What Do You Want Judaism To Be? (Feministe Edition)

Daisy Bond here again!

Because I am Jewish, much of my writing, this post included, is targeted at Jews. I just want to say at the outset that I care about this because it is mine, not because I think it’s somehow superior. I’m very strongly in favor of other folks doing this kind of thing for their own groups, and I don’t mean to disrespect the non-Jewish Feministe readership in any way. I write about what I know — anything else would be presumptuous at best, and probably much worse than that. With that said…

I recently started a conversation on my blog about the future of Judaism, centered on the question, “What do you want Judaism to be?” As I’ve begun to close in on adulthood, I’ve become aware of my personal responsibility to ensure that Judaism survives, of the obligation and the privilege to decide for myself what that means and what it will look like. Jewish religion and culture have been evolving and adapting for thousands of years — I firmly believe that young Jews today are both entitled and obliged to reinterpret Judaism and Jewishness for ourselves, in a way that respects and weighs seriously the values and practices of our forebears without being shackled to them or suffocated by them. I consider this to be a fascinating, joyful and deeply fulfilling task, and also an urgent one: if we don’t do it, Judaism (the religion, the culture, the way of life) will die, and the Jews will die as a people.

With all of this in mind, I posed a series of questions to try to collaborate with Jews of my generation (broadly defined) to keep Judaism vital, relevant, and ours. To my delight, people offered a wealth of thoughtful and fascinating responses, in the comments on my post and at their own blogs. If you’re interested in this issue, I strongly encourage you to read everyone’s responses.

Because this platform affords me an entirely different and much larger audience, I’m going to post my original questions again here to see what Feministe readers have to say. I have many more thoughts in this vein, but I think this is the right place to begin in this new venue.

As I said in my first post, I especially want to talk to Diaspora Jews of my generation who, like me, are concerned with this task, but all responses are welcome. I would also very much like to hear from those Jews who are most at risk of being left out of the conversation: queer folks, Jews of color, Jews from “intermarried” families and those with only one Jewish parent, those who are themselves married to or in a relationship with a non-Jewish person, those who grew up secular or just not very observant, those who didn’t get a traditional Jewish education (Hebrew school, bar/bat mitzvah, etc). I want to hear from you! And I want you to know that Judaism is yours, that your have every right to it, that your voice and your concerns and are important and relevant and should (must!) be part of this discussion.

I deliberately use the phrase “Judaism and Jewish culture” to emphasize that this task is both cultural and religious, and because I very much want atheist, agnostic and secular voices in this discussion. Please feel free to answer as many or as few of the questions as you like, to share other thoughts or feelings, to pose entirely new questions, etc.

Without further ado:

– What do you like about Judaism and Jewish culture? What do you dislike?

– Why are Judaism and Jewish culture important? Why is it important to preserve them?

– What is your relationship with Judaism as a religion? Do you feel connected to Judaism? To a temple community, to a minyan, to a study group? If not, would you like to be?

– Are you affiliated with any of the movements? Which one, and why? If not, why not? What do you like and/or dislike about it?

– How observant are you? How important is observance to you? How observant should others be? Are some kinds of observance more important than others?

– What practices or ideas are most central to your Jewish identity? (i.e. eating bagels, loving books, celebrating the High Holidays, not celebrating Christian holidays, keeping kosher, fighting for justice, etc.)

– Ideally, what will Judaism and Jewish culture look like in 10 years? In 25 years? In 100 years?

– What are most critical issues for the Jewish community to address right now? Israel, intermarriage, declining synagogue attendance, something else entirely?

– What are the key qualities for Judaism/Jewish culture to embody or functions for it to perform?

My own answer to the last question, briefly: I want Judaism to be a living, adaptable source of love, sustenance, guidance and justice. I want Jewish communities to be passionate, welcoming, and deeply committed Judaism as the community interprets it, and I want there to be a lot of room for interpretation.

What do you want Judaism to be?

(I respectfully request that non-Jews not participate in this thread, because I’d like to create a space for focused, intra-communal discussion. [Update! Wording changed at the suggestion of FashionablyEvil and others in the comments, in order to avoid excluding participating members of our community and/or shaming people for not being Jewish enough.] I respectfully request that this thread be restricted to the Jewish community, broadly defined, because I’d like to create a space for focused, intra-communal discussion. As I said above, I’m focused on Jews because I’m Jewish; I’m 100% in favor of others doing this kind of thing for whatever groups they belong to.)


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106 comments for “What Do You Want Judaism To Be? (Feministe Edition)

  1. July 15, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I want to not have to worry that you don’t mean me when you say “non-Jew.”

    I want a liberal Judaism that still attracts its husbands, fathers and sons who seem to run far, far away once they can no longer exclude women from the club.

    I want a Judaism that prioritizes women’s rights in halachos.

    I want a Judaism that stops promoting apologetics in place of adressing misogyny and homophobia.

    I want liberal Jews to put their money where their mouth is an realize that we CAN take back our customs, that maybe to throw away kashrut, head covering and mikveh is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That we can’t perpetuate an identity without an identity to perpetuate. That the only reason we can sit there and mouth off about how “white” we are is that we’ve assimilated. And that even to say that ignores Sephardim and Jews of color.

    I want us to realize that Chabad is running the table and that’s a bad thing. They have the money, the have the feet on the ground, and they have an agenda. Stop apologizing for them and start putting our own feet on the ground.

    I want to be able to pray at the Kotel without being afraid someone will spit on me.

    I want to be able to walk through Mea Sharim without being afraid someone will throw rocks at me.

    I want racism in Israel against Sephardim and Ethiopean Jews to stop, now.

    I want us to stop prioritizing tzdakah to exclusively Jewish groups and start promoting it to all humanity.

    Yeah. I want a lot of things.

  2. melancholia
    July 15, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    This is probably not the answer you were looking for, but I am glad I escaped Judaism long ago, against the best efforts of my parents. With how much misery has been wrought on the basis of superstitious nonsense and vague, irrational thinking, frankly I’m amazed that educated Jews today still argue for “preserving the culture” and all that. Also remember that the other great oppressive monotheisms – Christianity and Islam – stem from the same Iron Age myths upon which Judaism is based.

    Let it die, along with all other ancient myths, as far as I’m concerned. There is no “saving” a completely arbitrary and oppressive belief system that was invented by ignorant men thousands of years ago in the desert. It is a fundamentally patriarchal, ignorant, violent, genocidal, flawed outlook on the world. We should argue outright for progressive liberal values without having to attempt – futilely – with the delusions of a previous era.

  3. July 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    hmm. Interesting question. I wish I knew what I wanted Judaism to look like. It has, at various times throughout my life been completely inclusive and exclusive to me. Truly, as an atheist Jew with a deep and abiding tie to my cultural identity as a Jew I wish I could find a way to have a closer connection.

    I look forward to further comments.

  4. Jordan
    July 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Daisy Bond,

    Most of the things you say you want from Judaism could just as well be pursued through a secular culture or a culture of another religion.

    What specifically aspects of Judaism/Jewish culture make it preferable for a Jew to have that culture other than another?

    Or do you just think there’s innate value to having many separate cultures and view diversity as it’s own reward, not because it has positive effects?

  5. July 15, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    @melancholia – I understand the sentiment of “let it die” and yet, there is so much meaning in the rituals, many of which have nothing to do with a god. The counting of the Omer, tashlich , even Purim have lessons to teach. Not to say those lessons couldn’t be taught outside the structure of Judaism, but this is how I learned certain lessons and I wish there was a way to maintain the positive, growing and progressive Judaism without the regressive and oppressive one.

  6. July 15, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Jordan, I don’t know about Daisy–but your question doesn’t quite make sense to me. It is preferable for us because we inherited it or we chose it. I don’t know that advocating for the special-ness of our belief system should be the goal here.

    For myself, I owe it to the women who came before me who fought and often died to keep their customs to at least look carefully and mindfully at each custom I might want to discard. I owe it to them to at least give Judaism my best shot before I turn to something else.

    The Dalai Lama often tells those who wish to convert to another religion that they should first try to be the very best Jews/Christinans/Hindus they can be, and then and only then, if they have exhausted those options, should they turn to Buddhism. Religions, as melancholia pointed out, rarely have much to recommend one over the other–so we might as well work with the one we’ve got.

  7. July 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I do love that I can feel included in this post. My mother is an Eastern European Jew, and my father a German Catholic with some Jewish roots. I was raised in a mostly secular fashion, and consider myself an agnostic or pagan Jew.

    And I disagree with ‘melancholia’ rather a bit (especially with hir antagonistic language). I do resent the patriarchal mores upon which the culture and religion were founded. I dislike that it was a religion that began in the blood of those slaughtered for believing in a female counterpart to the patriarchal deity. I am outraged at the close-minded, racist, and misogynistic views maintained even today by some Jews, especially in Orthodox communities. I am saddened that Baruch Spinoza, who I feel is the spiritual leader of the movement I most identify with, was excommunicated for his point of view.

    But I don’t feel that Judaism is a single, monumental and unchanging entity. I feel that, far more than if I belonged to a Christian community, I have the freedom to grow and adopt my own belief system. I think of Judaism as a culture and ethnicity that happens to have a coinciding religion.
    I appreciate that most of the Jewish community I belong to regard the Torah as an allegorical document, with limitations, and so do not regard women as chattel or as inferior. I would like, as chava would, to see more communities overtly cut ties to racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny, whether they believe it present in the holy book or not.
    I would like Judaism to really become that progressive culture of inclusiveness that I know it can be, accepting Jews of all sexual orientations, races, and nationalities, and working to reject persecution. I wish a strong, symbiotic accord could be reached with Palestine, acknowledging all of the wrongs we have done to one another (far too many by the Israelis :( ) and also our mutual rights to exist in peace and freedom.
    I want Judaism to support the right of Jews to live as they please, and not feel ostracized because we do not show the approved number of earmarks of Judaism.

    I also would push for more inclusiveness in the governments of the countries we live in, greater respect for our wishes and greater protections against those who misunderstand or would like to harm us for what we are.

    And it does feel good to have a chance to speak. I feel a little uncomfortable with the heading that all ‘non-Jews’ not be allowed to speak here. I have been told before that I am not “Jewish enough” to hold an opinion in such a forum. I know we’re trying to guard against swimming in a sea of uninformed opinions, but I’m sure some of the smart women and men who make up the ‘gentile’ readership of this blog may have something interesting to say as well. Just a thought :)

    Thank you, Daisy Bond, for giving us a place to discuss.

  8. July 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I’m not religious. I find Judaism academically fascinating – as I do other religions, but Judaism more so because of the Talmud and midrash and all of that. I like that about Judaism – that it’s a nerd religion*, the emphasis on study and debate and interpreting the text.

    *I say this as a compliment and self-identify as a nerd

    I don’t keep Shabbat or keep kosher – I would eat chametz on Pesach and ignore the High Holy Days if I didn’t currently live with my family, who enforce that. Yet interestingly I still feel very strongly that I am a Jew – my dad’s a goy and when a friend made a reference to my being half-Christian I was very offended.

    I want a Jewish community that doesn’t allow the co-option of its name to smash the Establishment Clause with the excuse of “Judeo-Christian tradition.” I want people to realize that the far right is using us for their own ends with regard to that clause and to Israel.

    I want a Jewish community with diverse opinions on Israel. There are a great many Jews who opposed Operation Cast Lead, for example, but the “face” of Jewish opinion in the news and in the political sphere (and in Facebook groups and statuses, for that matter) was firmly in favor. I want real criticism to stop being dismissed as anti-Semitic by parents and rabbis and teachers.

    I want a Jewish community that realizes that the Holocaust was a human tragedy, not just a Jewish one (fuck you very much, Dov Hikind).

    I want a Jewish community that doesn’t consider “thou shalt hate Arabs and Muslims” one of the Ten Commandments.

    I want a Jewish community that tries to make Jewish education interesting. I’m not a little convinced that my lack of interest in Judaism is at least in part because Hebrew school was so incredibly boring.

  9. July 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    What specifically aspects of Judaism/Jewish culture make it preferable for a Jew to have that culture other than another?

    Or, put another way: what specific aspects of other cultures make it preferable for a Jew to have those cultures instead of Jewishness? Why does Jewishness need to be justified, when white and Christian cultures don’t?

    I think the question of specific aspects is going to change from person to person, but the urge to resist assimilation (which, although I’m sure it’s made many people happy, has definitely been the source of stress and unhappiness for many other people) should be reason enough to perpetuate one’s own culture.

  10. July 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I highly recommend you read The Passionate Torah if you haven’t already. It addresses a lot of the questions you ask in this post.

  11. July 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    The “women’s mitzvot” have always intrigued me for various reasons. There are days that I wear a teichel, not because I believe hair is ervah but because I want to be fully covered. I haven’t explored this fully, but it is associated with having been sexually abused as a child.

    The mikveh intrigues me in the same way. The purification ritual, while I haven’t practiced it, is very attractive for reasons above.

    Currently I am not involved in any denomination. Once in a Rosh Chodesh, I will attend the reform queer synagogue in my area. I would be very open to being involved in a study group though.

  12. July 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    For me, Judaism is about the tradition, the long standing family bonds that tie us together. I love the simplicity of things, the ornateness of others and the complexity that lives in the texts. I dislike that some Jews look down on others for their “non-Jewishness.” A dear friend of mine always calls herself the “bad Jew” and me the “good Jew.” I hate that she feels the need to compare herself. I hate that there are some people who feel like in order to be a “good Jew,” you have to attend services, keep kosher, etc. I love that to be a Jew, you can identify as a religious Jew, a cultural Jew, or a national Jew (i.e. to be Israeli). I love that being Jewish does not require you to think or act in any certain way, that everything is open to all interpretation.

    Just as preserving our national heritage is important, so too is it important to understand where our people come from. To me, Judaism and Jewish culture are so important because it teaches us to be open and accepting. So many of our people died because they were Jewish; it’s time for us to open the doors of love and acceptance and erase all hatred in the world.

    I do not feel all that connected to Judaism as a faith. I am a spiritual person and don’t feel that if I want to talk to Hashem, I need to do it through a prayer that someone set up a thousand years ago. I am involved in my temple, but not through any religious practice. I wish I could be connected, but I think it’s one of those things that change when you have kids.

    I am affiliated with Reform Judaism and I love it. I love that I have the ability to speak my mind, that I can read from Torah, that I don’t have to follow X, Y or Z if I don’t agree with it. My mom always said “we’re reform, we’re into choices” and I couldn’t agree more.

    I’ve gotten more observant now that I’m married (if you call lighting Shabbat candles when we remember to observant), but I follow the Pesach rules to a T. For some reason, that has always been more important to me. I don’t really care how observant others are because I cannot judge nor can I dictate how they should practice their faith.

    Most central to my Jewish identity is most certainly being open to new ideas, new people and new experiences as well as raising my (non-existent) children Jewish. I do not celebrate the main Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) as I feel that would deconstruct who I am, but to me, St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day are just fun celebrations.

    I hope that Judaism continues to grow, but my fear is that American Jews are becoming too assimilated. I fear that we’ll end up with Secular Jews and Orthodox Jews and no one in between to bridge the gap. I’d like to think that all Jews could work together to have a beautiful representation to American and to the world of who we are, as there are still some people in the South who believe Jews have horns.

    The most critical issues for the Jewish community to address right now are assimilation, young people taking over the movement and having a better understanding between all the different sects.

    I agree with your answer to the last part whole-heartedly and do not believe I could add anything to the statement.

  13. debbie
    July 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    These are hard and loaded questions for me, as someone who gave up on the Jewish community in the aftermath of what happened in Gaza. Yes, I realize this is a privileged position, and I do strongly believe that progressive Jewish people have an obligation to push the envelope in our families and communities.

    Where I live right now, I am not connected to any progressive Jews. I think I might feel differently if there were others who shared my beliefs, and we could support it each other in the face of fighting horrifying injustice and overwhelming hostility from the establishment Jewish community (which includes my family).

    I want to feel connected. I believe that many of the traditions are beautiful, and can evolve to be inclusive of women and queer folks. But at the moment, that part of my identity is a source of pain.

    That said, I am enjoying the responses so far, and looking forward to reading what others have to say.

  14. The Flash
    July 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Chava wrote,

    “I want a liberal Judaism that still attracts its husbands, fathers and sons who seem to run far, far away once they can no longer exclude women from the club.”

    And I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it so gracefully articulated. There is a major problem in liberal Judaism, that it has ceased to provide a compelling masculine narrative. In the course of trying to correct for perceived traditions of misogyny, liberal Judaism forgot that there needs to be a replacement narrative defining Jewish masculinity as something more than supportive of the effort to rol lback misogyny. Whether or not men have taken too central a role in historical Judaism, there will be no future for liberal Judaism if there is a backlash that gives men less than half of the modern narrative. the overwhelming tide of interfaith families that are active in liberal Jewish circles are Jewish men with non-Jewish wives, and looking back on a childhood spent in liberal Jewish circles, I cannot recall any peers who identified as Jewish with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father.

    This is partly because Jewish observance is much, much harder for men; conversion among men is almost unheard of, if only because waking up every morning– including sundays– to pray in a synagogue before work is a big hurdle, and is hard to smudge, while the privacy of women’s observance and the deemphasis on time-sensitivity makes it easier to accomodate your own abilities and inclinations. Even in liberal circles where there is less urgency surrounding conversion, traditions of observance for men in Judaism hinge on the personal and the academic, while women’s observance incorporates religion into communal activities like meal preparation, folkdance and music. This can break off into a broader discourse about evolving concepts of masculinity in the general population, but in specifically Jewish circles, those communal activities that men share tend to be things that liberal Judaism eschews or renders unisex: Israel advocacy and internally-focused community growth like putting together minyans for people who are sitting shiva. A non-Jewish woman married to a Jewish man can easily be incorporated into traditionally female activities in Judaism, but a non-Jewish man mostly has no role in men’s Jewish prayer (which requires learning another language), probably isn’t turned on by Zionism, doesn’t have a role in making Shiva calls other than what any general memebr of the public has in expressing comfort to another member of the general public. The result is that while non-Jewish women married to Jewish men have found a voice in Reform and even Conservative Judaism, the non-Jewish husbands of Jewish women have not become similarly engaged, and the children of those families have not grown up engaged in Jewish community. As a result, if liberal Judaism cannot persuade men to stay, either by creating an engaging space for non-Jewish men or by creating an attractive masculine narrative for Jewish boys and men, it will develop a shelf-life.

    Jewish traditions are partly rooted in a notion of being “special,” for better or for worse, and Reform Judaism stands shoulder to shoulder with very few other religious groups that try to integrate modern liberal values as a central and explicit part of the movement’s ideology– Unitarianism and secular humanism are the only other ones that come to mind. Maybe Quakerism. But communities are defined by inclusion/exclusion terms, and in the absence of a notion of “specialness” (as reform Judaism has explicitly left behind the notion of Jews being a “chosen people”) and the relaxing of formal rules of behavior, no defining narrative has filled that space, except for a dwindling Holocaust mentality and a dwindling family narrative (as families are less and less composed of other Jews). Ethical Humanism and Uniterianism may still be defining themselves, but tradition is more than just a song at the beginning of Fiddler on the Roof in Judaism. What has become clear is that Judaism can, and perhaps can only, exist compulsively, but there needs to be a set of core principles compelling that compulsion that are found specifically within Judaism, and are not, as Jordan pointed out, a warmed-over ethical humanism.

  15. FashionablyEvil
    July 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    What do you want Judaism to be?

    I respectfully request that non-Jews not participate in this thread

    I want Judiasm to consider the effects of excluding non-Jews who are married to Jews but participating in Jewish life. One of the most painful experiences for me was one of the rabbis (at our progressive, Reform) synagogue telling me that she basically wasn’t interested in me as a member of the congregation until I had children. Then she’d be happy to perform the bris, etc., but until then, I was basically nobody.

  16. Lauren
    July 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I am deeply attached to my background in Conservative Judaism, and feel that the lessons I learned from my tradition have helped fuel my progressive, liberal, feminist ideas in a positive way. While I cannot and do not condone the treatment of women, gays, and non-Orthodox Jews by ultra-religious communities, I also understand that these people do not represent all Jews, all over the world. The amazing experiences that I had as a Conservative Jewish child, adolescent, and young adult far outweigh the qualms I have with my tradition.

    So what do I want Judaism to be? I think that because Judaism is divided by the different movements, that each movement has the responsibility to give each person the freedom and knowledge to make the religious and cultural choices her or she wants to make, in a community supportive of those choices. This means giving every Jewish child a thorough education in both Jewish religious tradition and culture, as well as Jewish history, and how that history shaped the beliefs of the different movement. This of course, is no substitute for a thorough secular education; for Jewish children, I think both are fundamentally important. As a future educator, it is one of my fundamental beliefs (one that had its beginnings in my Jewish background) that education is the key to all freedom, both religious and secular.

  17. July 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I cannot recall any peers who identified as Jewish with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father

    It’s interesting to see the difference between my parents on Judaism – my mother (the Jew) places a greater importance on Judaism but doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, where my dad (the lapsed goy) is more knowledgeable about law and ritual but only insists when my mother does. (He can’t read Hebrew, but he can follow along in the Haggadah because he knows a few words, like “mitzrayim.”)

    She’s the one who, when I’d nearly passed out for want of food during Pesach, yelled at me for wanting to break kashrut (because “Passover is supposed to be different from the rest of the year”) and told me to have a cheeseburger with no bun instead of making some pasta. This is a pretty good encapsulation of her attitude. I’ve also literally reduced her to tears on one occasion during a conversation about Israel. It’s very much an emotional connection for her – my dad, not so much. I think maybe because he wasn’t raised with it, it’s easier for him not to get worked up about it – and that’s a flaw in education, that someone raised even in a fairly lax Jewish househod can’t see reason about it.

  18. Elyssa
    July 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Oh, man. I’ve been on a bit of a (massive) spiritual crisis of late, to be quite honest, and this comment will definitely reflect that. I find it incredibly difficult if not impossible to marry Judaism and feminism – for me, personally. I don’t think they’re incompatible and other people can do it just fine, but I was raised in a very religious school setting and that sort of muddled my abilities to recognize Judaism as a religion that is always capable of being re-interpreted. For those who are able to shape the text to modern times and ideals, I applaud you. I wish I could do the same. Since I can’t though I have tried, and since I cannot help but see Judaism as the first patriarchal religion from which the rest stemmed, I have… conflict. A lot of it, all the time, and I’m not really sure where I stand on any of it anymore. And, because of that, I can’t tell you what I want Judaism to be, because I can’t help but see it in that rigid way I was taught was the Only Truth.

    But, I suppose, I want Judaism to be the flexible religion other people see it as. I want Judaism to cut out the prayer that reads “Thank God I am not a woman.” I want Judaism to remember that God is supposed to be without gender. I want Judaism to recognize that all bibles are ultimately written by men, and those men inevitably had cultural and personal beliefs that taint any sort of message. I want Judaism to be rid of notions of guilt and prostration before God. I want a Judaism I can feel the way I feel the sun.

  19. July 15, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    “I want Judaism to remember that God is supposed to be without gender.”

    YES.

  20. July 15, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Eylssa, sometimes people need some time away. Especially people who had a very Orthodox upbringing. Especially women.

    Sometimes it takes years away, sometimes less–but a lot of people I know have eventually found their way back into a more liberal and loving version of Judaism.

    What you say about Orthodox education resonates so strongly with me. I know so, so many people who have been driven away from Judaism by their early religious education, often done by the Lubavitch. I swear, those people make me see red.
    My husband was one of those driven away until, many years later he stumbled into a hippie liberal Reform shul with a lesbian cantor and a rabbi who added “may G-d heal all victims of senseless violence, and all people everywhere” to the end of the Misheberach.

  21. July 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I think we need to remember that it is important to embrace the struggle and difficulty many here have voiced already. Without the struggle, we are complacent and apathetic.

    I don’t think Judaism–my Judaism, anyway–wants us to do anything less than engage and wrestle with our own spiritual journeys. After all, “Israel” means “one who struggles with G-d.”

  22. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you so much, everyone, for all the fascinating responses! I’m having a blast reading all your comments.

    Now to try to respond to them individually…

  23. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Chava at #1 — thank you for for beautiful comment. That’s a really commendable list of things to want; I want all of those things, too, and more. Re: “I want to not have to worry that you don’t mean me when you say ‘non-Jew.’” — I really, really, really don’t want to exclude any Jews, and I hope that neither you nor anyone else feels excluded. I do want to set limits on this kind of discussion, because limits are what give it meaning — who cares what a born and raised Baptist, for example, wants Judaism to be…? It’s not her place to decide. So there need to be some limits. But I want a broadly inclusive definition of “Jew” than includes both maternal and paternal descendants of Jews, converts through all the Jewish movements, etc.

  24. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Melancholia: I respect your choice and wish you luck in your life. My experiences have been very different from yours.

    Faith: Truly, as an atheist Jew with a deep and abiding tie to my cultural identity as a Jew I wish I could find a way to have a closer connection.

    Most of the Jews I know are atheists, and they run the gamut from deeply concerned with and connected to Judaism to totally indifferent. So I think a closer connection — a connection as close as you want — is possible. I hope that you’re able to find it!

    I appreciated your response to melancholia. I do think there are ways to maintain the positive Judaism while losing the oppressive one, though I’m not sure exactly what they are… That’s I’m doing this. : )

  25. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Jordan: Julie and chava said it perfectly.

  26. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Magnetic Crow — thank you for your comment! I’m really glad you feel included in this discussion, and I very much appreciate everything you said.

    And it does feel good to have a chance to speak. I feel a little uncomfortable with the heading that all ‘non-Jews’ not be allowed to speak here. I have been told before that I am not “Jewish enough” to hold an opinion in such a forum. I know we’re trying to guard against swimming in a sea of uninformed opinions, but I’m sure some of the smart women and men who make up the ‘gentile’ readership of this blog may have something interesting to say as well. Just a thought :)

    I absolutely don’t want to get into “Jewish enough” contests that leave people out. The feeling of being an outsider, ignorant, never Jewish enough seems endemic among young American Jews (and possibly other groups too, that’s the demographic I know). I do not want to play into that in any way.

    Honestly, when I wrote that, I was imagining large numbers of Christian-by-culture atheists coming in and killing the discussion. I couldn’t think of any more appropriate way to limit the terms than just “Jews only,” because I don’t want to kick atheist and agnostic Jews out by any means. But I am open to suggestions about more effective ways to filter the conversation.

  27. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Rebecca at #9 — amen! I totally agree that Judaism is a nerd religion. My dad is a goy, too, but I am nonetheless fully a Jew. I get really annoyed when anyone says otherwise.

  28. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Devin: thank you for your response — you said everything beautifully and I couldn’t agree more.

  29. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Debbie at #14 — I hear you. I feel like I’m being torn in half every time I read about what is happening Gaza.

    I am so sorry you are in pain. I hope you find the community you deserve and are able to feel connected in whatever ways work for you.

  30. Yemina
    July 15, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    What do you want Judaism to be?

    More vital than deliberating on what I would like Judaism to be, is to discover what Judaism is. The Midrash states that Mount Sinai merited to be the site of the giving of the Torah (which is the source for all of our traditions) because it was the most humble of the mountains, similarly Moses our teacher, was able to be the conduit for G-d to transmit the Torah because he was also the most humble person on the face of the earth. The message here is clear. If judaism really is a set of instructions from G-d, teaching us how to optimally use the world which He has so graciously created for us and placed us in, then the key cannot be to try and impose our own ideals and perceived notions of what is right into judaism. Rather we must absorb the teachings of this religion and use them as the context for considering the world around us. Most people are quick to see an orthodox woman wearing a head covering and denounce the Torah’s laws as misogynistic and archaic. But they fail to follow the topic further and discover that this covering plays an important part in retaining the intense and extremely intimate relationship which should exist between a Jewish husband and wife. Furthermore a person’s first glance judgments keep them from ever finding out that men are equally required to act in a modest non-promiscuous manner, and to avert their eyes from gazing (with specific intent) and any woman besides their wives. These laws by no means exist to constrict those who follow them, but rather to allow for the human capacity for love (both physical and emotional) to be utilized in the ultimate. Unfortunately society has taught us to form 60 second opinions, and to immediately denounce anything that makes us uncomfortable because we don’t understand it. Personally I would love to see Jews of all stripes unite with a renewed drive to serve G-d and be the best people we can be. However this goal is not accomplished by changing Judaism but rather by allowing Judaism to change us.

  31. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    The Flash:

    The overwhelming tide of interfaith families that are active in liberal Jewish circles are Jewish men with non-Jewish wives, and looking back on a childhood spent in liberal Jewish circles, I cannot recall any peers who identified as Jewish with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father.

    My brother and I are Jewish-identified children of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, and I know many more. In my observation we’re not less common than the reverse.

    Your comment was really interesting for me — thanks for sharing those insights about the Jewish male experience. Now that I think about it, there’s a notable lack of male participation in this thread, though I imagine that’s a function of the venue.

  32. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    FashionablyEvil: that’s a really good point and I’m glad you brought it up. As I mentioned upthread, I restricted the thread to Jews out a concern that the conversation might be killed by people who are hostile to its very existence.

    My girlfriend of several years isn’t Jewish. There’s a tremendous possibility that I will end up married to someone who isn’t Jewish, and if/when that happens, it would be really important to me that she participate in Jewish life and was welcomed in turn. We should wholeheartedly welcome couples who are making Jewish homes, no matter if one of them isn’t Jewish. What that rabbi said to you is inexcusable.

  33. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Lauren at #17: right on! I actually let out a cheer while reading your comment. : )

  34. Tara
    July 15, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I would like to see a Judaism that’s not ordered around assumptions and prescriptions of sexual and gender differences. That’s why I’m not super concerned with building Jewish masculinity. I haven’t yet seen a definition of Jewish masculinity where women don’t lose, and I’m not super optimistic about the possibility of that. In any case, I don’t think we can ever really be egalitarian around issues of sex, sexuality, and gender, as long as individuals and the community has a stake in Jewish masculinity/femininity.

    What I really want, from the bottom of my heart, is egalitarian Judaism where halacha is a central norm but not the only central norm. Not egal Judaism as exists today, where women can do what men do, but where the liturgy talks about God is female language as often as in male language, and about female Jews and in female pronouns as often as in male ones, where women act as witnesses, kiddushin and get are radically redefined if not completely replaced, we take lenient rulings as seriously as stringent ones, and seriously committed Jews and communities take themselves seriously enough to interpret and resolve halachic questions through their own behavior, and not only through rabbinic authority.

  35. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Elyssa:

    But, I suppose, I want Judaism to be the flexible religion other people see it as. I want Judaism to cut out the prayer that reads “Thank God I am not a woman.” I want Judaism to remember that God is supposed to be without gender. I want Judaism to recognize that all bibles are ultimately written by men, and those men inevitably had cultural and personal beliefs that taint any sort of message. I want Judaism to be rid of notions of guilt and prostration before God. I want a Judaism I can feel the way I feel the sun.

    YES. This is gorgeous — I love that sentence especially. And your conflicts are totally valid; I have no idea how I would feel if I’d been raised with a Judaism other than the very inclusive, progressive one I was raised with.

  36. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Chava at #22 — yes yes yes. That struggling with G-d is the heart of my Judaism.

    Tara — absolutely, I could not agree more.

    And, sorry for leaving such a long string of comments here… I am deeply grateful to all of you for sharing and thought your comments all more than merited a response.

  37. July 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Yemina–

    Have you read “Expanding the Palace of Torah”? I think it is a useful book, written from an MO perspective, for discovering why some of the “but you just don’t *understand* that head covering is beautiful” arguments are deeply rooted in apologetics.

    What you do with that information is up to you–if it floats your boat, it floats your boat. But I get mighty tired of more gender-traditional Jews telling me that I just don’t *understand* the dynamics of tzinus or that men and women are just different, etc ad infinitum.

    There is no “Torah true” Judaism. Ya’ll made that up.

  38. Dymphna
    July 15, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    A little nervous to add my voice here, and will not post on this thread again if requested by Daisy to refrain. I am one of those folks who stands somewhere vaguely in between “Jew” and “non-Jew,” though according to the standards applied by almost all of my Jewish acquaintances, I exist pretty far on the “non-Jewish” side of the spectrum.

    What I would like would be to be allowed to be Jewish. Since the Judaism in my background comes from my father’s side, and since I wasn’t raised with the culture, it has been communicated on many occasions to me that I would be nothing but a poseur if I wished to participate in Jewish cultural activities or explore Jewish forms of spirituality. If it had been my mother and not my father, that would be different, I have been told (though it seems from posts above that others have heard differently). If my father’s family had not decided to downplay their Jewishness in order to get along in 1950’s Virginia, I have been told, it would be different.

    Yet even not being raised with Jewish traditions, I was raised with my father’s knowledge of (and sense of inferiority about) his Jewish background. For example, I was warned on multiple occasions that certain stereotypically Jewish features of my body were something to be ashamed of and something others would likely find ugly. I never knew where my last name came from, until I was 14 and my father explained why our ancestors left Europe so I could finish a school project. I was raised with a sense of being an outsider, a fear of being too far from the norm, that comes from his family’s experiences first in Europe and then in the American South.

    So Judaism has always been like an emptiness and a mystery to me, but not in the same way as it would have been for someone who did not have the same background. It’s a part of me, only a part of me that absolutely no one seems willing to acknowledge or nurture.

    Anyhow, that’s all. Hope I haven’t offended. I’m not trying to be included, not trying to claim an oppressed status. I just wish I could connect in a meaningful way with that part of my family’s story and with that part of who I am. But the communities in which I could do that tend to react to me with something ranging from bemused invalidation to outright hostility (though to be fair the latter was only one individual).

  39. July 15, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    What a great thread! Thank you for starting it, Daisy.

    In my family, we haven’t practised Judaism for almost a century. We are Soviet Jews and Judaism was out of the question for obvious reasons. Being Jewish for us always meant a certain way of being, of relating to ourselves in the world that was often very hostile to us. When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, being Jewish had a huge sense of shame attached to it because of massive amounts of popular and state-sponsored anti-semitism. Learning to be able to say “I’m Jewish” and feel good about it was a very important and difficult task for my generation and that of my parents.

    Being Jewish meant that you have to do your absolute best at everything. With quotas on how many Jews were allowed access to higher education first in the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet Union starting in late 40ies, there was simply no other choice than being the best and working harder than everybody else.

    When my father talked to me as a littlle girl about being Jewish, he would say: “Many people hate us because they see us as different. Let’s accept this difference and practise it as something positive. Let’s have our own opinions, our own points of view on everything. Let’s question everything that is accepted as a well-known fact. Let’s not be afraid of being different and unique.”

    Today, when people hear that I’m Jewish they immediately ask me about Jewish holidays and different ways to practise Judaism. Unfortunately, many people still equate Jewishness exclusively with the practice of a religion. Being a Jew is a question of one’s ethnic and cultural origins. People are neither more or less Jewish because of their religious choices.

  40. ephraim
    July 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    @Tara

    I would like to see a Judaism that’s not ordered around assumptions and prescriptions of sexual and gender differences. That’s why I’m not super concerned with building Jewish masculinity. I haven’t yet seen a definition of Jewish masculinity where women don’t lose, and I’m not super optimistic about the possibility of that. In any case, I don’t think we can ever really be egalitarian around issues of sex, sexuality, and gender, as long as individuals and the community has a stake in Jewish masculinity/femininity.

    if you ever want to reconsider the possibility of a not-so-fucked-up jewish masculinity i’d recommend Daniel Boyarin’s _Unheroic Conduct_
    pre-zionist jewish masculinity was really different than post-zionism jewish masculinity (which is pretty much white, european masculinity). it’s not that it wasn’t patriarchal, it certainly was, but it was differently patriarchal. and, i think it leaves us with a lot better material to work with in constructing non-patriarchal, feminist, jewish masculinities. but, obviously that job falls squarely on the shoulders of jewish men.

  41. The Flash
    July 15, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Chava, I think you’re right that struggle is central to Judaism, and that passivity isn’t rewarded. One of the things that’s worth treasuring about Judaism is the irrelevance of rabbis in any formal sense, that an entire Jewish life can be lived without ever needing a rabbi, and that we must understand our obligations independently rather than be ‘yotzeh’ (that is, ‘covered’, so to speak, where you can abdicate your observance of a ritual to a proxy) on everything.

    And so what troubles me about a lot of the efforts that are made generally, and what’s embodied in Rebecca’s post, is that they come from a place of reductive criticism, where people only want to get rid of the things they dislike, without producing replacement rituals or viewpoints that can fulfill all the positive roles of the old, and that allow outsiders to define internal Jewish terms and issues. for example, the Holocaust doesn’t refer to the totality of the murders committed by the Nazis, it refers specifically to the murder of the Jews. It excludes by definition the other people who suffered under the Nazis, to highlight the specifically Jewish experience of the various homicidal and genocidal agendae of the Nazis.

    But it’s been treated as the be-all-end-all of sins by the Nazis for a few reasons, related to the fact that other communities were either not so thoroughly decimated that they risked total disappearance from the earth (Jews were overwhelmingly concentrated in Europe; Africans and homosexuals are, you know, in Africa and everywhere), or they are not part of the lives of most people in the U.S. (Roma (“Gypsies”) are pretty much entirely in Europe, still).

