Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why I Blog Now (Part 1)

by JG

I hear reports on other blogs of communities in which 50% of the community is more or less orthoprax. Where I live now, though, this is not the case; I certainly don't feel comfortable being forthcoming about my beliefs (or lack thereof). So in shul, I nod my head along with ideas I think are foolish--and wonder how I will ever find any other orthopraxers out there doing the same. (Well, actually, I don't literally nod my head in shul; that's more at the Shabbos table. In shul, I usually end up rolling my eyes a fair amount. But you get the picture.)

Consider, after all, the social life of the still-closeted orthopraxnik: On the one hand, you cannot fully enter the social circles of non-religious Jews/non-Jews. You can't go out on Friday nights or Saturdays, and you can't always do the things they do (non-kosher restaurants, clubs, etc). Besides which, you are committed to Orthodox lifestyle, which involves close-knit Orthodox communities. But, on the other hand, how do you make a home in a community where your conversations are filled with references to things you believe to be most likely false or misunderstood, and you don't feel comfortable speaking your mind about them? And you certainly can't have discussions about all your positive ideas about what could be true, what should be accepted, or where to go next. (But I have ideas about philosophy, about theology, about what's right! Can't I have friends in shul with whom to discuss those ideas?) Sure, you share values, and history, and culture, and everything nice with them. But how do you feel comfortable in a community in which you feel isolated and stifled?

The hardest day of the year for me was not Yom Kippur this past year. I fasted, and spent all day davening, and tried my very hardest to make it mean something in whatever way I could. No, the hardest day by far was Simchat Torah: watching the crowd dance with sheer excitement and joy around a document I looked at so differently than they did, and being fully expected to do the same; wanting to just "get into it," but feeling unable to do so with that distance between me and them; taking lots of breaks from dancing to get away from it all, feeling alone despite painful attempts at blending in.

The ironic thing is that if I had been in an orthoprax community, I probably could have danced. If I had known that the people around me understood where the Torah most likely comes from, but wanted to dance to show appreciation of what it means to them and their lifestyle; if I could have danced for the complexities, contradictions, and comforts of religious life; if I hadn't been bombarded all day with divrei Torah about a naive vision of Torah study from chasidic books; if I hadn't felt out of place, in short, I could have danced for whatever aspects of my lifestyle I willingly embrace.

But I couldn't dance on that Simchat Torah. I faked it as much as I could, but I couldn't really dance. So? So I blog.


Holy Hyrax said...

Don't you just love this claim that 50% of MO are orthoprax? XGH likes to say it, but yet has never brought anything to back it up other then, my rabbi said so.

I think also, he is defining OP WAY to broadly. Is someone that believes in 11 out of the 13 ikkarim OP?????

JewishGadfly said...

Yeah, I don't know about that 50% thing, or how you could measure that. What I will say, though, is that I've spent time in Orthodox communities in which there are definitely some OP members, but no one really cares. Nobody asks what you believe, nobody cares if you walk into shul late, nobody asks whether or not people are shomer negiah, the divrei Torah are less about emunah issues and more about life issues. I feel totally comfortable in those shuls. Maybe that's what XGH has in mind.

I agree about the blurry definition.

Holy Hyrax said...

No, he has something far more selfish in mind.

G*3 said...

> watching the crowd dance with sheer excitement and joy around a document I looked at so differently than they did

That you see the Torah as a “document” is in itself one of the biggest differences.