Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving update

Got here 2 hours ago, just had an hour long heated conversation with my parents about god, and atheism. I straight out told my parents that I'm an atheist (i don't think they knew that before...they just knew that I wasn't religious. We discussed all about how from my perspective following all these rules doesn't make sense because I don't believe in god, and my dad was all "but what if you're wrong and then when you die you don't go to heaven" and I was all "what if you're wrong and spent your whole life following all these rules for nothing?" And then my dad told me if i have kids with B they won't "get their place in the world to come" because they wouldn't be "all jewish". And i was like "seriously? you're telling me my kids are going to hell because they will only be half jewish, even if they are all jewish according to jewish halacha since I'd be jewish". And apparently they will becuase they won't be "pure" and i"ll be destroying years of inbreeding or something.

But so far no outward fights. Plus my dad was all "we wouldn't disown you if you marry b, we'd still talk to you". And I brought up the point that If i marry b i'm not exactly going to be comign to visit if I have to leave him behind. And that if I have kids, it's probably in their best interest to invite us all over, cause then they can teach my kids about judaism. And how if they aren't inviting b, i'm not exactly going to leave him in the car and come inside with my kids for a visit.

Yeah, so that's my thanksgiving so far. My extended family should be here at any moment, and there is delicious smelling turkey cooking. I'm kinda starving actually.... Also this morning I took a cab ride with some random strangers who were waiting for the bus (which never came) with me! That was fun.

Happy turkey day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

feminism vs orthodox judaism

on her own was blogging about feminism, and othodox judaism, which reminded me that I meant to blog about the topic at some point.

When I was a freshman in college I took an awesome class called "Women and the media". And then I took another class that summer called "Growing up female." Eventually I took up a minor in women's studies. Last week I sent in the paperwork to get a graduate certificate in gender studies to complement my phd in sociology.

All bragging aside, It's not clear to me to what extent learning about women's studies has influenced my move out of judaism. Well, maybe it's a little clear. In that first ever women's studies class-women and the media- the one I took becuase my college had a requirement to take a class addressing gender-we spent the first third of the class talking about images of women in the bible. Later, in the "Growing up female" class I took with the same prof (since she was so freaking awesome) one of our assignments was to write an essay discussing the extent to which gender affected the way we grew up. It was the first time I really thought about how my family was influenced by gender roles, and how orthodox judaism treated men and women differently.

Ok there's the standard men and women sitting seperately in shul, with women kinda off to the side or in the back of the room (depending on the minyan). And that bracha men say every morning - Thanking god for not making them a woman. A teacher explained that away by saying that it's because they are acknowledging that women have a harder time in life, but I didn't really buy it. And how my brothers got to get up in front of everyone at their bar mitzvah and read from the torah, but when i tried to sit in and learn the accenting system, i got shooed away. And how women have to cover their hair and elbows and knees and collarbone because it might turn men on (???) and it's not "modest".

When I was writing that essay for my growing up female class, I couldn't help but reflect on the gender roles inherent in the my family and every other jewish family i knew, and that pervaded every aspect of orthodox life...the women were overworked housewives, or overworked working women who still did all the housework. My mom, who owned her own small business, and who acted as a secretary for free for my dad's business, still did all the cooking and cleaning and everything, because as my dad put it, his contribution to the household was 'bringing in the money." In high school halacha class the only halachas we learned were the ones about cooking. And in high school art class we drew paintings of brides. And they told us we couldn't wear the color red becuase it's not modest. One Fall the president of the sisterhood of my synagogue had a huge fight with the rabbi because they had decided that since there wasn't enough room for shallas shuddes in the sukkah for both men and women to sit seperately, the women would have to eat inside.

Later on these ideas stuck with me. When I was applying to grad school, my dad asked when I would fit in having children (I was engaged at the time) and how a good jewish mother should stay at home, becuase kids need their mothers. A few years back my cousin got married- the next youngest female cousin in my family (and I am the oldest). She was 19 at the time, had been on dates with 3 different men, was engaged after 6 weeks of dating, and as far as I know did not touch a man until her wedding night. A few months after her wedding we were talking at some family event, and we got to talking about sex..i told her i had had sex (she was shocked) and she was like "how do you get over the embaressment of being naked in front of a man, it's been 6 months and I still want to shut the lights off every time." Then she informed me that when she got married, her Rabbi had told her at Callah classes that it is forbidden to use birth control until she has a boy and a girl. This was 3 years ago. Now she has two children and is expecting a third. She just turned 22.

I recently had a conversation with B about gender roles, and the way my family is- with my mother never sitting down during a meal, doing like 3 days of cooking for every holiday, serving everything, and cleaning everything, while my dad sits there like the a king with a servant. B was shocked that people like that actually exist, that I knew a whole bunch of other families like that, and that not just my immediate family, but my entire extended family is the same way- both sides too. In fact he was shocked that my parents aren't divorced as a result. In fact, when I think about it, many of those other families I grew up with- orthodox families- are getting divorces now as their kids are getting past high school age. I on the other hand was shocked when I went to B's parents house this past summer, and his dad cooked dinner for everyone one night entirely spontaniously- we all went out for the day, and when we came home dinner was all cooked, his mom wasn't even home yet, and she hadn't told him to make dinner or anything as far as I know. He just did it! I know this shoudln't be shocking, that some men are capable of cooking and doing these things that were only ever done by my mother- despite my dad claiming he doesn't "know how" to do any of these things. I mean, B does these things for me! But it was kind of a culture shock..i grew up in the culture of patriarchy, and anything different is strange to me.

Now I know this isn't entirely the fault of judaism. And I know there are many non-jews out there who have traditional gender roles, and many individual jews who are progressive about gender roles. But I can't help but feel that orthodox judaism is worse than most. From the outside looking in- and I feel like I have an outsiders perspective at this point- some sects of orthodox judaism are up there with some of the more extreme muslim sects in terms of the treatment of women. Think I'm exagerating? What about those women in israel who were beaten up for not moving to the back of the bus? How is that different? How is a shetel and stockings (With a seam!) and clothes covering almost every part of a woman different than a burkah? How is telling a 19 year old CHILD that if she uses birth control she is violating the will of god, and that she has to have sex with her husband of course, because of pru urvu, how can you NOT call that enforced pregnancy? And if women are forced to have children, how can they ever be thought to be close to equal?

Ok, i know they are different in the extent to which they are extreme. But I don't think they're that different in kind. I feel like the way orthodox judaism is headed is towards a state in which women are no better off than some of the worst-off women in this world live.

So while I didn't really think of feminism and judaism as connected at the time..even as when i was learning about one i was leaving the other- in retrospect, much of my skeptisism about judaism came from my exposure to ideas about gender, and critically thinking about judaism through my new "feminist lens". it was my studies of both feminism and sociology that "lifted the veil" so to speak- for the first time I recognized that their was something wrong with all the thing I had taken for granted. Well, the gender things. I think that's what pushed me off the derech entirely. Up until then, even though I was fairly skeptical about god, and didn't really believe in judaism, I was keeping most of the laws, at least outwardly. I was still doing it for the "community". Once I saw the gender inequities inhernet in the orthodox world, i became disgusted with the jewish community as a whole, and once I became disgusted, it became impossible for me to stay in it, and subject myself to being in an inferior social position.

The postscript to this whole story is that I went to grad school, am currently working on a phd in sociology, specializing in gender and the family. Right now I teach a sociology of the family course, and try to pass on some of the ideas that were so eye opening to me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dreading Thanksgiving

So this thursday I will see my family for the first time since my grandmother's funeral. In addition to my parents and one of my brothers (the other one is in israel for his post-high school year), we'll be joined by my counsin from Israel who barely speaks english and is super orthodox, my cousins from America with their 3 kids who are also super religious, my senile grandfather (husband to the deceased grandmother), and my cousin's wife's parents from georgia, who are up in the area because my cousin with 3 kids just had the third one last week and they are helping out. Who are also super religious. Oh and possibly my other grandparents, who every time they see me tell me I need to improve my life, because even though I almost have a phd from an ivy league university, am teaching my own course at said ivy league university, am financially independent and pretty happy in my life, all that means nothing because I'm not religious.

Can you imagine why I might be dreading this trip?

Every time I've seen my parents since I started dating B, I wonder if this is the last time I will see them. If this is the last time I will be in the home I grew up in. If this is the last time I will celebrate a holiday with them. I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing my parents later this year in December, at my brother's graduation. But this may in fact be the last Thanksgiving I spend at home. Next year me and B plan on moving in together, and my mom has straight out told me that the only thing I could do that would be worse than marrying a "goy" would be to live with one and not be married. Actually, she said the only thing worse than that would be being a lesbian. Also if I had a kid out of wedlock. There's lots of things that are the "worst thing I could ever do" apparently. I wonder what would happen if I moved in with a goyish lesbian and had her baby? :)

Ok, so the entire trip probably won't be horrible. With so many people around, it won't be too hard to escape notice, and I can probably spend the majority of my time hanging with my little brother, who is also not religious- although he still lives with my parents, so he's a lot less open about it. And I'm kinda looking forward to talking to my dad on the ride to and from the train station-> the train station is around half an hour away from my parents house, so we have about an hour (total) of talking time during the trip which is when we catch up. I really want to ask my Dad if he really beleives that god wrote the torah, and if he believes that god wants people to follow all the minutia of orthodoxy. I've never really asked him that before, and I'm curious as to what he believes- or what he will profess to believe.

Maybe it won't be horrible if I never go to my parents for Thanksgiving again after this year. In reality, I hate these trips back to my parents house. I'm going for as short a time as possible- taking the train there on Thursday morning, and coming back Friday morning. My cats (and B's cats which i'll be taking care of while he's away by his family) are a great excuse for that (my parents don't realize you can leave a cat alone for longer than a day or two, and that as long as you leave plenty of food around they will be fine)(actually they might know that, but that's my standard excuse for not staying long, and they standardly accept it).

In reality, I don't want to spend shabbas at their home, and I've succesfully avoided doing so since moving away for grad school. Apart from the religious thing, the longer I stay at home, the angrier I generally get..angry becuase my mom refuses to talk to me about anything real in my life since it doesn't fit into her notions of what a proper life should be, and angry at my dad for saying more and more obnoxious things the longer I talk to him, also revolving around religion. Also, everytime I go there I feel like I'm transported back into my immature teenager hateful state of mind. I think it's just the environment...staying in the room that I haven't lived in since I was a teenager, talking to people I haven't seen on a daily basis since I was a teenager, it fucks with my mind, and I really feel like I lose years of maturity when I'm staying there, which kind of sucks. I also get all emotional (like when I was a teenager)...somehow the things that don't affect me much when I'm not there seem super important when I am there.

I kinda got slammed in my halloween post about looking forward to christmas. But really, at this point, I'd rather spend all holiday's with B's parents...just becuase they are what my ideal of a family is. All hanging out and joking with each other, telling stories about days past, making fun of each other a little, but in a congenial manner, bullshitting. It's just nice! And maybe it was different becuase I was there, but according to B it was a pretty typical visit.

All my family occasions are covered with this cloud of tension becuase of religous differences. I can't remember a single family occasion since moving to grad school that was not covered with these tensions, and where the issue didn't come up.

Hmm, so maybe instead of questioning why my dad believes in what is clearly (to me) bullshit, I'll make an appeal that despite our differences, we should all try and get along, and that I'm tired of all this fighting and tension because I'm dating someone not jewish, and becuase I'm not religious, and that maybe we can agree to disagree on that and move on with our lives and have a meaningful family relationship. Because, despite all the hurtful things my parents have put me through, the thing I want most in the world is to be able to get along with them. Well, not most in the world, obviously not more than my need to not follow orthodox law, and not more than wanting to date B. But that's really what I want in my relationship with my parents. A relationship that's not covered in tension becuase of religious difference. I'm not sure if it's possible, but I'm going to give it a try. Once again.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Should I keep writing this?

Hmm, so I started this blog back when I was having major issues with my dad right around the time my grandmother died. But I'm not sure it should continue. Here's why:

1. Dwelling on things I hate about orthodoxy is probably not very healthy mental-health wise. In fact last night after talking about it with someone I had a dream (or nightmare rather) that I had to go back to my orthodox jewish high school becuase something had gone wrong and even though I already have a masters, I had to go back and finish my high school degree again. ugh.

2. I'm supposedly supposed to be writing a dissertation right now, and need less distractions, not more

3. I wrote this blog to get out feelings I had about judaism, and put them into one place. But of course random strangers start commenting on it. I don't mind that when people are giving opinions, but of course it attracts the occasional random spiteful orthodox jew telling me I'm going to hell, and really, do I need that in my life? I already get enough tsurris from jewish people I know in real life.

4. When I'm not having a crisis with my family I don't have much to say...haven't been having many crisises lately, mostly becuase I've been avoiding talking to them (crazy work schedule makes an awesome excuse). Although I'm going to my parent's next week for thanksgiving so that may be dramatastic. And i'm sure there will be more drama in the future, but in between major drama I have nothing to write about, and feel bad about not updating

5. I'm kinda over talking about judaism in general.

A few years back I went to therapy becuase I kept having panic attacks (like 2 or 3 a week). After a year or more about talking about why I had anxiety, and why that led to panic attacks, I was just over it. My panic attacks went away (I haven't had one since feburary of this year, and generally now only have 1 or 2 a year). And talking about things I was anxious about just made me more anxious about it. Eventually I got to the point where I was just over talking about what was making me anxious, and moved on with my life. I kinda feel at that point with judaism now.

So has this blog served it's purpose and it's time to move on? Maybe. Maybe I'll keep it up and write the occasional update when things go horrible wrong (like next week, when I see my family for the first time since my grandmother's funeral, yay) and just not update it in between. Maybe I'll take it down. Who knows.