Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'm the rabbi's rebel daughter...for reals

When I was around 10 my dad started a gemarah shiur on Shabbas afternoons in our house as preparation for my bat mitzvah. A gemarah shiur is a group of people who get together to "learn" (basically read and talk about) a book of the talmud, and usually read it slowly, in this case a few pages a week, meeting for about 1-2 hours a week. After the shiur was over the guys would all walk over to the shul for shabbas mincha (afternoon prayers). At first it was me, my dad, my brother, and 2 orthodox jewish guys my dad's age who lived on our block. A few of their various kids (all boys) eventually joined the group, as did some other local guys, and my other brother.

The first couple of years we learned Gemarah Brachot (the first book of the Talmud), and my Bat Mitzvah was a siyum (religious celebration for finishing something) for completing that book. I attended the shiur for several years, until I was around 17 or 18 and one of my dad's jackass sexist friends basically drove me out of the group by calling me "princess" and making dismissive comments whenever I opened my mouth. I was the only woman in the group at that time, and as far as I know I am still the only woman member who was ever in that group.

About a decade ago my dad decided he wanted to be a rabbi. Not a pulpit rabbi (at first?) but he wanted to get a rabbi degree. So he took a bunch of online rabbi correspondence courses, went to israel to take some final exams, and he was made a rabbi by some big rabbi in Israel. This was around 6 or 7 years ago.

I think it was partially an ego thing, he's the kind of guy who likes buying fancy cars and gadgets (i-phones, motorcycles, kyacks) to show his status. I think this is fairly common among people who grew up working class/poor and came into money later in life, and my dad certainly fits that profile- his dad was a taxi driver and mechanic and his mom worked in a sweat shop, and he put himself through college and grad school by driving his dad's cab at night. Now he is a small business owner and makes a pretty decent living running a private practice.

The rabbi degree seemed to me like something similar, he wanted to be able to call himself rabbi and get the respect that came with that degree. He loves going around giving dvar torahs (short sermons on the torah) to people and having them listen to him as if he is saying something wise. And who can blame him? I mean, heck, I'm a professor, and I can say that having people listen to me both in class and in my office when they come asking for school/career advice is very rewarding- I like to think I give good advice, and that I'm helping people, and having my advice taken seriously and feeling as if I have helped people improve their future life chances, even if it's in a small way, is probably the best part of my job. Even if I feel as if the advice he gives is hokey and may not be in people's best interests and relies too much on a book from thousands of years ago, it's essentially the same type of thing.

But I think as me and my brother became less religious and more open about our lack-of-religiosity, and as I eventually went and married someone not jewish, this rabbi thing became something more for my dad. With his own children rejecting his religion, he started clinging to it even more tightly. In recent years, the shiur has grown. And instead of walking over to the area's shul after the shiur, he has Mincha in the basement. With him as Rabbi.

And today my (non-religious) brother texted me to say "parents in full jew mode...yay for having to pretend I'm religious for the sake of guests!!" Apparently my dad bought a sefer torah. A freakin sefer torah. Bought. These things cost like 20k+ (another status symbol?). And apparently it has my name on it. It say my dad's name and says "l'zechut yeledim" (For the merit of his children)and then my name and my two brother's names. Not B's name of course, ha. So a freakin sefer torah is dedicated to my merit. Great. (it's also dedicated to the memory of my grandfather).

So now my dad's basement has a Torah. It's a Shul. My brother joked about the tax write offs, which I've no doubt my dad is taking full advantage of. And I'm the rabbi's daughter, who nobody knows is married to someone not Jewish. Oh they know I have a PhD. And they know I'm a professor. They know all about my professional success. They probably know my parents and I don't get along too well, since I never visit. But they have no idea I'm married, no idea my husband isn't jewish, no idea he even exists. I'm the rabbi's secret rebel daughter. I'm the skeleton in my dad's closet. Ha!


  1. I would bet they all know and speak about it behind his back. That's what I thought when you said your grandma was so cute when bragging with your phd to her friends.

    I pictured the scene: "my granddaughter just finished her phd. She is a professor".

    Grandma leaves the room.

    "yeah, she likes to brag about her granddaughter, but, come on, we all know she is married to a goy" snigger...

    I suppose that's the way this kind of society works...

  2. Wow. That is so odd. How does it make you feel?

  3. He is probably hoping buying the sefer Torah will change your future children and make them frum - because as you know, they will always be Jewish.

    How does it feel to be the Rabbi's rebel daughter? More fun or less fun?

    BTW your father should have kicked that schmuck out of the learning group rather than have you leave. That's terrible.

  4. ms moon it mostly feels pretty surreal, and like my parents are getting even farther away from a place where we can get along. Like they are getting more and more sucked into their religion so I feel even less hope for an eventual reconciliation with them, especially since they are putting up new barriers to such a reconciliation (community pressure as a rabbi to not hang out with his inter-married rabbi is prolly higher than for the average parent I would guess).

    S5- it's possible, but highly unlikely, at least in the case of my grandmother- she lives in a different state with an entirely different religious community than my parents, it's doubtful any of her friends there know about me unless she told them herself, which is even more doubtful. As for my parents..I have no idea if it's known in my old town that I married a non jewish person, I know a couple of friends my age know, but there is a huge divide between my generation and my parent's generation (and the friends who know are all non religious and used to keeping things from their parents), so who knows.

    Shira- that shmuck is my dad's best friend, and my dad has lots of views in common with him (for instance when I was applying to grad school my dad seriously couldn't understand how it would be possible for a woman to have a career and children, which of course all women 'naturally' want to have. And of course no woman in the history of the world has ever had both. Except, you know, the 75% of mothers in this country who have a job.)

    I guess it's more fun? I have no idea...doesn't really impact me either way really, it's not like I'm going back there to hang out with him. :)

  5. Wow, it seems to me that it will take a while before a $20,000 equipment investment becomes a tax write-off, or can you write it off all at once?
    But, I may try to get an online divinity degree, buy an HD TV and blu-ray player to write off, and start a "Church of The Black Mold and Persistant Mice No Matter What I Do To Get Rid of Them" in my basement. Since my exterminator and I meet there once every 3 months, that should qualify as a worship service, shouldn't it?

  6. Hey AE, great to hear from you again! Great piece, as always!

  7. Yes, but daughter over best friend. ALL THE TIME.

    Seriously - that's parenting 101.

  8. lucy at home- it's not the torah itself that is a tax write off (although I'm sure that is too) but by making his basement into a synagogue, the house is now a 'house of worship", and I believe he no longer has to pay property taxes and possibly is able to write off all his mortgage payment. Last I heard his property taxes are around 14k a year (he lives in NJ in a town with crazy high taxes in a large house), so that's 14k/year instant savings.

    UK- Thanks! Now that the semester is winding down, I actually have time to think about things not related to sociology/preparing my classes. :) But in general now that I live so far from my parents/family/any jewish people, I have less to write about...but I still read other people's blogs pretty much every day. :)

    Shira- clearly my parents failed at parenting 101. :)

  9. S5,

    The Orthodox world has major problems with how they see the outside world, a result of their sometimes paranoid isolationism. But within that world, people tend to be mostly kind to one another. It's far more likely that AA's grandmother's friends would be speaking in hushed tones and deep sympathy about AA's intermarriage, rather than sniggering behind her back.

    I'll let you judge if that's any better.

  10. "The rabbi's rebel daughter" evokes the image of a teenage bais yaakov girl who is sneaking out, doing drugs, and having sex with high-school dropout boys. It's a shame that the Orthodox world of your parents can't see you as you are; Dr. Abandoning Eden, PhD, teaching at a university in the south, happily married, and a homeowner.

    The problem is, anyone "OTD" is pegged as a sleazy rebel.

  11. philo- who says I haven't done all those other things too. :)

    And I think they do see those things- professor abandoning eden with an ivy league doctorate who owns a house (I assume my parents have shared all these things). But they're missing the happily married part. Actually there was recently an article about my mom in some jewish publication that mentioned her daughter "Dr. AE, a professor of sociology", ha! So my mom brags about the stuff she likes about me apparently, but conveniently leaves out her unacknowledged son in law.

  12. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    It is interesting, how personal choice can affect your family.

    This shows how important it is to weigh one's own interests against the interests of the persons affected by it.

    In the religious world, you only hear that becoming more religious is good, but no-one tells you that it might have adverse effects on teenage children.

    And why should children be obliged to follow me on my religious way? If I was allowed to do otherwise than my parents, why should my children not have the right to do the same.

    In your writings, I feel an enormous sadness about having lost your family as it once was for futile reasons, for reasons that should not stand between children and their parents.

    Especially the notion that the neighbours / community and their opinions should be more important than the wellbeing of the children is quite shocking to me.

    It is heart-renting.

    I wish you and your family all the best

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  14. I'll do you one better: My dad is in year 3 of real YU smicha. You know, the kind that's actually taken seriously.

    the crazy part it he hates it. He's not a Talmud-lover and He feels it's just a formality he has to go through so he can have the title and do the "work" that he wants to do, namely, start a Jewish-Buddhist movement that stays within the framework of halacha. Did I mention he believes in reincarcation?

    I like to credit Richards Dawkins, who equates members of the clergy to 'fairyologists'. My dad's gonna be a certified expert in fairies.


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