection is for people in their twenties who get married after a month of dating. It's just too difficult for people in their thirties and forties. I don't want to disrespect the halacha, and I understand where it's coming from, but if I'm in a relationship with someone and I'm in love, I'm probably going to be kissing them good night.

If a guy wanted to be shomer negiah though, I would respect that and not try to wreck it. I did that once when I was 26. I dated a modern Yeshivish guy who really struggled with wanting to be shomer negiah, and I would do all this flirty girly stuff to try to break down his defenses, which I eventually did. He felt terribly guilty. I felt horrible for making him compromise like that. I would never go down that road again.

So yeah, swing to the left, swing to the right, wind up nowhere, making up your own rules.

For an interesting discussion about frummies and negiah, see NJG's posting on it here: and here: