Monday, February 25, 2008

The Irony

It just hit me. This blog is all about leaving the jewish community. And yet, through this blog I've come to read and get involved with commenting on other blogs. As a result I've once again (and this time kind of inadvertently) become involved with another jewish community. The jewish skeptic community.

Now if that's not irony, I don't know what is.

(don't worry, i'm not going anywhere)

"Off the Derech"

A frum person yet again said something to me along the lines of "wow, you are truely off the derech."

Off the derech. Off the way. Lost my way? My mom sometimes says that I've "fallen off the deep end". Like I'm crazy. It reminds me of when alchoholics say they are "off the wagon" when they are no longer able to control their own drinking.

The term "off the derech" irks me. It implies that I would be on this path if I could, but somehow accidentally I just got lost. Maybe I was following this path, and tempation was biting at me from all sides...and i took a step off the path into the scary dark forest becuase I saw some curious temptation. Maybe it was rolling up my skirts so they were shorter than my knees, or holding hands with a boy. It was only a small step, and the path was right there, I couuld go back at any time.

Then once I was there I saw something else that tempted me a bit farther away from the path. Maybe I was out travelling and had a piece of non kosher pizza, cause really, who would know, and I was hungry, and there was nothing else to eat anyways. Suddenly, before I know it, I'm deep in the woods of mcdonalds breakfasts and treating saturday like any other day, and I don't even know when jewish holidays are. I'm lost in the woods, and I have no idea how I got there, or how to get back to that path again. My friends and family are back on the path, and they mourn for me becuase they think I will never get to the end of the path...that golden city that they think they are walking towards. I'll be lost in these crazy woods forever, and who knows what will happen to me.

Of course they're not entirely sure if the path they are on goes to the city. The guy in the front says it does, and if they follow this exact path they should get there. But no one has ever come back from the city, and no one even knows for sure if the city even exists. But they have faith that this path goes there, since their parents walked that path, and everyone they know is on that path. Surely it must be the only path, and surely it must go to that city. They couldn't be walking all this way on this hard and tretcherous path for nothing?

But that wasn't the way it happened. I didn't accidentally get lost. More like, I walked a few steps off that path because I no longer believed what the leader said- I didn't really believe the woods were that scary after all. I had been told of all these bears and tigers in the woods, but I had never seen any, and it occured to me one day that maybe they didn't even exist! I asked the leader about it, and he had nothing to say to me, and told me not to ask questions.

And one day I ventured into the woods on my own, and after a few steps suddenly I found myself out of the woods entirely. And there was this great new path that I started walking on. And from my new vantage point I could look back on the path I had come from, and I could finally see that the woods weren't dark and scary, there weren't bears or fact the leaders were up ahead planting new trees around this path, just so they could scare people into staying on it! Even so, from my new vantage point, the woods were beautiful and full of wonderment.

And looking back, I suddenly realized the path I had come from just went in a huge circle! All my friends and family were suffering for nothing! And this new path I found was so was a pleasure to walk on, it had amazing sights along the way, and amazing people to talk with. It had crossroads and side paths, and each was incredible and I could choose whichever one I wanted to go to, and see all these things I had never dreamed existed when I was on that old path. No leader in the front was teling me which path to take, it was up to me to pick my route through this huge maze of possible paths, and it was scary but it was also incredible, becuase I could pick exactly which sideroads I wanted to take, and no one could stop me from taking it. And no one knew where this path led either, but it probably had just as much a chance as going to that city as that other path. I wanted to call back to my friends and family to come join me on this new amazing path full of possibilities!

But they couldn't see it. All they could see were the trees between, and the danger that they thought lurked there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

well in the end

Even I didn't have lunch with my dad. He called Thursday night, and made no mention of my mom (confirming what I already knew; that she was an excuse). But then it started to snow on friday, and apparently my dad was afraid he "wasn't going to get home on time for shabbas." Now I really have no idea what time shabbas starts anymore...but we were supposed to have lunch at Noon. And I assume shabbas starts after 4 since it's not December anymore. So really, he was afraid of going out in the snow and not being able to get home in a 4 hour window? He doesn't live THAT far from the city. And I'm not going to be in the area again until maybe Thanksgiving. You would think he might give a shit enough to make an effort to see his only daughter who has sees only 2 or 3 times a year, but what should I expect from someone who lives only 2 hours away, and yet has only visited me twice in the 4 years I've lived here: once because we got in a big fight my first year of grad school about why they don't ever visit me (so I guilted them into visiting), and once cause my dad's friend was getting married somewhere right near where I live- and they only stayed for about half an hour that visit.

You know how you have those friends you grew up with, and you're friends with them long after you have anything in common with them? And then maybe you move away, but you've had a friendship so long that when you go back home or happen to be wherever they are living now, you have that sort of obligatory meet up that is kinda awkward cause you really have nothing in common with them anymore, and nothing to talk about, but you meet out of a sense of obligation to the length of your friendship? But then when you go back to where you live now you don't talk to them again until the next time you're going to be in town?

Yeah I feel like my relationship with my parents is slowly turning into that kind of relationship. It feels like the only reason we talk anymore is out of some sense of obligation, and we have nothing to say to each other. In fact, I barely even talk to them anymore; we talk on the phone maybe once or twice a month, and then our conversation is very stilted and we really have nothing to say to each other. We talk about superficial things, like school and gardening and what's going wrong with my senile grandfather this week, but never talk about anything more personal than that. Whenever I mention things about B, I get cut off or met with silence. I just don't know how to have a conversation with people who refuse to even hear me talk about B, who I spend every single day with, and who can't really understand anything I say about my research, which I spend the rest of my day on. That right there is like 95% of my life, and if I don't talk about those things, I don't have much else to add about my personal life.

