Saturday, July 26, 2008

Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?

My family is full of secrets.

Hilariously (at least to me. because what can you do but laugh about it?) it's all the same secret. Or similar secrets. But we don't tell each other, and then we keep up these crazy facades, and no one knows that everyone is secretly doing the same thing.

I'm not such a big fan of secrets. I feel like relationships are not meaningful if you have to keep part of yourself a secret in order to maintain that relationship. There are things about me that I wouldn't want everyone in the world to know, particularly people I'm associated with in a professional sense. That's why, even though I hang around with many people at my school during work and non-work hours, I don't consider them real friends unless they know those things about me that I wouldn't want everyone to know.

Yes, I am being deliberately vague here.

About a month after I started dating B, I went to a big jewish grad/professional student dinner thing at my school. I met up with some random other grad students, and we got to talking about dating not-jewish people. And some random dude went on a whole long rant about how under no circumstances should I tell my parents that I am dating B, ever. That there is no reason for them to know.

I have to say, I disagreed with that assessment, and a few weeks after that I broke the news to them. Since then, while I've hesitated about telling them some things (such as that me and B live together), I eventually told them everything.

My brother on the other hand, is not so forthcoming. This is pretty understandable- he still lives in my parents house (although he makes enough money that he could probably move out if he lowered his standards of living a little bit). He has been dating someone who is not jewish for about 8 months now. My parents have no idea she even exists. Meanwhile, he hangs out with her parents, and brought her over to meet me when I had a birthday/cohabitation party in May. But as far as I know, he has no intention of ever telling my parents about her. How that's going to work out if they decide to get more serious, I have no idea...maybe he never intends on getting more serious? I don't know how you can date someone for months or years and never get any more serious than dating though...

Last Tuesday, one of my cousin's was in town for a conference, and we met up for coffee. My favorite cousin in fact. Let's call him "D." D is a bit older than me (he's 35), is married and has 3 kids, and lives about 10 minutes away from my parents. His parents live in Israel, his wife's parents live a 20 hour car ride away, and my dad is his only close relative nearbye, so him and his family and my parents spend a lot of time together. Turns out that even though my dad isn't saying anything about my engagement to my brothers, he did tell D.

D was remarkably non-judgmental when he was talking to me about it (one of the reasons he is my favorite cousin), and seemed more intent on making sure I knew some of the challenges of getting married in general, and that I'm sure B is going to be a good partner. It was kind of big-brothery, but in a good way.

Back to the topics of secrets- it turns out that not one, but two of my first cousins (his brother and sister) are in 'similar situations to mine.' One, lets call her "N", who lives in Israel, is dating a non-religious man, and they are living together. Her parents have no idea, or if they do, are not telling anyone that they do. The other, "Y" now lives in NYC, and is dating someone who is not jewish. They live together, and may or may not be married. D was kind of sketchy on the topic, and didn't seem to want to spread too much information about it.

Now N was here for thanksgiving, the first time I had seen her since I was 14. In fact I wrote a blog post about not wanting her to visit since I don't keep kosher. But it turns out, as I found out last Tuesday, N doesn't keep kosher either! I did end up seeing N at my parents house, and we were both in our "orthodox disguises" wearing long skirts and shirts that covered our elbows and stuff. And she's not religious! And yet neither of us said anything to indicate that we were not 100% religious, and neither of us talked on a personal level, or had any conversations about the men we were both about to move in with. In fact, Y was there also. Me, my brother, and my two cousins, all had dinner together, and me and my brother (who know we are both not religious) had no idea that N and her brother Y (who presumably also know about each other) were in the exact same situation as us.

Because my family is full of secrets.

My dad's parents have 8 grandchildren. Now that I have this new information, I know that at least four of them are not religious, including 3 dating non-jewish people. 50%. And yet the other 50% (plus our parents, so really it's 4/12, or 33.34%) completely controls our actions. We disguise ourselves, my brother and Y with kippas and me and N with skirts and high-cut 'modest' shirts, and do it so well that we don't even know the other people are exactly the same as us, until some third party, still religious, but totally in the know about everything, lets out the big secret.

On my facebook profile under "religious views" it used to say "against." (now it says "atheist"). Back when it said "against" one of my mom's first cousins who is my facebook friend sent me a private message saying "Hey- I like your religious views. I totally agree, but don't tell anyone."

So on a scale of 1 to completely fucked up, how fucked up is this entire situation? I mean, it could just be my family- even though it's happened on both sides of the family- maybe that's just a coincidence. Or maybe it's endemic in the larger modern orthodox community, where half of the younger generation seems to be assimilating, while half are becoming more and more religious. That seems to be the case among people I grew up with- most of the people I was friends with as a teenager are no longer religious, and many of them are dating not-jewish people. And not telling their parents about it. The people my age who I wasn't friends with all seem to be having thousands of babies and their facebook profiles all say "Jewish- orthodox". And yet us non-religious folks bow to the will of the religious ones, by keeping our situations private or secret.

Have they socialized us so well that even though we completely disagree with them, we have internalized the shame they feel about us?

65 comments:

  1. Your family and your blog make my head spin! More intrigue than a covert CIA operation!

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  2. Why is any of this relevent? Why do you feel the need to completely rip your family to shreds? Who even cares what the cousins, brothers etc are doing? And why do you feel the need to curse so much?

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  3. Assuming that everyone involved wants to continue to be involved in each others lives, the advantage therefore goes to whoever is *less* tolerant.

    That's why the non-Orthodox in your family end up disguising it.

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  4. Great post. I'm actually in a similiar situation and my entire family is REFORM (going to synagogue only on high holidays and Passover)! I'm an out and out atheist. Actually that doesn't describe my true relationship with religion. More accurately, I'm both atheist and anti-theism. I hate the prayers, the customs, the undue respect, the religious clothing, etc. Well I told my parents awhile back and they're not really in denial, but I wouldn't call it complete understanding of my position. But they assuredly understand that I have nothing to do with Judaism; not attending high holidays, shabbat, not joining hillel, not praying, not believing in God, etc. Well it's good that when I'm home they don't shove it down my throat. But whenever we go to any family's house (usually only for Passover at my grandparents), it's as if I'm Jewish as a rabbi. They've never uttered a word about my atheism and pretend like I'm fully in agreement with the garbage occurring there. They expect me to participate in the Passover service, eat matzo, wear a kippah, do other crap. And it's so damn frustrating b/c they act like I'm a practicing Jew.

    So there are definitely others like you. In fact, it's great to hear there's someone in a similiar situation.

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  5. You forgot the "ooo waaa ooo" in the title. ;)

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  6. >completely controls our actions.

    Nobody can control your actions. As hard as it is or can be, you make your own decisions, and, either way, deal with the consequences. What, you think you have the only family out there with issues? What about parents or kids that secretly do drugs? Financial issues that they try to hide? etc.

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  7. >They expect me to participate in the Passover service, eat matzo, wear a kippah, do other crap. And it's so damn frustrating b/c they act like I'm a practicing Jew.

    Geez, how selfish can one be? Are they asking the world of you? Do you want to NOT attend a FAMILY seder?

    We have gentile guests that when over, they participate. You think they believe in the stuff? No, of course not.

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  8. Anonymous

    I don't mean to diminish some of your frustrations. My point is simply to chill a bit. Maybe take a step back and see whats worth fighting, and whats worth just participating a bit to be with the family in important times.

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  9. Lots of frum families are like this, probably most.

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  10. anonymous 1- as I've said before, if you don't like what I post about or how I curse, you can stay the fuck away from my blog. No one is forcing you to read it.

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  11. And why do you feel the need to curse so much?

    Funny, I guess I'm desensitized - I didn't even notice cursing when I first read the post. Get over it, anonymous, it's just words and it's just a way of expressing strong feelings.

    Anyway, AE, is there a way to get the 4 cousins who are not observant "out of the closet" in respect to one another?

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  12. i like your blog very much. I do believe in God but I relate very much to your situation. I really hope things work out well for you.

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  13. Yeah, the secrecy thing. It happens in my family, too. I think it's harder to "come out" to people in your family, or people you love.

    Not sure what the best solution to this is. But maybe it's time to let your extended family know where you're at. Quietly, without your parents knowing that you told them.

    The strange thing is, coming out actually makes the extended family much stronger, since there's always a bunch of religious rebels somewhere along the line. This helps them feel like they're not such outsideres.

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  14. @ holy hyrax:

    I think they are asking too much. They're asking me to go against my core belief system. They're asking me to betray a significant portion of who am I because they just so smugly assume I believe that tripe or believe that I'm ok with it despite them knowing I'm an atheist. I'd prefer that they simply don't mind that I refrain but that isn't even considered.

    I surely think my core belief system is worth fighting over. And I wish my family would respect my beliefs enough to not push theirs onto me.

    Your "advice" is ironic in light of your comments over at Jewish Atheist's blog concerning Orthodox attending weddings where people act in a manner against Orthodox principles. But it's not surprising you'd accord yourself and others like you concessions that you're not so willing to give to us heathens.

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  15. Anonymous of post #2: shut up. It's her blog. And it's a blog, and an anonymous blog. A blog is an open exchange of ideas. AE is not assassinating anyone's character because no one knows who she is. Geez. Let the woman talk. Get your own blog and talk about flowers and butterflies and rainbows and don't curse.

    AE, you know what, this post actually resonates with me. First of all, there is something really wrong here...why is everyone in your family deserting their Jewishness? What the hell went wrong with everyone's Jewish education and upbringing that you guys are abandoning your faith like a sinking ship? Second, yeah, why all the secrecy? This is the part that resonates with me.

    Jewish families are full of secrets. I remember when my Dad got cancer, my siblings absolutely forbade me from telling anyone what the illness was. Why? Was it shameful? Would it ruin our family reputation? I still don't get it.

    I have a cousin who is gay. I mean, he has to be. He is in his fifties, never married or had kids, lives with a man. Yet the one time I referred to Jason as being gay, I thought my mother was going to kill me. My Mom and her siblings say that Jason is "a little off." He's not off, he's gay! Maybe he's off AND gay. But it's considered such a hush-hush thing in my parents' circles.

    The thing is, every family has got stuff going on. You always think your stuff is worse than everyone else's but it's everywhere....intermarriage, being gay, leaving Orthodoxy, etc. Life marches on and not everyone makes the same choices. I think being secretive about this sort of thing is just stupid. I don't know. Wouldn't sharing information be so much more helpful?

    That's why I find it so sad to read Orthoprax blogs and hear about how these people are pretending to everyone else, and how the only place they can really talk out their doubts and disbeliefs is in the blogging community. How sad is that? How loving are our families if we don't let them know who we really are?

    I wonder about this: there are so few frum people, statistically speaking. Why are there so many frum anonymous blogs (my own included)? I'm surrounded and blessed by family and friends....why do I need to confess to a computer?

    -WG

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  16. OJ is so all encompassing that it is seen as the glue holding all of us together. And frum people hang out almost exclusively with frum people.

    I can never imagine not playing the frum boy at family events, it would literally hurt people, and I actually would feel more comfortable and have a better time just going with the flow, playing the roles we know so well, and keeping a secret. Its the way I was born and bred, so its really no effort.

    Webgirl -
    great line "I'm surrounded and blessed by family and friends....why do I need to confess to a computer?"

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  17. >Your "advice" is ironic in light of your comments over at Jewish Atheist's blog concerning Orthodox attending weddings where people act in a manner against Orthodox principles. But it's not surprising you'd accord yourself and others like you concessions that you're not so willing to give to us heathens.

    You are misunderstanding me here and in my other comments. I don't think they should force you to keep anything you don't want. But I am also working with your own example, specifically, the seder. Maybe you need to read about atheism more. Atheism does not mean you cannot enjoy those special times with your family and partake in some of your own culture. If your parents were forcing you to pray amidah, it would be one thing, but a seder is nothing more, at least to you, as a family dinner with some nice rituals that are STILL part of your heritage.

    Just FYI, Israel Finkelstein, the notable Archeologist, celebrates the passover seder. He still sees it as his heritage and a time for all the family to be together and tell tales.

    So again, what is your other choice for this particular night. Do you wish to tell your grandparents that you don't want to attend? Would you rather be somewhere else, watching a movie since that is probably more important than the 4 hours you can spend with numerous family members the same way ever Jew across the world does?

    Why is it gentiles that have no connection to my heritage simply enjoy sitting and experiencing this particular different night?

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  18. >I surely think my core belief system is worth fighting over. And I wish my family would respect my beliefs enough to not push theirs onto me.

    You are right. You core beleifs ARE worth fighting for. So is going to a seder so offensive to your atheism?

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  19. @ holy hyrax:

    I thoroughly enjoy you completely distorting what a seder is. It's a religious activity full of prayer, religious food, and celebration of a "miracle" that I find laughably implausible. After I became an atheist, I feel no connection whatsoever to Jewish customs because almost all of them are intertwined with religion. Furthermore, I denied not only the Jewish religion, but the Jewish culture that seems to put Jewishness above all else (AE's upcoming marriage being a great example of it or teaching loyalty to Israel over America). I feel no connection to a culture so imbued with collectivism and exclusion. Look I'm not going to convince you that Jewish culture is vapid and ethnocentric, but that's just how I feel.

    And as to me informing myself about atheism, please. I know that my disdain for religion is contradicted by attending a Jewish ceremony. Your gentile friends, while not Jewish, still believe in the story and thus their participation goes against none of their convictions.

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  20. far out, eden. I have a feeling that happens more often than people realize. what annoys me is when my "out" not-so-observant relatives tell me that I don't have to wash, if I feel like washing, at a dinner where my dad & family are there. of course I don't have to was, if I don't want to. It's respect for my dad and his family, and trying to teach my sister by example that you can be respectful without selling your soul to anyone. The fact that I don't have to wash is not a novelty. (my cat just walked by with my winter glove in his mouth. he is SO freakin' adorable, it's not even funny!)

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  21. I don't think I distorted anything. The seder is not only about prayer. Its about a story, and symbols and singing. You can be a [mature] atheist and have some fun with your family. Hence, my Israel Finkelstein example.

    You are going to lead a sad life Anon. Are you going to look at every simcha your family has with a magnifying glass and NOT attend because it contains a religious tone to it, albeit not even an orthodox one?

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  22. As a sociologist you should know whether the 50% figure reflects the norm or not...But it looks like the family should be doing a major cheshbon nefesh as to why so many of them are leaving tradition/Orthodoxy/Judaism behind...

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  23. sounds like we share a family! haha
    i think all frum families have this obsession with secrecy. i think its part of holding the family together. especially when the parents were set up through shidduchim, they may not have all that in common, and if the father is always learning, lots of times there aren't honest, personal connections bw family memebers, esp with the fathers. yet it is of ultimate importance to have a solid front, since reputation matters so much in the frum community. ur life can be made or can be broken depending on ur reputation. one method of having a solid family is to pretend that flaws arent there, keeping everything that isnt "perfect" secret.
    i happen to be the only rebel in my immediate family, but my parents' siblings also rebelled, and half of my cousins aren't jewish. naturally, we never mention this to anyone, adn have almost no connection to any of my cousins, even the jewish, but not religious, ones. its as if we have no relatives.
    and now that i have openly stated my non-observance, i am being "punished". i have to pretend to be religious, even in front of my nieces and nephews (altho i refuse to), i have to pretend that i am keeping shabbos, and everyone pretends that i keep kosher, etc. when i wear pants (my fam is ultra-orthodox), everyone turns the other cheek and tells ea other, "she's working out issues with her yiddishkeit."
    this is how they work; this is the only way they have to keep the family intact. they do not understand respect for other positions, bc only they are right, and if u disagree with them, it is taken as a personal insult.
    i've learned that altho it is frustrating, this is their coping method, and u can try to help them learn other ways to cope, but this is what they're used to adn comfortable with.

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  24. well, my cousins, sister and i "came out to each other about wanting to go off during a sleepover (truth or dare!!!), though i started us on the topic.
    then having access to far more goyish music and material, we all watched the 3 episodes of friends i have on my ipod, and listened to music on my ipod.
    we gave each other tips and shared stories.
    you should totally try to help each other out- i mean, look what it did for us!

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  25. -Everyone has family secrets, frum or not. (I think Primetime is dedicating its show this summer to family secrets, go TIVO it).
    -I have attended many meetings with Footsteps (organization that helps orthodox youth join mainstream society) and concluded that 99% of those who attended left orthodoxy because of their complex family relationships rather than philosophical/theological issues.
    Can this be the case for you and for your cousin?

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  26. you're not worried that your family might find your blog and find out all these secrets?

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  27. anon- i actually went to college with the woman who started footsteps! She was always trying to get me involved with it, but at that point in my life I was just avoiding everything having to do with judaism- even organizations for people who left it :)

    Steg- Not especially worried, no...my real name isn't anywhere on this blog, so you can't find it through googling, and my parents don't use the internet for much more than email (my mom uses ebay to buy antique watches or something, but that's about it). They are definitely not blog readers. In fact, I would characterize my dad as extremely suspicious of the internet- he thinks everyone online is a child molester or something.

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  28. webgirl- i don't know why everyone in my family is deserting judaism? First of all, it's not everyone, it's only half. Second of all, me and my cousins grew up in completely different countries (they grew up in israel- my cousin in NYC moved there from israel a few years ago, after I had moved out of NYC), and we had very little contact growing up...we met up maybe once every 5 years. So I don't think it's specifically my family per se...unless we have some genetic propensity to question religion, or unless my aunt and my dad were similar in their parenting because of their upbringing....i just don't see how that would work though.

    That's why I suspect it's something endemic in the modern orthodox community rather than my family in particular...and I know tons of people who grew up modern orthodox and are no longer religious (to varying degrees...some still date jews, some don't care, but most don't keep shabbat or kosher).

    This will probably come out sounding extremely judgemental...but I suspect what is going here is that the tenents of orthodox judaism don't hold up to an objective examination, and people who are modern orthodox have been exposed to the scientific method. So from those groups, about half find unanswerable questions in the religion, while the other half stays religious based on upbringing/appreciation for jewish culture, or cognitive dissidence. The only groups in which the majority of kids seem to stay religious are those in which they are deliberately kept separate from secular knowledge.

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  29. I like japanese anime porn, and i'm thinking of telling my parents. on a scale from 1 to "2 girls one cup" how grossed out do you think they will be? XD

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  30. anonymous to anonymous

    i only see these cousins once a year, so it's not the case for me and my cousin.

    we just feel sort of like we can't really do things, and no one knows why, and they don't know why the hell they follow OJ. we want to explore.

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  31. nice post title, by the way. :)
    jooodah, you're funny.

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  32. Ive been following your blog with interest for quite some time. It seems many of the comments can be grouped into two admittedly non-exhaustive categories. The first are people who seek to "show you the light". Somehow in their arrogance or naive myopic perspective they think that their comment will somehow cause you to "return". The second category are those that seek to commiserate with you, provide support, advice, encouragement, or self justification.
    I seek to do neither. I found your comment that Orthodox people are either in cognitive dissidence or sheltered from the secular world to be quite troubling. Most of my Orthodox friends have graduate degrees in academic disciplines and confront the challenges of modernity with bravery, humility, and intellectual honesty. No they do not have answers to all of their questions but they live passionate non robotic religious lives. Yes I am aware that there are others who fall into the categories that you constructed but I'm quite disappointed in your characterization.

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  33. anon- well that's why I had that other category, people who are jewish based on "upbringing/appreciation for jewish culture."

    Ok there are people who have faith in the religion as well, but they seem to fall into the cognitive dissonance category if they have those academic degrees as you say. How can one reconcile stories of miracles with a scientific way of thinking if not cognitive dissonance?

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  34. oh and cognitive dissonance means holding two opposing ideas to be true, when they directly contradict each other. That has nothing to do with being robotic or however else you are trying to mischaracterize what I'm saying.

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  35. Best post ever...I am in a really similar situation to yours and I absolutely love your blog. I have divorced parents. My mom is ultra orthodox, and my dad, a former hassid, is secular. I haven't been religious since I was 14- except for a brief period in college when I tried to be religious to see if it would work if I did it on my own terms and not because I was forced. I love this post because my dad and I used to (and to some extent still really do) bend over backwards to hide our true beliefs from my mom even though we were not at all outnumbered...Whenever I go home, I always wear a skirt and long sleeves so as not to offend. I am now dating a non-Jewish guy. I am so impressed by your bravery. Congrats on your upcoming marriage. All the best!

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  36. Thanks for explaining what cognitive dissonance means. Due to my religious upbringing as a member of what Max Weber called the "Pariah People" I must have been too sheltered to understand the wisdom that you have been privy to. Sarcasm aside-I understand that you have not been exposed to people that are able to reconcile the world of Og with the world of zinc fingers. That does not mean that these people do not exist. For the record, as a scientist trained in scientific method at the graduate level I can say that science does not contradict miracles. Science does not prove miracles either. Miracles are simply not part of our discipline. I dont run objective experiments to make you into a pariah so please don't marginalize me as an outlier in your sociological double blind survey.

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  37. Maybe you ought to check up on your family's lineage.

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  38. I've studied faces all my life and I'm pretty certain that B is at least 'part' Jewish.

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  39. whys that? extreme wishful thinking?

    B is half Sicilian and half British and no part Jewish.

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  40. I converted him while he was taking a nap once. He's Jewish.

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  41. I choose to believe in God and in a divine revelation. The way I live without cognitive dissonance is that I acknowlege that most of the details of the Jewish religion were created by humans in an evolutionary process over time. Those humans were trying to make sense of a tradition that was based on a divine revelation. So why do I keep halacha? Because I choose to respect and honor the ancient traditions of my ancestors. The fact that it evolved makes me respect it more, not less. I keep mitzvot not because I think a bolt of lightning will strike me down, but because I want to.

    Is there proof for God? Of course not. Is there any evidence of a divine revelation? No. But there's no evidence against them either, as long as I don't insist on a literal understanding and am willing to incorporate the evidence of current scholarship into my beliefs.

    (AE, you know I'm not trying to convert you back - I think you should live your life in whatever way makes you happy - I'm just responding to some of the other comments here.)

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  42. Dys (July 30, 2008 11:10 AM),

    Halacha does not evolve. Evolution involves change. Orthodoxy merely takes the laws that are already in place and applies them to new situations. But because there is no sanhedrin and Orthodoxy considers talmudic hallacha on par with biblical law in terms of it's divine influence (provided it doesn't contracdict anything de'oraisa), we cannot make any applicable changes to it. Perfect example being the Agunah issue, which is a huge blemish on the Orthodox outlook on women and society.

    If we had a sanhedrin, what would we have to do with people who publically desacrated the sabbath? people who intermarried, people who commit adultery? We'd most likely have to execute them? what would we have to do if we found out who Amalek is? murder their men, women, children, burn their posessions, etc (for those who claim they never existed, WHO CARES? the fact that the Torah commands us to murder anyone is significant, even if it's a possibly imaginary people).

    Let's not forget any male homosexuals who act on their desires (IE. fuck)

    public stoning. strangulation. impalement, hot lava down the throat. have we forgotten what we are commanded to do to those who sin?

    Orthodox jews pray to be reunited in jerusalem, to rebuild the holy temple. to unite under one leadership. But if this happens, the 75% of Jews (that's a made up number, i bet it's more) will have to answer for their "crimes". Can you blame anyone who does something worthy of execution according to orthodox law from not being orthodox? or not being jewish? who wants to die for the sake of happiness?

    You are entitled to claim that Orthodoxy as an evolving, living religion, but i say it is Jewish fundamentalism that is one step shy of radical. the only reson why it's not considered as insane as islam is because Muslims unite and hate as one, and Jews are stuck in the diaspora, in mind and body.

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  43. Joodah Foodah WoodahJuly 30, 2008 at 10:54 PM

    Sorry for all the misspells. I just came out of a 5 mile run and was typing like a bandit. I think you can get the jist of what I'm saying though.

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  44. AE:

    This is a little off topic, but I just want to commend you for how you've handled your wedding. I admire that you're having a wedding that is, most importantly, not religious and true to who you are in other contexts. On top of that, you're at least slightly accommodating your parents' wishes.

    It's refreshing to see ethnically Jewish, but not religiously Jewish, atheists be forthright in their disbelief and not be pussies like "Jewish Atheist".

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  45. Sicilian>

    Many Sicilians are actually more Arab than Italian from what I understand.

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  46. joodah- i love that you're commenting here! Seriously, we need to hang out soon.

    congrats- thanks! Although I don't think jewish atheist is being a pussy, I think he is just closer with his parents than I am, and cares about what they think, while I am way past that point. If I had ended up with someone jewish I probably would be in the same situation as him

    last anon- What is your point exactly? I don't care if his ancestors were nazis and arabs who all killed a bunch of jews...that has nothing to do with who he is.

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  47. Joodah,

    You are entitled to claim that Orthodoxy as an evolving, living religion

    Note that I never mentioned "Orthodoxy" in my comment. I am not defending established Orthodoxy today, I was just explaing how I live a halachic lifestyle and have some basic beliefs without cognitive dissonance with my western self. However the philisophical compromises I've made with religion as a thinking rational being would probably qualify me as a heretic by traditional Orthodox standards.

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  48. Joodah

    I have to disagree with you. There IS in fact an evolution in the halachic process. Obviously, many, if not most things need to have some sort of foundation to them, but no more than a law needs one in the Constitution. And yes like you can ammend the Constitution, we see many incredible changes that have taken place with halacha. For example, the sephardic community in Tunisia (IIRC) created a Tikkun that allowed women, regardless if they have male siblings to inherit property. This was something brand new that was deemed necessary for that community.

    You even see things listed in the Talmud. If I recall, there was the case of there being too many mamzerim intermixed with the general population. This, halachically, would create a big problem. So how did the court pasken? That in their situation, you simply did not ask if someone was a mamzer and people should continue to get married.

    You also have halachic principles such as din melech, that a king or ruler can go being the letter of the law for what he deems necassary.

    You are created such a narrow portrait of what the future might hypothetically hold. We even see in the Talmud that death penalties were thrown out the windows due to their being too much "kfira" going around. By your definition, chazal should have simply executed everyone, right? I mean, it DOES say that in the Torah.

    The fact is, authority is given to the courts to interpret the law, just like the Constitution gives the supreme court the authority to interpret the law. It is a silly thing to think that all of a sudden, if new sanhedrin were to convene, that they would just agree to one huge fatwa against the majority of the Jewish people

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  49. H.H,

    In my experience orthodoxy is not as modern as you claim it is. As time goes on it moves farther and farther to the right. Compare modern orthodoxy today to modern orthodoxy of 30 years ago. Teaneck, Far Rockaway, Brooklyn, (Can you tell I’m from the east coast?) have all turned black hat and beyond. if you walk around Monsey or New square with a girl or (chas veshalom) holding a girls hand, you get yelled at or even pushed around. If you go to Meah Shearim with shorts, you get spat on (this happened to a friend of mine).

    My point is you paint Orthodox Judaism as this open-minded, tolerant system that will turn the other cheek to It's law system if enough people are doing the wrong thing IE. Too much kefirah, or the mamzerim issue you brought up, but is "you simply not asking someone if they're a mamzer", is covering your eyes when you commit the sin a solution? It kinda sounds like a huge loophole, which in my experience is how Orthodoxy deals with modern-day halachic dilemmas. IE. DNR’s, for terminal patients, The shobbas lamp, Shaarei Tzedek’s entire alarm system for sick people, (I’m sure I can think of more, but that will have to do for now.

    I can't really comment on “din melech” because I don't know enough about it. I'll do some research and get back to you.

    In response to a large population doing something wrong to the point where we simply accept it: Not too long ago we read about the story of Pinchas. a Jewish prince and a Moabite princess copulate in the midst of a mass inter-copulation between moav and the Jews (on recommendation of Balak, I believe), a zealous man murders them and displays their remains (I'm pretty sure that's how it goes, mark me if I’m wrong) and G-d says that Pinchas was right and should be commended. It's directly from his actions that the "mishchat", essentially a fiery pillar of death and destruction killing everyone regardless of culpability, finally dissipated. So Pinchas basically saved everyone’s lives by killing a Jewish dude making whoopee with a non-Jewish Dudett.

    I will agree with you that authority is given to the courts on certain issues, just as authority is given to different communities on how long to wait between eating meat and milk, or the situations you mentioned. But I have also learned that since corporal punishment no longer exists, many Jews believe that this will only increase your punishment in the afterlife.

    Karet(sp?) is a bitch. I've heard different variations of what karet even is, from not taking part in the mass reincarnation (this is a maimonidean idea, right?) to boiling in a pit of your own excretion of semen.

    If you eat bread on Passover, if you eat on Yom kippur, if you marry a non-Jew, if you publicly desecrate the Shabbat. If you were witnessed committing adultery; with these laws there is no room for maneuverabity. I am fairly certain that since the laws and punishments are directly commanded in the Torah, you're screwed.

    And again i reiterate, if someone does these things, why would they ever want to be orthodox? Unless of course, they're suicidal, or like being judged/hated/excommunicated/spat on/attacked by their peers and loved ones, which regardless of law will probably happen.

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  50. >In my experience orthodoxy is not as modern as you claim it is. As time goes on it moves farther and farther to the right. Compare modern orthodoxy today to modern orthodoxy of 30 years ago. Teaneck, Far Rockaway, Brooklyn, (Can you tell I’m from the east coast?) have all turned black hat and beyond. if you walk around Monsey or New square with a girl or (chas veshalom) holding a girls hand, you get yelled at or even pushed around. If you go to Meah Shearim with shorts, you get spat on (this happened to a friend of mine).

    I don't think I am claiming orthodoxy to be a pillar of modernity only that it is not a jihadist cult like you make it out to be, OR how it WILL be. I am merely showing you precedence within our 2000+ legal history that shows judaism (not orthodoxy) isn't a static system. I agree with you that it is going to the right. But if its going to the right, it means it can also go to the left. Orthodoxy is not a tangible object, and if it has been hijacked by those that wish to add more chumrahs, than its up to the rest of us to teach the next generation to fight back.

    I agree with you that there are communities that look down upon holding hands (actually most) but that go out of their way to yell or judge...but there are other communities that don't (yell at least). Orthodoxy is not a monolith. Oh, and Meah Shearim is not an example for anything.

    >My point is you paint Orthodox Judaism as this open-minded, tolerant system that will turn the other cheek to It's law system if enough people are doing the wrong thing IE. Too much kefirah, or the mamzerim issue you brought up, but is "you simply not asking someone if they're a mamzer", is covering your eyes when you commit the sin a solution? It kinda sounds like a huge loophole, which in my experience is how Orthodoxy deals with modern-day halachic dilemmas. IE. DNR’s, for terminal patients, The shobbas lamp, Shaarei Tzedek’s entire alarm system for sick people, (I’m sure I can think of more, but that will have to do for now.

    You can call it a loophole if you wish. I think its just a natural phenomenon with how chazal viewed the role of the written law. Each generation needs to look at the law and see how to apply it to them. If there is a national emergency, the law has to be a big lax for the better good of the collective people.

    I think within orthodoxy, you will find a lot of close minded people, but there is also lots of open minded as well. Look at the new Yeshiva Chovevei TOrah yeshiva for example. If you are looking for western style tolerance, than you won't find it. It's just two different value systems.

    >So Pinchas basically saved everyone’s lives by killing a Jewish dude making whoopee with a non-Jewish Dudett.

    To true, but clearly that is a story set in a time that God is an obvious occurrence in their lives and they are warned exceedingly. Also, the story is basically telling the reader that BECAUSE of the immorality, the Israelites were being killed, so one man stood up to end it all. As much as we see that zeolotry immoral, that is only because we are looking at it from the prism of 21st century morality. I don't expect any Jewish court to rule that that behaivor is correct, unless of course, its some national emergency.

    >But I have also learned that since corporal punishment no longer exists, many Jews believe that this will only increase your punishment in the afterlife.

    blah blah

    >Karet(sp?) is a bitch. I've heard different variations of what karet even is, from not taking part in the mass reincarnation (this is a maimonidean idea, right?) to boiling in a pit of your own excretion of semen.

    blah blah. The fact that there is different opinions means nobody knows. I leave that to God. Karet is not a legal term for the courts. Its something between God and man.

    >If you eat bread on Passover, if you eat on Yom kippur, if you marry a non-Jew, if you publicly desecrate the Shabbat. If you were witnessed committing adultery; with these laws there is no room for maneuverabity.

    Well no. There is some room for maneuverablitity. Chazal created those maneuvers. Its not just being witnessed, but being witnessed by kosher witnesses, and you HAD to be warn ahead of time and so forth. Chazal basically made it impossible to be put to death for these sorts of private violations.

    The point in all this, is that Judaism requires a court. There is no central court hence things are very stuck. I'm sorry if that is an old slogan, but it is very true. I doubt that people will be strangled or stoned for their violations.

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  51. 51 comments on this post! Now, I'm leaving comment #52! Your blog has it's own blog! Your blog posts get discussed and debated on other people's blogs! You 'da man, Eden! You 'da blog queen! I'd make your blog a link on mine, but I already get lots of readers who follow the comments I leave here to my blog, and quite frankly, I'm afraid of some of the people who leave comments here!

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  52. Joodah,

    Please explain to me how a shabbat lamp is a loophole? It's been a pleasure to be able to read in bed on Friday nights ever since I got one.

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  53. And the loopholes for sick patients? I think that's admirable that we have a halachic system that is flexible enough to adapt to the needs of religious people who are ill. If anything, I think that example is something to admire, not condemn!

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  54. Dys,

    The lamp is a loophole based on a Geder (fence) around coming in contact with electric devices.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is how I was taught:

    Because there is a lav (prohibition) of using electrical devices (I'm not sure if the melacha is "Boneh" for building a circuit or "lo tivaru aish" with the sparks and electrical current), the talmud places a "geder" around the lav by saying orthodox jews can't even come in contact with electrical devices because they might come to actually turn them on.

    This means that since one is prohibited biblcially from turning on or off a light swirch or turning on a car, they are prohibited talmudically from touching a lightswitch or touching a car. (it is not mechalel shabbat, but it is muktzeh, i think).

    The way Orthodox Jews get around both prohibitions is by making "shobbas lamp". This lamp is A. always on, so you don't have to break or create cirtuite and B. is made of of 2 seperate pieces. The base has all the electrical parts and the bulb. The top part swivels between a closed wall and a part with a window that lets light in. If you spin the top part around, you can go from dark to light, without ever touching the electrical part of the lamp.

    To the outside world, this is hilarious. But it is a valid loophole that keeps modern orthodox jews safe from touching something muktzeh (bear in mind ultra orthodox jews will not even use this)

    as for the non-electrical system in Shaarei tzedek, One of the head rabbis in charge of coming up with ways of circumventing mechalel shabbat spoke at my yeshiva. We actually went on a tour of the facility. For instance, all the light sources in the room are "grama" lamps. meaning, when you turn on a switch, there is a time delay between the you flicking the switch and the ciruit being created. Because of the time delay, there is a loophole that apparently is less of a lav than just simply turning on an "immediate" light switch.


    Don't even get me started on "Shinui" (doing it a different way). Many orthodox jews rip toilet paper and paper towels(Prohibition: ripping) with their pinkies or their toes, write with a pen with their non-dominant hand (prohibition: writing two or more letters), clap their hands in a different way, either with the back of the their hand or banging on the table with 1 hand (makah vepatish - banging a hammer).

    You have to understand, It sounds nice that The rabbis (who invented the "shabbat lamp" anyway??) make all these new loopholes and ways around the laws of breaking shobbas, but let's be serious: Is this what shabbat is all about? coming up with ways to turn on a light withough actually turning on a light, but oh look, the light is on!

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  55. Just two corrections if I may
    1) Despite common misconception one is permitted to touch muktza items. Some muktza items are prohibited from being moved on shabbat depending on what category of muktza they are and why they are being moved. But touching is always permitted.
    2) The loopholes are not outsmarting G-d. They were intentionally built into the system in order to allow flexibility. Any legal system that has any lasting power must be a combination of flexibility and inflexibility. If it is too flexible it wont last and if it is too firm it wont either.

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  56. Anonymous,

    1) Seeing as I don't know your background, and would like to use this info in the future, please provide a source for this claim.

    2) Sometimes I forget that Judaism is not only a religion but also, as you have implied, a "legal system". That means no seperation of Church and State. That means Justice is not really our top priority since Jews are required to abbide by both Chok and Mishpat (laws with logical and illogical reasons). Y

    ou guys keep comparing the torah to the Constitution or some other law document, but come on people; The Torah is not the Constitution. The constitution is about rights and freedoms. The torah is so open ended with stories we can't prove actually happened, laws that we can't even translate without tradition (Tefilin), and an entire learning system just to analyze what's really going on behind the scenes (Kabbalah).

    I agree with your claim that flexibility is needed in any law system, but the Torah is far more than a law system. flexibility in interpretation sounds like a great idea, but when orthodox jews decided to write down the talmud and go into diaspora with no ruling body to continue dishing out new rulings, you have a religious law system that has no power and cannot ammend itself anymore to anything more than loopholes.

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  57. >The Torah is not the Constitution.

    Of course its not THE Constitution. But it works with the premise that the written word is the beginning of interpretation by a ruling body of authority. Only now the second amendment was really interpreted but it could have easily gone the other way.

    >but when orthodox jews decided to write down the talmud and go into diaspora with no ruling body to continue dishing out new rulings, you have a religious law system that has no power and cannot ammend itself anymore to anything more than loopholes.

    I agree that the Talmud is indeed problematic, but you do have communities enacting Tikkunim, like the one I mentioned in Tunisia. That is not a loophole.

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  58. regarding the permissibility of touching muktza objects-
    Sefardim-see Rabbi Josef Karo Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Hilchot Shabbat Siman 308 Siif 42
    Ashkenazim-see Rabbi Moshe Isserles
    Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Hilchot Shabbat Siman 308 Siif 3

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  59. Thanks Anonymous,

    I'll look into those sources :)

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  60. This is the information age, and young leaving religion, not just Judaism but every religion.
    The internet is a big cause for this.
    As far as Judaism goes, something that goes on in every Jewish home (even the most secular home) is Jewish guilt. This is what makes saying "you don't buy into God" such a big secret.

    As far as cognitive dissonance goes. Any Jew who watches The Bible Unearthed videos and then still needs to believe the Exodus actually happened, is suffering from it.

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  61. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  62. >>This is the information age, and young leaving religion, not just Judaism but every religion.
    The internet is a big cause for this.>>

    This is just not true. The internet does not cause an abandonment of religion. A more plausible argument would be the enlightenment age started the abandonment of religion, but i don't even thing that's true.

    In my opinion, religious tolerance is a big catalyst for people leaving religion, when people realize that they can be accepted in other communities than just Judaism. Jews for Jesus, Christian missionaries, Hell, even Scientologists are actively recruiting and are basically targeting those people who's faith is shaky. IMHO American society, in its ideals, promotes religious tolerance in its "freedom of religion", and i think this also contributes to the abandonment of religion, specifically the extremist-right wing types.

    Blaming the abandonment of orthodox judaism on the internet is IMHO a cop-out from the real issues; one being that orthodox judaism just doesn't make sense.

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  63. Ang, the internet validates that young earth creationism makes no sense, for example.
    That is my point.
    I didn't say that the internet is the only cause, but a big reason as anyone asking pertinent questions on the internet will get a plethora of information which more times than not, shows that most basic religious foundations have no actual empirical proof to back them up.

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  64. I don't see this secrecy in our family really. We're "Yekkes" (German Jews). I don't know if that makes a difference.

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