    Similarly, Judaism doesn’t “allow” its name to be co-opted by the Ralph Reeds of the world… I don’t know a single Jew who would say he or she follows judaeo-christian values. But just as there’s a lot of righteous pressure to make Judaism more inclusive of traditionally unprivileged groups, the survival of Judaism is also predicated on heterogeneity, including tolerating the intolerant, for the sake of spreading our allies– like christian conservatives with whom I/you/we/progressives disagree on every known issue but who are, for all the wrong reasons and in a lot of harmful ways, more supportive (too supportive) of Israel, who keep traditionally antisemitic groups from acting out on their hatred in ways that were mainstream in this country up until thirty years ago. Generating a monolithic idea of what Judaism is may be a historic Jewish habit, but the actualization of such a vision would be profoundly un-Jewish, and is the type of thinking that led to so much prejudice against Sephardim for so long (and I’m not drawing these lines racially– a lot of the differences were ideological).

    Anyway, the problems with Jewish education are the problems with all education: it only works if the parent body is engaged. The reason Jewish education is mostly boring is because the kids are mostly sent a message that the nitty-gritty substance of what they’re learning is irrelevant, and the important thing is that they show up and have generalized subconscious knowledge. As ever, Judaism will be carried into the future by the children of those who are most engaged.

    I think there’s a peculiarity to Judaism of preoccupation with continuity into a distant future. The idea, not that there’s a personal salvation to work for, or that there will be a deus ex machina (somewhat literally), but that the goal of Judaism is to adapt sustainably for eternity without losing its identity. The explicit centrality of family life to Jewish ritual is a big part of the agony of these conversations about what Judaism should or shouldn’t be– even the tension between justice and sustainability, or, as you might prefer to see it, individuality and sustainability. The peculiarity of early marriage in right-wing circles, not to legitimize sex, but because unmarried individuals don’t have status (obviously something that needs changing). The notion that the family is the basic unit of Jewish life, and not the individual soul, is at the root of a lot of the division between right-wing and left-wing Judaism, and a theology or central principle that can unite these to both privilege the family as the unit of continuity of Judaism into the future, and to prioritize individuality, would be revolutionary.

  42. ephraim
    July 15, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    among other things, i want my fellow Ashkenazim to stop being so goddamn ashamed of themselves (and their culture, language, foods, rituals, speech and movement patterns, and bodies.) and taking that shame out on themselves, on non-Ashkenazish Jews, people of color, Palestinians, Ashkenazi women, and anyone else they can. i want them to stop turning their culture (language, foods, etc.) into cutesy, self-deprecating jokes. i want them to stop trafficing in nostalgia and kitsch and start building a vital and relevant cultural life out of building blocks with an aesthetic, authentic-feeling link to tradition, not just an intellectual link.

    i want jews in general not to forget the ‘little traditions’ of judaism that often flies in the face of the written ‘big tradition’ the former (superstitions, religious folk beliefs, the evil eye, dybbuks, etc.) being mostly oral and perpetuated and practiced by women and working-class jews, who made up the marjority of the populaton, and the latter being textual and perpetuated and practiced by a tiny scholarly elite.

  43. The Flash
    July 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    And Tara, the goal of true egalitarianism is a little like the goal of a race-blind world. It’s not just that it’s impossible, it’s that it’s unfair, intrinsically, when there are traditions of masculinity and feminity on both sides that are worth celebrating. You may not be worried about building Jewish masculinity, but the result of that is that at JTS (the Conservative movement’s seminary) there was one year when there weren’t any male cantorial students graduating. Not worrying about this is tantamount to discarding concern for continuity.

  44. chingona
    July 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Dymphna,

    I’m the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who converted after I was born, but in a rather pro forma kind of way. I had an infant conversion. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t raised in the culture – I feel very culturally Jewish – but I definitely wasn’t raised in the religion. Our practice was occasional holiday observance and that was it. I can relate to your sense of alienation in that I feel rather out of place in many Jewish settings because I don’t have the same background.

    Lots of folks would say I wasn’t a Jew. Fuck ’em. I know what I am and who I am. Your voice is welcome here by me, and I think you have the right to claim whatever sort involvement you want. You’ll have an uphill battle. You won’t always find acceptance. It’s a burden (a cross? no, nevermind) born by all of us from mixed families, some more so than others. But it’s not for others to decide for you who you are.

    Flash,

    I find what you’re saying about kind of hard to relate to. Not that I dispute it, but it doesn’t reflect my experience. With my Jewish father, I grew up very secular, though strongly culturally identified as Jewish. Like Clarissa (though I’m not Russian), my sense of Jewish identity is very tied up in having a questioning, challenging, skeptical attitude toward authority and power. I have a slightly more observant lifestyle (much more observant than I grew up with, hardly observant by religious standards) than my family. As a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man trying to raise Jewish children, I feel like the home orientation of so much Jewish practice gives a big advantage to women in perpetuating the culture. My husband is a big participant in our Jewish life in the home. When I get stuck late at work on a Friday (did someone mention bad Jews?), he lights candles and says motzi with our son. But it’s true that he does not have a huge interest in the more traditional areas of practice for Jewish men – synagogue attendance and study. He goes with me when I go and likes it, but he wouldn’t go on his own. I think the other reason that there is less pressure on non-Jewish men married to Jewish women to convert is that the kids already are Jewish, so why worry?

  45. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Dymphna, I’m really glad you decided to comment! You are welcome in this thread.

    It’s true that, traditionally, the rule has been that Jewishness is passed matrilineally — a person with a Jewish mother is a Jew, period, but a person with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother has not been considered Jewish (unless she converts). In Reform Judaism, though, any child raised Jewish is considered a Jew, including those with only patrilineal Jewish heritage, children with no Jewish ancestry adopted by Jews, etc. I very strongly agree with this.

    Though you had a nominally non-Jewish upbringing, your experiences sounds to me like it was deeply Jewish in some ways — the feeling of being an outsider, being shamed for your Semitic features, etc. And for goodness sake, your heritage is yours (if not yours then to whom does it belong?); you have every to claim it, own it, explore it. If you are interested in returning in any way to your ancestors’ Judaism, I for one think that is beautiful and worthy of celebration.

    I’ve said this to a lot of friends before: assimilation is not a simple, inevitable one-way street. Your parents choices do not have to be your choices. Your parents lives do not have to determine your life. You have the right to make all those decisions for yourself.

    If acceptance in one movement or another is important to you, you might need to convert. I’ve heard more than one rabbi say that they especially love doing conversions for the descendants of Jews who converted or assimilated, because it’s a kind of homecoming. I don’t know if that idea offends you. I’m really sorry that you haven’t been welcomed by Jewish communities and I think that is wrong, but I wanted you to know that there are avenues through which you would be welcomed, I think. But none of that has any bearing on your own personal study, exploration, identity, experience, to which you are entitled inalienably.

  46. Daisy Bond
    July 15, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Clarissa — thank you for sharing! I’m glad to have your perspective in this thread.

    Ephraim: I’ve been thinking a lot about Jewish genders lately (posts on that are in the works)… I don’t know about Tara, but I’ll be adding that book to my reading list at once!

  47. FashionablyEvil
    July 15, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Dymphna, though my experience is totally different than yours (I’m an Episcopalian married to a Jew), I’ve spent the last 4ish years exploring Judaism. My husband I are planning to raise our (future) children as Jewish and I decided that I couldn’t really agree to that or support my children’s religious upbringing without understanding what was going on. So, I thought I’d share how I’d got to where I am-where I feel comfortable at and enjoy Shabbat services and where my life is (for lack of a better word) functionally Jewish.

    I started by attending Friday night services, getting used to the melodies and the Hebrew. If you go to a Reform congregation, the new prayerbook (called Mishkan T’filah) is highly accessible for people with no Hebrew skills–each prayer is presented in Hebrew, including a transliteration, and English. Makes it a whole lot easier to understand what’s going on.

    My synagogue also offers a “Judaism 101” class that goes over the basics of just about everything–you might look to see if there’s a congregation near you that offers something similar. I took that and a beginner Hebrew for adults class (the kind that’s designed to teach you the alphabet and read the prayers rather than learn spelling and grammar), which also helped boost my confidence.

    Finally, there was a book I read called Surprised By God by a woman named Danya Ruttenberg which I found tremendously helpful. She was raised in a nominally Jewish household and ended up as a rabbi. The story is about her transition from teenage militant atheist to observant Jew. It helped me feel like I wasn’t weird for wanting to undertake a religious journey and exploration. (She’s also written for Bitch magazine and edited a book on Jewish feminism if that helps reassure you.)

    At first I felt terribly uncomfortable at services and events sponsored by my temple (everyone would know I was an imposter! What on earth do these prayers MEAN?), but eventually it came to feel natural and fulfilling. My next “project” is learning more about Jewish prayers so that I can really understand them and experience them fully.

    Also, don’t feel like you have to explain yourself to others. As I mentioned above, I had a pretty rotten experience with a rabbi who made me feel really unwelcome, but it’s not about what others want/think–it’s about you and your right to explore your heritage.

    Like I said, I know our paths are very different, but I wanted to let you know that it’s possible to enter Judaism without really knowing anything about it and just kind of feeling your way through. Best of luck on your journey!

    p.s. Daisy, a polite request to to revise your statement about non-Jews not participating. I totally understand your desire to keep certain “views” out of the conversation, but I think “non-Jew” has some problematic connotations for those of us who often feel that we aren’t Jewish enough, aren’t Jewish in the right way, or (in my case) aren’t Jewish at all, even though we live in the Jewish community.

  48. Ruchama
    July 15, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I want a Judaism that recognizes all the diversity within Judaism as still Jewish. I grew up going to a Conservative synagogue, and spent a few years at a Conservative Hebrew school and a few years at an Orthodox one. (I liked the Orthodox one a lot better, because they had us read the actual Tanakh rather than “Torah for Kids” books, and the teachers there could actually teach. At the Conservative Hebrew school, many of the teachers were just members of the congregation who needed some extra income and didn’t really know anything about teaching or kids.) The place where I personally feel most comfortable now is an independent minyan, which is fully egalitarian in participation but has men and women sit separately, but it’s a bit of a shlep to get there, and I more often go to the Modern Orthodox synagogue which is much closer. The Modern Orthodox isn’t exactly what I want for a community I join, but it’s a close enough match for just somewhere to go for services.

    I want a Judaism that’s open enough and welcoming enough that Jews can feel comfortable trying out different congregations and groups. And that’s comfortable both from the group they’re visiting and the group they’re coming from — I know several Jews who reject the form of Judaism that they grew up with, and refuse to look at any other form because that’s “not really Jewish.”

    I want a Judaism that seriously considers the links between caring for the world and caring for people. I want it to be unthinkable for a synagogue to throw out leftover food. I want Tashlich to be an occasion for really thinking about what it means to throw something away. I want things like the Tav HaYosher to become just as mainstream as hekshers. I want Jewish schools and summer camps to have a serious social justice component, to teach kids to actually look at things in the world and think “Is this right?” and “How can I fix this?”

    I want a Judaism that’s more inclusive of people with disabilities. At the very least, I want everything Jewish that’s being held on Shabbat to be held in a room that’s accessible without an elevator. My grandmother stopped going to synagogue when she got older, even though synagogue was her main social scene, because she couldn’t handle the stairs anymore. (And this is true especially for Orthodox synagogues that put the women’s section in a balcony — I know that many of these are older buildings, but there is no halakhic reason to have the women in the balcony rather than splitting the room left-right with a mechitza, and the current arrangement seriously excludes women with disabilities.)

  49. CollegeBookworm
    July 15, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on Feministe before- just read normally- but if there’s a topic I can’t ignore it’s Judaism and feminism. I was raised as a fourth generation member of the Conservative synagogue in my suburb of DC, and my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents names are all over the building. My mom is barely observant, and does most of what she does for my dad, who has become more and more Orthodox as the years go by and no longer goes to my ‘home’ synagogue because the rabbi is too liberal for his tastes.

    There is nothing I love more than the basic observance of Jewish ritual, particularly Shabbat. I don’t identify as a member of a synagogue these days, because I don’t really like my home shul. My congregation is the egalitarian technically-Conservative-but-also-not group on my campus, and that is my Jewish home these days. And while I have found a wonderful egalitarian community there, where I go every Friday night for Kabalat Shabbat and with whom I eat vegetarian kosher dairy Shabbat meals whenever we have access to kitchens, it doesn’t change that there are so many problems within Judaism…

    So. I’d like to see a pluralistic Jewish community that doesn’t automatically snap to the frummest common denominator for fear of upsetting the Orthodox, because their exclusion of my prayer upsets me. I’d like to see a Judaism in which my father understands the hypocrisy behind his raising me to do anything and everything on the bima and then asking me to go to services ‘with him’ at an Orthodox shul with a mechitza. But I’d like it to be okay for that mechitza to exist, even though I hate its very existence. I’d like to see us figure out a way to accept and accommodate all forms of Judaism. I’d like to be able to pray at the Kotel without feeling the vast injustices of the site hanging over my head as I try to push my way to the front of the cramped women’s side. I’d like my Reform friends to stop thinking I’m judging them, and I’d like to stop feeling judged by my few Orthodox friends.

    I want to be more sure that Gd sees the injustices that I see in the world and in the Jewish community and to know that Gd cares, even if Gd will never interfere in these things.

  50. joe_D
    July 15, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Daisy, I know your post focuses a lot on Jewish identity and culture. I was wondering what you thought about the role of God and ritual in modern Judaism. I think it’s particularly relevant in light of the perception that religion/faith in America = right-wing Christianity.

  51. July 15, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    This thread is really challenging me. There is a lot I want to reply to but I also want to answer for myself.

    Judaism to me is about saying thanks. It’s about acknowledging the world around me. For me it all comes down to lhavdil ben kodesh l’chol — the distinction between the holy and the everyday and seeing the holy IN the everyday. I never feel like I can call myself “observant” — I don’t really go to shul, I don’t keep kosher, don’t keep Shabbos — but I also feel fucked up about the fact that those are the markers of being an observant Jew. I guess I am a religious Jew but I feel challenged by these ancient prayers. I feel challenged by how many spaces I could NOT just walk into as a woman, and as a queer, and feel safe or welcome. I won’t pray behind a mechitzah but I don’t mind a trichitza — I like finding ways to make room for other people’s traditions but only if they make room for mine.

    Culturally, I want a Judaism that isn’t so fucking racist. I want a Judaism that doesn’t stand behind apartheid. I want parts of the Judaism I already have — brave, loud, immigrant. Not assimilationist. I want a Judaism that has some fucking class awareness already. I want a Judaism that isn’t so obsessed with THE PURITY OF THE JEWISH RACE.

    I’m lucky a hundred ways though. I’m lucky to live in NYC, one of the most Jewish places in the US. I’m lucky to have a community of radical Jews, who are committed to anti-racism and anti-classism and anti-apartheid work. I’m lucky that there are synagogues that are the kind of religious observance I want AND welcome women fully, including tefillin winding and things like that that honestly challenge MY ability to be gender-flexible. I was so much more divorced from my Judaism when I lived in Seattle because there just wasn’t somewhere that had room for all of me.

  52. Yemina
    July 15, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Chava –

    I read some reviews and synopses of that book, and it seems very interesting. I hope to find a copy somewhere to read. That being said I find your statements a bit puzzling. I hope my last comment didn’t come off condescendingly, because it wasn’t intended that way. However I fail to understand how it is apologetic to claim the reason for modest dress and action on the parts of both men and women is to promote modesty, even in thought. I don’t mean to indicate that there is some hidden beauty in hair covering that “you would only see if you opened your eyes”. Quite oppositely my argument is rational and practical. As far as the differences between genders are concerned, they exist. To my knowledge no man has ever given birth to a child. Except Arnold Schwarzenegger once, and that still disturbs me to this day. And if there is physico-emotional-hormonal difference, then I fail to understand how psychological differences are inconceivable. It seems rather that modern society, has glorified the notion of being a high-powered business exec. or politician and has relegated tasks like nurturing a child or creating a peaceful, loving, and positive home (things emotionally-tending women are naturally talented at) to be “just woman’s work”. Which is obviously frustrating. But the response shouldn’t be to say “oh yeah? I can do what you can do too”, (even though halacha at a basic level accords a lot of freedom of choice for women) but rather to strengthen and spread awareness of the importance of the things women do best. Certainly gender roles could be reversed. But a man just can’t intuit the needs of a crying baby like a woman, just as most women fail to understand the thrill in sitting around with tons of food to watch a sporting game. The Torah, which has to be accepted as divine or keeping tradition kind of seems dumb, simply instructs us to optimize the unique tools we’ve been given. As women, men, and individuals.

  53. violet
    July 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I want a Judaism less focused on nationalism and more focused on tikkun olam.

    I love the aspects of Judaism that teach me ways to integrate the holy into all the activities of life.

    And an anecdote: When I first showed up at the chavurah where I currently go to services (when I have time to go to services, which I wish was more often), I was sending gender signals every which way. One young child comes right up to me and asks me “are you a he or a she?”

    I explain that I’m kind of both and neither. The child looks confused.

    The child’s parent chimes in “you know, like God.” Light dawns, and all makes sense.

    I knew then that this was a congregation where I could be comfortable. The liturgy is also changed to include half female grammar for God, which took some getting used to, but I think it’s great.

    I feel blessed to have access to that kind of Jewish community, and want a Judaism where that is more common.

  54. July 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    I responded to these questions the first time around and am thrilled to see the conversation opened up to the Feministe community.

    I want to echo a lot of what I’m seeing here: The importance of education and justice as a part of Judaism, and a desire for a Judaism (and Jewish identity) that doesn’t involve sexism, racism, Zionism, homophobia, etc, etc, etc.

    I also wanted to share an experience I recently had while visiting a friend in DC that’s given me a lot to think about in terms of framing my own Jewish identity. My friend, Sara, is involved in the Jewish community In DC, and she invited me to a friend’s apartment with her for a Shabbat lunch. This lunch was to be the the first Jewish experience not involving a High Holiday that I could remember in years, and I was a little unsure at what to expect. And a little nervous that I, the secular Jew unsure of her own identity as a Jew, would do something to embarrass myself, my friend, or our host.

    But, rather than match any of my expectations about what a Shabbat lunch would look like – expectations coming from my own negative experiences of Judaism either as rituals and prayers that are (to me) meaningless, or as a flimsy excuse to get the family together around the holidays – it was an example of Judaism integrated into people’s lives. And not only that, people my age.

    Here were men and women in their twenties who were, voluntarily and independent of any adult authority, choosing to open and close a meal with prayer, and then use the meal as a vehicle for conversation and reflection. Not because they had to, but because the structure of the meal and its rituals clearly meant something to them.

    That’s what I would like Judaism to be: Something I can integrate into my life and choose for myself. Something I can construct out of my own beliefs and values, without an authority saying what should or shouldn’t be include. Something I can own.

    To be clear, I still have a lot of problems with Judaism. My largest and ongoing struggle is reconciling a set of holy books in which I find as much to abhor (slavery, rape, genocide) as to praise (compassion, empathy justice). But sitting down for a Shabbat lunch, without having it feel forced or like something out of a book that’s only pulled off the shelf a couple times a year, made me think maybe such reconciliation is possible.

  55. July 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Yemina —

    But the response shouldn’t be to say “oh yeah? I can do what you can do too”, (even though halacha at a basic level accords a lot of freedom of choice for women) but rather to strengthen and spread awareness of the importance of the things women do best. Certainly gender roles could be reversed. But a man just can’t intuit the needs of a crying baby like a woman, just as most women fail to understand the thrill in sitting around with tons of food to watch a sporting game. The Torah, which has to be accepted as divine or keeping tradition kind of seems dumb, simply instructs us to optimize the unique tools we’ve been given. As women, men, and individuals.

    This for me is the crux of the difficulty I find with more Orthodox interpretations of gender differences. I am irritated by the idea that I have some kind of essential orientation that I do not get to mediate. I am irritated by the idea that I am denying my essential self because I feel complicated being told I am just better at certain things than other things, or that my place is in the home. If I have been given talents, I should use them, and I should use them in the place that is best for them.

    I would have no problem with this kind of essentialism if it wasn’t so mandatory. Maybe we were made a certain way or whatever, but if that’s so, then I was made the way that I am, and why should I go against my nature?

  56. July 16, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Yemina–

    So, I do think you might find that book appealing as a more traditional Jewish woman, and it does go into how the arguments for things such as head covering have been altered to accomodate changing attitudes as women demanded more inclusion in the modern era. The author doesn’t push you towards a feminist agenda in the way one would normally think of it.

    Now, when I say apologetics, I am referring to the frequent (and *recent*) reasoning deployed by Orthodoxy to say that the reasons women’s obligations are different is in essence because women are holier/better than men. An example might be, women do not need to pray 3x/day because their nature is closer to G-d. That’s NOT the way it was justified in the Middle Ages. Apologetics are frustrating to me because it feels like a covering up or a pandering to women on the part of rabbis–to tell us we are a special holy snowflake is almost as bad as telling us we are the root of all evil. Can we just be people?

    What I objected to in your comment was the assumption on the part of Orthodox Jews that if more liberal Jews do not agree with gender essentialism and find it degrading, it must be because we do not understand the essential beauty and equality behind the minhag and halachos–that we just want to be “like men” or don’t see that men have to practice modesty as well. It comes off as very condescending and I for one have heard it many times. If you didn’t mean it that way, okay.

    I think many of us have seriously looked into and considered the traditional gender roles and found them stifling. I personally find them very beautiful in certain ways, but as a whole unworkable for me personally. Now, if it works for you, there is *nothing* wrong with that. But that doesn’t mean it has to work for everyone–or that those for whom it does not work are less pious or even less believing of Torah min Sinai.

    I’ve honestly tried to avoid sounding too snippy here and just to explain why I reacted as I did. Apologies for flying off the handle a bit before.

  57. July 16, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Thinking about what CollegeBookworm said, I too want a Judaism that does not default to the idea that Orthodoxy is more observant or more religious, i.e. that they “do things right.” This kind of thinking alienates many more secular folk I know who, because they cannot do everything, instead do nothing, thinking that it only “counts” if you do it 100% the “real” way.

  58. July 16, 2009 at 12:43 am

    I think there’s a peculiarity to Judaism of preoccupation with continuity into a distant future. The idea, not that there’s a personal salvation to work for, or that there will be a deus ex machina (somewhat literally), but that the goal of Judaism is to adapt sustainably for eternity without losing its identity. The explicit centrality of family life to Jewish ritual is a big part of the agony of these conversations about what Judaism should or shouldn’t be– even the tension between justice and sustainability, or, as you might prefer to see it, individuality and sustainability. The peculiarity of early marriage in right-wing circles, not to legitimize sex, but because unmarried individuals don’t have status (obviously something that needs changing). The notion that the family is the basic unit of Jewish life, and not the individual soul, is at the root of a lot of the division between right-wing and left-wing Judaism, and a theology or central principle that can unite these to both privilege the family as the unit of continuity of Judaism into the future, and to prioritize individuality, would be revolutionary.

    YES. This. Thank you for articulating that so well.

  59. noam
    July 16, 2009 at 3:15 am

    in fiddler on the roof teveye grapples with bending the tradition, attempting not to break it. for me this is a major paradyme in my relationship with judaism. Is being a bookish liberal with an affinity for bagels what makes one jewish? if judaism is completley plyable by individuals and communities are messainic jews (80% of whom have no jewish background ) jewish? If judaism should be completley inclusive is there anywhere we draw the line? its apparent to me that feminism and tolerance are not antithetical to judaism, as all major demoniations, including some orthodox are now ordaining female rabbis(reform and reconstructionist only began half a century ago.) and including women in religious and communal life to varying extents(see partnership minyans and womens prayer groups). If judaism isnt “superstitious nonsense and vague, irrational thinking” what is our duty to judaism not judaism’s debt to us? As with most things, this requires alot of thought and study and isnt black and white or the property of any single movement within judaism.

  60. amar
    July 16, 2009 at 4:24 am

    melancholia: im curious as to what you would define progressive and liberal as? at the same time what do you mean by patriachical, oppressive, genocidal, and violent? i happen to be someone who sees the world through the lens of the rambam (at least partially)… one of his theories is that you must look at the laws of the torah at least in some respect through a lens of the time period it was given in.

    He says that part of the reason why we are comanded so forcefully and many times against illicit realationships with ones closest female relatives is due to the fact that in his, and the torahs times all people lived in a way that the female figures didn’t leave the house all that much and the male was generally head of the household, as such the man would be tempted to try and overpower his socially weaker female relatives and force them into sexual relationships, sine this would be done in his own home, which for the most part was under his own rule and allowing for nearly complete privacy, who would stop him from abtaining a harem full of his own family members? thusly as a huge deterent g-d said he’d cut off from his people anyone who takes advantage of the weak in such a situation. if that isnt an anti patriachichal polemic then what is? and we also cannot suspect maimonodies of appologetics, in his time period and country, 12th century Egypt there was no concept of womans right anywhere near what hes claiming, harems beeing a common feature of the your local sultans household and all.

    where, and when does the concept of divorce appears in terms of liberal european society whereas judaism had that as a positive comandment (assuming the marriage wasn’t working as it should) incumbent upon the family units patriarch, in its original code of law, beit din is even allowed to coerce the man using physical force if needed. yes they were willing to inflict bodily harm on the man in order to protect the woman in court..whats more liberal than that for 3000 years ago? some countries in our world havent even come close to that type of progress until today.

    if you want to speak about violence well realize at that time the jewish people were basically a huge tribe, and frankly tribes could and would go to war with one another at will, while we are commanded to go ask for peace (admittedly on our terms) first and then make sure to conduct war in a dignified and humane manner. if youd like to prepose that the amount of death penatly worthy crimes are so abundant that judaism is clearly a violent religion please note the actual halakic process of doing so, the conditions of actually issuing the death penalty were so severe you’d literally need a death wish and some luck to get the jewish court to kill you. There must be two witnesses who witness the act which we need to interrogate thoroughly, no hearsay evidence is permitted, the witnesses must fulfill many more requirements, you must have been warned by the witnesses and had teh presence of mind to respond yes i know and still im doing so, then further more the judges are ordered to search for ways to get you off the charges and assuming we cant do that well the matter goes to deliberation and a larger majority the usually is needed and the fact is that if every judge agrees on a guilty verdict we dismiss the charges based on the assumption that if the beit din cant find one single judge to think hes innocent the beit din is incorrectly viewing the case. there are many other conditions such as appeals etc that further this point of near impossibility of getting executed by a beit din but the point is clear enough. how many civilized courts can claim to take the gravity of taking a human life so seriously?? all the comparisons are not a criticism of our courts rather a foil that illustrates very well the morality of judaism.

    as for oppressive well maybe if your speaking completely objectively i can see where your coming from. however in terms of subjectivlly speaking to humanity, who have feelings and yes we as a religion must deal with them, upon searching through our own psychology and comparing the delicate and thoughtful way judaism reacts to humanities needs and thereby enables humanity to be well, human with feelings and the ablity to properly express them well what is actually more liberating then figuring out how you truly feel and dealing with those feelings properly?! so what if you get some help to come to these conclusions through prescribed actions (we all use some protocol of figuring things out today, it may often be more repatative since we use the same methods on a regular basis, ie speaking to loved ones, trusted friends and even therapists) an example that illustrates how sensitive jusaism is would be the first hours after someone passes away we halachiklly tell that person to refrain from all positive commandmants, the message being that right now we there needs are not with g-d but with themselves or with the dead. or again when one enters a house of mourning he may not speak to the mourner, even to comfort them, until first having been spoken to. it may seem unseemly to have them sit there in awkward silence but upon deeper reflection, how can you say anything, you have no means of actually understanding his concept of this loss so just allow your presence and the knowledge of your trying to be there be there own consolation while still showing you recognize and therefore still respecting their pain.

    The point of all of this to me is that as good liberals we need to know all the facts, which i dont, however being that im form a more traditional background ill try and present some counterclaims to the arguments presented and then we can make a more fair decision. if i sounded like i was attacking please forgive me, i just really want to make sure that they views that say judaism is a bastion of morality shows through my few examples of this.

    oh and please excuse the spelling mistakes im slightly dyslexic and spellcheck is’nt working for some reason

  61. July 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I just stumbled upon this site by clicking on a link in an email for a Google keyword search on “Judaism.” And what could be more Jewish–heated but respectful debate about what’s Jewish! Thank you for creating this forum.

    I grew up with a seriously Orthodox father and non-practicing mother (who, not surprisingly, divorced when I was 11) where Judaism was a both a requirement as well as an interesting but archaic cultural expression. It seemed we were always slightly embarrassed to be Jewish, because it was old-fashioned. My mother was into everything “modern”–TV dinners, for example–and hated to cook, so even the cultural part was (literally) watered down. Because my father was Orthodox, we wouldn’t dare set foot in the local Conservative or Reform synagogues, which I had learned in Hebrew school were pretty much equivalent to Catholic. I also learned that I had to say lots of blessings before eating, no explanation given, and how to read the chumash (not translate it–just read, over and over, for an hour three afternoons a week). The cumulative result of these experiences was that by the time I was 12, I had no interest in Judaism, nor reason why I should be interested. I think this describes the experience of many American Jews on the cusp of the generations between doing things the way they had always been done, and trying to find, or invent, something new.

    Fast-forward many years of being a guilt-ridden (why? who was watching? yet I couldn’t shake the feeling) once-a-year shul-goer. I knew I wasn’t an atheist, but couldn’t articulate what I did believe in, either. Then, quite by accident, I found a wonderful synagogue where prayer was mostly song, and really felt like an attempt to reach something bigger. It was not affiliated with any movement, so could find its own unique path. It was both non-traditional (women on the bima! my father is probably rolling over in his grave) and traditional (everything in Hebrew, which felt comfortable to me). Although there were definite standards and customs of observance, it was also a place where exploration, with guidance, was encouraged. And it was truly a community–active, passionate, supportive–with plenty of ways to get involved.

    There is no one synagogue that works for everyone, and the same is true for mine. But, for me, it represents the kind of Judaism I hope will one day be the norm: inclusive, questioning, daring, spiritual. A religion based upon halakha that also honors the tradition of debate and change–we don’t observe as our First Temple ancestors did, and there is no law that says we have to observe the way our parents did, either. A Judaism that offers a framework for growth while still keeping true to basic, ethical principles. A Judaism where people who worship in different ways can coexist in communities that meet their separate needs, and where there is no single, fixed meaning for the word “religious.” And, most importantly, a Judaism that teaches us how to be responsible for one another–not just “in the tribe,” but throughout the whole world.

  62. chingona
    July 16, 2009 at 10:28 am

    if judaism is completley plyable by individuals and communities are messainic jews (80% of whom have no jewish background ) jewish?

    I’d like to see a Judaism in which – whenever the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers try to make some place for themselves – someone didn’t feel compelled to bring up the boogie-man of messianic Jews (or the boogie-man of accepting messianic Jews as Jews) as the end result of being too open-minded.

  63. Cameron H. Russell
    July 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Something that always interested me, after starting my few Women’s Studies courses, is the sort of unintuitive (at least for me) relationship between Judaism and feminism. Me and the teacher were the only two Jews in the class, and we both put forth different theories. Hers was a recitation of Tikkun Olam, and how that equates to theories on humanitarianism. Mine was a bit simpler–Jews tend, due to a cultural importance on it, to read a lot. The more you read, the more likely you are that feminism comes across your radar and starts to make sense.

    So what do I want Judaism to be? Hm. I’d like it to start being the really awesome non-Christian monotheistic alternative. I want it to be the religion that thinks, debates and discusses until there is what seems to constitute a Jewish consensus, which is three Jews with five opinions between them. That’s part of what I like about Judaism–No one has any idea what’s going on, but everyone feels very strongly about it. In regards to gender, I want Judaism to be…smarter than the other peoples. I want all the good parts of the faith to start shining through in the acts and deeds of it’s adherents. I want it to be the first faith to say “Gay Marriage…we’re essentially fine with it.” That’d be nice. “Abortion, theologically and scripturally, is not murder and every time you say it is our entire temple will show up to refute you!” Would also be fun.

    What do I like about Jewish culture? The aforementioned arguing. The appeal to reason and logic. The idea that we’re all in the process of learning, and no one has a complete grasp on knowing. I dislike certain things in the echelons of orthodoxy–walling off the women, keeping the torah away from their horrible female hands, etc. It’s funny, actually–I spend about a quarter of my life fighting people who think that Jews are trying to control the world, and when I get to temple I always think “Why aren’t we..doing more?”

    The first reason I think it’s important to preserve my (and yours, dammit!) relationship to Judaism is that there are, like, ten of us. That’s an understatement, but less than 15 million Jews are walking around right now. I want Judaism to change a bit–not as much as some, but more than others–but I still think we need to be pretty strongly attached to it, at least until we get another 12 million and we can relax. I want there to be a Judaism still kicking when I go. I think this thought has been echoed by a lot of our people throughout history, and it’s always come out okay, but it still worries me.

    Judaism the religion holds, what I think, are the seeds of the cultural and philosophical aspects of Judaism I like. I like a lot of the bible. I’m waiting for Leviticus 25:10 to happen for women. I’ve got a nice temple that is currently searching for a home, a rabbi that flies up from California 10 times a year. Reform. It’s nice. We pray for things we want to have happen. There are no shortage of those.

    Something that I thought before–and during–my Women’s studies courses was how intrinsically silly the concept of “raising awareness” is equated to “doing something about a problem”. Me, I always wanted to “find solution”, and “implement solution”. I’m just a direct person. Prayer is, I suppose, raising G-d’s awareness. Also, the idea makes me significantly less annoyed now. My reflex is still to sit and think and figure out, but I have more time to talk and explain to others now.

    I am not…super observant. I actually feel bad about it. It’s mitigated when I see the frum–I think “At least someone’s keeping up. I’ll have a cheeseburger now–BECAUSE I CAN! The old ways are still being practiced.” But that just makes me feel worse. I have no idea if you feel that way as well.

    Books are fairly important to me as a Jew. So is the concept of a connection to a people, and the concept of seperateness from others. Jews don’t assimilate. That’s a big part of why people hate us. We try to keep our ways wherever we go. I like that about us. It’s…plucky.

    Ideally, there would be more Jews in the future. Ideally, we’d all be organized into batallions to perform Tikkun Olam. An army of righteous improvement and humanitarianism. That’d be nice, and much better than my previous hope–To still be here.

    Oh, also the Moschiach. Can’t believe I forgot that one. Sorry G-d.

    The key quality I think needs to be addressed is defining Judaism and Jews in a Christian world. Especially in America, we’re still living in Jesusland. Priority 1 is to not forget who you are, and where you come from. It’s not like before where we were just surrounded by Pagans. The second priority would be to minimize and frame the concept of chosen-ness, and start people off doing what we should be doing, which is improving the world. Also, find a way to take the kaballah away from the new-age people. Finally, a job for the Mossad everyone can get behind!

    Anyways. How is there not a word count limit on this? I’m done now.

  64. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 11:15 am

    FashionablyEvil — I just read your request and changed it from “I respectfully request that non-Jews not participate…” to “I respectfully request that this thread be restricted to the Jewish community, broadly defined…” I think this does a much better job of setting reasonable terms for this discussion. What do you think? Inclusive enough?

  65. noam
    July 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

    chingona-

    My post wasnt at all targeting children of jewish fathers or comparing them to messianic jews, it was a question on to what level the community/ approach to judaism we choose for oursevles should conform to tradition. I only mentioned messsianics as a comunity of people who identify as jewish but seem to have pushed the envelope to far….not as a boogey man to exclude people.

  66. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I am loving this thread — thank you all so much for your participation, once again.

    Joe_D, that’s an interesting and important questions, one that I think about a lot but don’t have an answer for. I believe in God,* and my Judaism is very, very rooted in that. I’ve found Reform Judaism to be too diluted for me, not in terms of stricture about observance but because of the lack of… Passion and conviction about God. I’m very frustrated by the idea, perpetuated by both right and left, that faith = fundamentalism and right-wing politics.

    On the other hand, I know that many Jews are atheists, and I don’t want those people to be excluded, and I don’t think atheism is incompatible with Judaism. I’m very disturbed by the rampant mutual lack of respect between theists and atheists. So I guess my answer to your question is that I don’t think there should be any one answer — I’d like to see a plurality of communities that answer the question differently, thereby meeting the diverse needs that Jews have today.

    * I feel the need to explain what I mean by this. For me, belief in God is not so much a belief as an experience, an action, one that I made a conscious choice to adopt because it works for me (and atheism really, really didn’t). I don’t think I know The Truth (I don’t think anyone does). I don’t think I know anything but my own heart, my own experience of the world, and what way of life works best for me.

  67. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 11:31 am

    The Flash:

    I think there’s a peculiarity to Judaism of preoccupation with continuity into a distant future. The idea, not that there’s a personal salvation to work for, or that there will be a deus ex machina (somewhat literally), but that the goal of Judaism is to adapt sustainably for eternity without losing its identity.

    Yes! That is so true.

  68. July 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    At the Jewish Outreach Institute, we ask these types of questions all the time, but we don’t like to focus on Jewish “survival.” Instead, we look at the motivation for being a part of the Jewish community. What is in Judaism that will continue to claim the attention of Jews or those interested in entering the orbit of the community? We ask because we want to know what people can do to promote the value and meaning of Judaism and create a community where everyone in our midst is welcome to explore and connect with their heritage.

    Here’s our take on the future of Judaism: We believe the future of the North American Jewish community will be determined by the warmth, wisdom and caring with which we welcome and engage intermarried families, unaffiliated Jews and all those who feel they are on the periphery of the community into our midst.

    We featured your post on our daily blog, and we invite you – and everyone here – to check out our website, http://www.joi.org, to see how we have explored many of the same questions you raise.

  69. July 16, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Daisy – I don’t know what you’re planning to do with all of this input but I would be incredibly interested in a larger discussion, or participation in a project if you have something like this in mind.

    Also, thank you for changing the definition of who is welcome. Unfortunately the “who is a Jew” bogeyman affects our own definition of ourselves as Jews or members of the Jewish community.

    3rd: this, “I don’t think atheism is incompatible with Judaism. I’m very disturbed by the rampant mutual lack of respect between theists and atheists. “ I personally have respect for those who believe in a divinity or divine source, I am just unable to despite having a religious upbringing. I’d like to hear more about how people integrate Judaism into their lives without G-d.

  70. July 16, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Flash:

    And so what troubles me about a lot of the efforts that are made generally, and what’s embodied in Rebecca’s post, is that they come from a place of reductive criticism, where people only want to get rid of the things they dislike, without producing replacement rituals or viewpoints that can fulfill all the positive roles of the old, and that allow outsiders to define internal Jewish terms and issues.

    pardon, what was that about outsiders? (I don’t see a problem with reductive criticism. There are things that are wrong, and they need to be corrected. A lot of the “replacements” are already in place, where they are needed; it’s simply that they are not yet adopted by as wide an audience.)

    for example, the Holocaust doesn’t refer to the totality of the murders committed by the Nazis, it refers specifically to the murder of the Jews. It excludes by definition the other people who suffered under the Nazis, to highlight the specifically Jewish experience of the various homicidal and genocidal agendae of the Nazis.

    no.

    Similarly, Judaism doesn’t “allow” its name to be co-opted by the Ralph Reeds of the world… I don’t know a single Jew who would say he or she follows judaeo-christian values.

    But prominent Jews are silent when the Christian right co-opts their religion to try to force their brand of the Christian religion onto others.

    But just as there’s a lot of righteous pressure to make Judaism more inclusive of traditionally unprivileged groups, the survival of Judaism is also predicated on heterogeneity, including tolerating the intolerant, for the sake of spreading our allies– like christian conservatives with whom I/you/we/progressives disagree on every known issue but who are, for all the wrong reasons and in a lot of harmful ways, more supportive (too supportive) of Israel, who keep traditionally antisemitic groups from acting out on their hatred in ways that were mainstream in this country up until thirty years ago. Generating a monolithic idea of what Judaism is may be a historic Jewish habit, but the actualization of such a vision would be profoundly un-Jewish, and is the type of thinking that led to so much prejudice against Sephardim for so long (and I’m not drawing these lines racially– a lot of the differences were ideological).

    On the other hand, it gives anti-Semites a politically acceptable excuse to attacks Jews with the defense of anti-Zionism, and fosters an unhealthy dependence on the Christian right that may contribute to why they’re allowed to say “Judeo-Christian.”

    Anyway, the problems with Jewish education are the problems with all education: it only works if the parent body is engaged. The reason Jewish education is mostly boring is because the kids are mostly sent a message that the nitty-gritty substance of what they’re learning is irrelevant, and the important thing is that they show up and have generalized subconscious knowledge. As ever, Judaism will be carried into the future by the children of those who are most engaged.

    Exactly – and it’s important because that kind of education is so antithetical to Jewish tradition. And because then you get people like my mother, who rages blindly about people denying their Jewish heritage because they question things.

    violet:

    I explain that I’m kind of both and neither. The child looks confused.

    The child’s parent chimes in “you know, like God.” Light dawns, and all makes sense.

    That’s beautiful.

  71. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Faith, I would love to do something more with this — it seems necessary — but I’m not sure what to do. I’m very open to suggestions. I would definitely like this conversation to continue and to grow. Maybe I and others could continue to generate new questions and offer responses, and we could have one location (I’d be happy to have a static page on my blog) where all the various conversations and responses would be listed and linked, creating some cohesion and allowing people to keep up, and creating a resource so anyone could catch up, follow along, or join in at any time…

    What does everyone else think?

    And, I have great respect for atheists and everyone on the spectrum of agnosticism. I, too, would love to hear more about people practicing Judaism sans belief. Maybe that’s a good starting point for the next chapter of this discussion?

  72. The Flash
    July 16, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    AHAHAHAHA, oh, Cameron…

    “Oh, also the Moschiach. Can’t believe I forgot that one. Sorry G-d.”

    This was brilliant, and while it would make my rabbi very upset, I think it’s exactly the right attitude. In and out of Israel, while there’s a lot of the religion that is centered on the cataclysm of the destruction of the temple, like the three weeks we’re in now, the messianism of the religion is so thoroughly an afterthought (you know, except for Chabad…), and the focus on building a functional diaspora religion, even *in Israel*, rather than obsessing over bringing moshiach.

    But it also highlights an essential tension of Judaism that is part of the struggle that people are celebrating here– that there are parallel traditions in Judaism, of the commentaries and the texts, and that there are things in each to inform an evolving faith. Moshiach is essentially a talmudic invention that is only hinted at in the tanach, with some esoteric exceptions.

    I was dating a woman who was converting to Judaism, and, in the course of a long and winding road on that journey, she and I took a nine-month class that was a kind of Judaism 101, designed around people who were converting or who hadn’t grown up with a Jewish background. And at the end, everyone had to say the thing they appreciated most about Judaism that they had gotten from the class, and the thing they were most disappointed by, or surprised by in a negative way. And the thing that I was dissappointed by was the way that Judaism hasn’t escaped the competition of principles and rules, that there’s a tension between a myopic rule-following that leaves behind important understandings of how our principles are betrayed by a circumscribed universe, versus a principles-based life that misunderstands the importance of rules in keeping our principles holy and in providing clarity.

    But since then I’ve understood how important that is, and how keeping moshiach in the backs of our minds but looking to perfect a Judaism for the world we see, not the world we imagine, preserves this tension and creates much of the uniqueness of Judaism. Parallel tracks of original textualism and rabbinic tradition are embodied in that, and it’s what gives us the space to have this conversation without being schismatic.

    I’d like to see a Judaism where we can restore the ability to have conversations about what Judaims “is” without getting so angry, and without, essentially, compelling schismatic sentiments. I grew up slightly right-of-center in the conservative movement, but in very left wing congregations, and when I got to college (and, granted, I was at Columbia, where the conservative jewish groups are defined by the JTS students, who are the future rabbis of the Conservative movement, so everything is radicalized by people who are making this their life’s work) I was floored by how the Conservative group was on the verge of splitting over the issue of whether to include the matriarchs in the amidah.

    And so, on the one hand, why NOT include the matriarchs in the Amidah? they deserve to be there, their inclusion doesn’t change the meaning of the text, and it expresses an important value by including them. But on the other hand, how could you be so ready to tear a community asunder, rather than accomodate a difference of opinion within? Let the reader on any given day decide what they want to do? So what I’d like, most of all, is a Judaism where we care more about being together than about any one issue, where we have perspective on the holistic sum of our decisions and where we can see the platonic form within the detailed differences of our individual choices.

    And that’s how I found my way to non-observant modern orthodoxy, which knows that it’s part of a continuum, rather than asserting an absolute form. And maybe that’s an answer of its own– that the heterogeneity of Judaism is capable of providing, right now, without any change, all the things people are asking for within this discussion… because it is a continuum rather than an asserted truth, and the change that really needs to happen is inside us as individuals, recognizing that we’re part of a mosaic within Judaism and the totality of the mosaic, progressive and reactionary, is Judaism, and not any one movement.

    But I guess part of embracing the variety in Judaism is prioritizing the Jewish community ahead of any other ideology– that you can embrace reactionaries as part of your community. Chabad, for all their problems, and for all the two-faced normativity of their supposed “acceptance” of gay Jews, intermarried Jews, atheist Jews… still considers them all Jews, worthy of an invitation to a shabbat meal.

  73. Aishtamid
    July 16, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I would like to see liberal Jewish groups actually go out and compete with Chabad and other Orthodox groups in reaching out towards young Jews. There is no liberal Jewish outreach and there needs to be. The Orthodox groups simply have many backward beliefs. Many of them are quite racist towards Arabs, Aish HaTorah especially.

    I would like to see a Judaism that divests itself of homophobia, sexism and clannishness (specifically about intermarriage). I should not be ostracized by some Jews because of the assumption that some minor detail could have been wrong with my mother’s Orthodox conversion, despite the fact that I’ve lived as a Jew for 24 years and went to Hebrew school for almost half that.

    The Judaism that I want is exemplified by the Temple I belong to now. It is accepting of interfaith couples and the library even had a special GLBT exhibit for the month of June. That is the Judaism I want.

    Finally, I want more Jews to look at Israel critically. We should not treat Israel with kid gloves while being critical of the United States. Supporting Israel blindly is not a core Jewish value, despite what AIPAC and Chabad might say.

  74. The Flash
    July 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Rebecca…

    “no.”

    … is not so helpful. There’s a fair amoutn of discussion abotut he history of the word at the wikipedia page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust

    … but it also ignores the fact that, whether or not there was a pamphlet using “Holocaust” as a translation of “shoah” in the 1940s, the word was ‘popularized’, so to speak, by Elie Wiesel’s use of the word to refer to the specific agenda of the Germans against the Jews. And so Dov Hikind may be an asshole for the way he said it, but aren’t we allowed to have some internal way of referring to the specific tragedy that the murder of the six million was for Jews? A specifically Jewish memorial, for our community to recognize its impact on us? And granted, maybe that shouldn’t be funded by the NYC government, but the larger point is that it is not obnoxious to say that we want a memorial to address our own specific suffering in the Shoah.

  75. Aishtamid
    July 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    @Dymphna – I think you touch on some important points. No one should be calling you a poseur or anything of that sort because your genealogy does not match their predetermined, backward notions of Jewishness. Being curious about this part of your background is a good thing, and these people should not have ostracized you.

    The second important point you make is bodies. Many Jews are ashamed of their bodies or their “stereotypically Jewish” features. We should learn to love our bodies and not feel ashamed of them, especially our noses and our hair. This is one reason that mikvahs make me uncomfortable; I don’t like the idea that our bodies are vile or impure because of functions that we can’t help and that are entirely natural.

  76. joe_D
    July 16, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Finally, I want more Jews to look at Israel critically. We should not treat Israel with kid gloves while being critical of the United States. Supporting Israel blindly is not a core Jewish value, despite what AIPAC and Chabad might say.

    I agree that supporting Israel blindly is wrong. But Jews should treat fellow Jews as brothers and sisters. That, after all, is what it means to be a nation (think am yisrael). When I criticism loved ones (mother, father, sibling, spouse, best friend), my words have a different tone and I give the reasonable benefit of the doubt. It’s different when I criticize a stranger. That’s a really important difference. It doesn’t negate strong disagreement, but it does require a greater degree of deference and respect.

    Some have criticized Jewish nationalism or “clanishness” here. But I think that Judaism, above everything else, is family – this idea permeates traditional Jewish texts & rituals. I believe that Jewish exceptionalism is not (ideally) motivated by racism, but rather family.

  77. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Aishtamid,

    I would like to see liberal Jewish groups actually go out and compete with Chabad and other Orthodox groups in reaching out towards young Jews. There is no liberal Jewish outreach and there needs to be. The Orthodox groups simply have many backward beliefs. Many of them are quite racist towards Arabs, Aish HaTorah especially.

    Yes. This is so so so important.

  78. The Flash
    July 16, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Daisy and Aish Tamid, I’d encourage you both to look at http://www.njop.org– the national jewish outreach program. It’s Orthodox-run, but it partners with synagogues across all denominations to run its hebrew programs and Shabbat Across America.

  79. July 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I would like to see something in the community discussing Judaism and atheism. I have no idea how that would look though. Interesting to consider. Feel free to email me directly (soqueer at gmail) if you ever want to talk about this further.

  80. July 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Aishtamid,
    You should also check out http://joplin.joi.org. It’s a resource for outreach professionals across the country, with a focus on Public Space Judaism – the idea that the best way to find people is to go where they are (malls, grocery stores, parks, etc…), rather than wait for them to come to us. It subscribes to no particular branch of Judaism, but most of the folks involved come from the more “liberal” end of the Jewish spectrum.

    JOPLIN is an initiative of the organization I work for, the Jewish Outreach Institute, and we believe more needs to be done to identify and meet the needs of underserved Jewish populations, such as interfaith families, adult children of intermarriage, and GLBT Jews. We’ve spent over twenty years promoting the message of an inclusive Jewish community, but we know there is still a lot more that can be done. It’s great to see so many voices contributing to this ongoing – and important – conversation.

  81. Marlene
    July 16, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    There is nothing to keep alive for me. I have never been religious. I never will be.

    I am a Jew because my mother is a Jew. When they come for the Jews, I am one they will come for. Zionists ran my family out of Palestine for being friends with their Arab neighbors in the 1890s.

    I have given up my expectation that Jews should “know better” when it comes to issues of oppression.

    Feh!

  82. July 16, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    “no.”

    … is not so helpful. There’s a fair amoutn of discussion abotut he history of the word at the wikipedia page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust

    … but it also ignores the fact that, whether or not there was a pamphlet using “Holocaust” as a translation of “shoah” in the 1940s, the word was ‘popularized’, so to speak, by Elie Wiesel’s use of the word to refer to the specific agenda of the Germans against the Jews. And so Dov Hikind may be an asshole for the way he said it, but aren’t we allowed to have some internal way of referring to the specific tragedy that the murder of the six million was for Jews? A specifically Jewish memorial, for our community to recognize its impact on us? And granted, maybe that shouldn’t be funded by the NYC government, but the larger point is that it is not obnoxious to say that we want a memorial to address our own specific suffering in the Shoah.

    Do you mean semantically? I use “Shoah” for the specifically Jewish experience and “Holocaust” to mean everyone, but admittedly that’s not too helpful in other languages. I could turn the question around – what word would you use that includes five million non-Jews?

  83. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Marlene — yeah, Jews definitely don’t “know better.” We’re just people. We fuck up all the time, sometimes trivially, sometimes catastrophically, same as everybody else.

    I know a lot of people whose whole sense of Jewishness is as you describe — Jewish ancestry and the knowledge that, as you say, when they come for the Jews they will come for us… Though after scratching the surface I’ve often found that there is a lot more to their Jewishness than that, small things like taste is food and music and a habit of book-hoarding. I have no idea whether any of those things or any other similar things are true for you, of course. I just wanted to say that Jewishness is a lot more than a religion and not being religious doesn’t necessarily mean not being connected to or invested in Jewish identity and culture. But if you’re not invested — if there’s really nothing to keep alive for you — that is, of course, perfectly okay too.

  84. The Flash
    July 16, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    “what word would you use that includes five million non-Jews?”

    At the point that we’re trying to talk about all the people the Nazis sought to kill– the Roma call their tragedy the “Porajmos”– there’s no exact line to draw at where domestic political opponents of the Nazis and POWs of occupied countries and opposing armies were treated… I think that’s “World War II”

  85. July 16, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Daisy Bond, Thank you for opening this discussion. My relationship to my Judaism has long been complicated and strained, caught between two forces. The first: a very positive community of Jewish education at my synagogue focused on Talmud, Tikkun Olam, and finding individual ways to maintain a connection with faith and culture. The second is a community of loving, well-meaning of family friends whose Jewish identity is focused on their relationship to Israel (it can do no wrong, in their minds,) and who pressure me to make more stereotypically Jewish friends, telling me that my non-Jewish friends only see me as “Nice, for a Jew.”

    I want my Judaism to remember its long-held tradition of intellectual debate, questioning, analysis, and critical thinking. I want my Judaism to recognize all flavors of Jews. I want our narratives of the struggle of resisting or embracing assimilation to cease being reduced to questions of whom we marry as in the film “Two Lovers,” or the novels of Phillip Roth. I want a Judaism that puts Tikkun Olam at the forefront. I want a Judaism in which we do not belittle ourselves by accusing other Jews of being J.A.P.s or “bad Jews” or “too Jewy.”

    I know I have more to say on the subject, but I’m inarticulate at the moment. I’m also in awe of the beautiful responses here. I feel a lot less alone.

  86. Aishtamid
    July 16, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Marlene,

    I agree with you that Jews are not “above” anything. Jews are people, and Jews commit crimes and do bad things sometimes. Of course, there are also many Jews who have done wonderful things for the world.

    To Levi Fishman and the Flash, I appreciate your suggestions. I didn’t know those groups existed.

  87. Sara
    July 16, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I wish there were a brand of Judaism that offered the ritual and spiritual depth and richness of the Orthodox tradition but with the option for women to become rabbis and wear what they want – I’m not into segregation of the sexes. I want an open door for interfaith families, gays and lesbians, and children of intermarriage regardless of which parent was Jewish. I’m interested in Judaism as a spiritual path, not exclusively as an intellectual, political, or social networking path – but primarily as a path to God – but I want it to be liberal enough to allow different definitions of what God is. I’m interested in process more than content. Does that make sense?

  88. July 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I like the idea of a Rabbi as someone who performs community service. I remember when I was 11 and very depressed and my mom took me to see the Rabbi for advice, he recommended watching “The Frisco Kid” and some other comedies to cheer me up. I like the fact that there is little to no talk of what happens when we die. I like the idea that we do what is right not for a reward, but because it is the right thing to do. I like that we’re expected to decide what the laws mean every generation. The story of Rabbi Elazar is perhaps my favorite (You can find it perhaps one third of the way down this page http://www.mainemason.org/mlr/rabbiweber.htm). I like that we recognize that there are times the rules must be broken to stay healthy.

    I don’t like the idea that women can’t be Rabbis. I don’t appreciate the suggestion that I should only hear a woman sing if I’m married to her (Honestly, it seems like more than half of my favorite vocal artists are female). Things of that sort.

    As I think about it, Judaism as a culture is important to me because of the social network it provides. I know that whatever city I go to, I can find a community to join. Judaism is best described as a book club. You get together and talk about literature, what a certain passage is really saying, and how it is relevant to your life.

    I’m not fully practicing. I do the fast days, I keep peasach, I try not to eat pork or seafood. I rarely go to services though. I keep telling myself that when I’ve settled down I’ll go, that I’m just not in a situation where I’m prepared to join a community yet. Maybe when I get into graduate school. I’ve been going to something at UCSD called “Sushi with Rabbi Jeff”, and that’s been interesting. It’s my first interaction with an orthodox Rabbi.

    I do love books. I can’t sell them. When I have more books than I have shelf-room, I find ways to give them away (most recently, I’ve been using book mooch). I also like bagels. I know that when I get married, I’d like a Jewish wedding to a Jewish woman, but if I fall in love with someone who isn’t Jewish and she doesn’t want to convert, I’m not sure if that’s a deal breaker or not. I could possibly convert to agnosticism (and be a Jewish agnostic) or atheism. I wouldn’t, however, give up the fast days.

    I like some ideas of reconstruction, and that seems to go in the spirit of the story linked of Rabbi Elazar, that we need to re-interpret the spirit of the law every so often. I’m not involved with any reconstructionist groups that I’m aware of though.

    I want Judaism to be an extended family of sorts. Maybe you don’t like all your family members, but you accept them.

  89. Daisy Bond
    July 16, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Steph, Michael — right on. Thank you for sharing.

    Sara — that makes so. much. sense. That is exactly what I want, so deeply.

  90. July 16, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    At the point that we’re trying to talk about all the people the Nazis sought to kill– the Roma call their tragedy the “Porajmos”– there’s no exact line to draw at where domestic political opponents of the Nazis and POWs of occupied countries and opposing armies were treated… I think that’s “World War II”

    I hope you understand what I mean when I say that trying to exterminate people because they are biologically “inferior” is vastly different from mistreatment of POWs.

  91. Sara
    July 16, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Daisy:

    If you have never read Arthur Green’s book “Seek My Face, Speak My Name – A Contemporary Jewish Theology” – I recommend it. I think he’s a Reconstructionist rabbi. It’s a deeply spiritual, truly beautiful book. I loved it.

    shabbat shalom

  92. noam
    July 17, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Marlene –
    its strange zionists ran your family out of palestine in the 1890’s since the first zionist congress wasnt until 1897 and before 1905 there were only about 3,500 jewsh imigrants in palestine and there was no significant friction between jews and arabs at that time…

  93. July 17, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Flash said:
    “Chabad, for all their problems, and for all the two-faced normativity of their supposed “acceptance” of gay Jews, intermarried Jews, atheist Jews… still considers them all Jews, worthy of an invitation to a shabbat meal.”

    Except they don’t. I’ve had Chabad rabbis tell me to my face that they do not consider me Jewish, and I’ve picked up books on the “silent holocaust” of non-Orthodox conversions supposedly slowly destroying the Jewish people.

  94. July 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Sara (post 90): If you’re in NYC, there are a number of synagogues and small minyanim that seem to be coming close to this definition, all with a slightly different focus on prayer and spirituality but all inclusive and open-minded: CBST, BJ, Romemu, the independent minyanim Hadar and Darkhei Noam, to name a few. Many of them are unaffiliated with a “brand,” since there is not (yet) one that fits. Maybe there will never be, which may be a good thing.

  95. FashionablyEvil
    July 17, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Daisy, I mentioned this in your follow-up thread, but yes, and thanks for updating it!

  96. July 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I am slowly making my way through these comments, and there is something I have not seen anyone say, though it is perhaps implied in some of the comments about making Judaism, or how Judaism should be, more egalitarian, less sexist, less patriarchal, inclusive of women, etc. I would like a Judaism where the sign of the covenant is not a mutilated penis, not only because such a covenant excludes women by definition, but also because of the hatred for the body that circumcision cannot help but represent. (I am aware of all the arguments which portray the circumcision of an 8 day old boy as a kind of hallowing, as a kind of necessary feminizing, etc. and so on, but the fact is that circumcision is a mutilation, especially when it is performed on an infant who cannot consent to it.)

  97. July 17, 2009 at 10:25 am

    @ chava and flash –

    Not only conversions but baalei tshuvot as well. Children born to BTs are considered bnai niddah – possibly conceived when the mother was in niddah and therefore unable to marry cohanim and not good shidduchim for anyone of a decent family with yichus.

    Chabad and Aish (and other kiruv orgs), in my opinion, lay it out very nicely for BTs but once people start becoming integrated into the community(ies) they are second class Jews.

  98. The Flash
    July 17, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Chava:

    That’s extremely upsetting, obviously, but I’ll just toss in that I worked with campus Aish and Chabad groups who made a point of saying that, without compromising or changing their beliefs, they nonetheless were explicitly available for all Jewish-identifying students on campus, including those without a Jewish mother. I’ve also been at Chabad shabbat tables with intermarried men and their non-Jewish wives, where the rabbi was just happy to try to keep the family involved in Judaism, and, in one case, made a side comment about converting the kids for their bar mitzvahs. Some rabbis are better than others, even within those movements.

  99. Daisy Bond
    July 17, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Richard, thank you for saying that.

  100. Sara
    July 17, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    marred graves: I’ve seen family members stop talking to each other for thirty years because they disagreed about Israel. I admire your courage in bringing it up.

    alto artist – thank you for that, but I am on the west coast. I did discover recently the existence of a “meditative” synagogue which I have not yet visited.

    richard newman: I did not have my sons circumcised – the issue of consent is very important to me. I saw no reason to remove healthy body tissue that may serve an important function. Also I confess to a discomfort with making knowledge of private body parts public. It is not for me, so I appreciate your comment.

    another useful book for the spiritually inclined: Jewish Dharma, in which a woman who grew up Orthodox explores Zen and examines the ways in which Zen and Jewish practice support and enhance each other.

  101. Wednesday
    July 18, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Right now, I think I want a Judaism where I don’t start crying because someone on the internet says that I have a right to claim half of my cultural heritage.

    Yeah, I want more than that, but that’s a good place to start.

  102. Sara
    July 19, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Wednesday: You have the right to claim half your cultural heritage. If you don’t know about the Half-Jewish Network, you may want to check it out (www.half-jewish.net). There are a lot of us with only one Jewish parent and our numbers are growing.

  103. Daisy Bond
    July 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    (FYI: I deleted Marred Graves’ comment because it deliberately and explicitly violated the moderation policy I set forth for this thread in a way I found to be really rude and disrespectful. I’m happy to have criticism of Israel and Zionism; I’m not happy to have people who are not members of the Jewish community making political pronouncements about what our identities mean. MG, you are not welcome in this thread and any further comments will be deleted.)

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