On the one hand, I feel kind of sad...especially when I see people who have awesome parents. I'm jealous. How come I don't have awesome parents who understand me and are cool with my decisions? I'm sad/jealous that I don't have that. On the other hand, the less I have to talk to my parents, the happier I am. So what to do?

Well, B never got to meet my parents. But this morning I got to introduce him to my mentor, the prof I worked for as a research assistant for 3 years as an undergrad and worked with 4 years after that, who helped me get into grad schools, and who i've co-authored two journal articles with. She slept over at my house once so we could finish up work, and we had a great time just catching up and working together and watching the daily show in our PJs. She's actually visited me more frequently than my parents have (she's visited 3 times, and each time we spent like 48 hours together- and she lives even further from me than my parents do) I still ask her for advice whenever I have to make any big decisions, and I've talked to her about B (and the situation with my parents) several times. She's the same age as my mother. She's taken on many of the roles in the life that my mother has refused to take on as a result of my religious decisions. I'm pretty sure that I'm closer with her than I will ever be with my mother again. So I'm happy she got to meet B at least.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sex education for jews!

When I first talked to my (black hatter) cousin about sex a few months after she got married, I was appalled. For several reasons.

First, she told me she was still shy to take her clothes off around her husband, and made him turn the lights off. They had been married for 6 months already. But she was completely shomer negiah before marriage, so I guess that is explainable. (but still a little sad, in an "awww, i bet she isn't having regular orgasms either" kind of way)

Second, she told me that her rabbi's wife had told her during callah classes that she was not allowed to use any form of birth control until she had given birth to both a boy and a girl. She was 19 when she got married, and still in school. So she basically used birth control before her marriage to regulate her period so she wouldn't be in niddah on her wedding night, but stopped right afterwards.

Is it really against halacha to use birth control to delay having children until you are done with your college education? Seriously? Are we now forcing young women to have children once they are married? And do they have to have a boy and a girl? What if they have 8 boys in a row? Are they still not allowed to use birth control? (This was a few years back- she is now 22 years old and has 2 baby boys, about 11 months apart from each other. I'm assuming she still is not using birth control because she doesn't have a girl yet).

Third, she thought if you didn't start having kids by the time you were in your late 20s, your "biological clock" ran out, and you could never have kids. That's why you had to get married in your early 20s apparently. I've recently seen this same sentiment in some young frum girl's blog.

Girls, this is absolutely, 100%, not true. Your chances of conception don't even START to get lower until you are in your late 30s. (like 36-37). And after that it's not like your chances fall off a cliff or something. at ages 35-39 you are 75% as likely to have a child as someone younger, and at ages 40-45, you are still 50% as likely. These were the rates before we had things like in vitro fertilization, which increase your chances of conceiving exponentially at older ages.

Here's a convenient chart I found in 5 seconds of googling:

so your fertility doesn't even start to drop off until you are 35. And these are actual births per woman, not their chances of these are affected by a number of other factors (like whether or not you are trying to have more children). So this late 20s bullshit is just a bunch of bullshit.

Fourth, she had no idea about how women get pregnant. Mind you, later I found out she was about 3 months pregnant while we were having this conversation. She had never heard of the word "ovulation", had no idea that you got pregnant at certain times of the month, just didn't know about any of that.

Are we really neglecting jewish sex education, even to women who are ACTUALLY getting married, to the point where they don't even know how pregnancy happens? My cousin is a smart girl. She went to college, she's working on a masters degree despite her two infant aged children...and yet she was so sheltered she had NO IDEA how conception worked. WHILE SHE WAS ALREADY PREGNANT no less!!

some interesting facts on the Jewish laws of niddah and conception:

Fact: Conception is most likely to happen about 2 weeks before you get your period, during the period called "ovulation". That's when an egg is dropping out of your ovaries and hanging around your womb, waiting for some sperms. If you don't get pregnant, you get your period about 2 weeks after that.

Fact: conception is more likely to happen if your man's semen has a high sperm count. Men who don't masturbate (according to jewish law) and don't have sex with their wives for 2 weeks during nidah, have been saving up their sperms. They are likely to have a higher than normal sperm count the first time they have sex after nidah.

Fact: Nidah is when you can't have sex with your wife while she is getting her period, and for a week after her period has stopped. Then, after that 2 week period, she goes to the mikvah, and it's a mitzvah to have sex with her that night (according to what I know of nidah laws...correct me if I'm wrong here)

Fact: If a woman is on a 28 day cycle (which is the average), gets her period for around a week, she will be approximately 14 days into her cycle when she has sex after going to the mikvah. Which, if you look at it the other way, means she has approximately 14 more days until her period starts again. WHICH means she is most likely ovulating on that night that she comes back from the mikvah. And is having sex with her husband, who (if he follows all the Jewish laws) has not masturbated or had sex in 2 weeks, and therefore has super potent sperm.

It's almost as if the whole system is designed to maximize the chances of women getting pregnant! In fact, it IS designed that way!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reply from dad

Hi Abandoning Eden,

Friday sounds good. You are on my calendar. We should probably look to
meet up at about Noon. I will ask my friends that work in New York if there
is a restaurant nearby. As soon as I hear about that I will get back to you again.

I think I have a better chance of getting Mom there with me if we just meet
with you.

More later...


So I guess that's his polite way of saying no on the meeting B thing. Sad face.

Well, at least I tried.

Monday, February 18, 2008


So this weekend, me and B will be going to fabulous NYC and staying at the fabulous Chelsea Hotel, so that I can give a conference presentation at a could-never-be-called-fabulous conference. My department pays all my expenses, so B gets to hang out in my lovely paid-for hotel room, and all he has to pay for is his bus ticket (and I get mine for free!).

So here is the dilemna. I told my dad (who lives close to NYC) that I am going to this conference, and made tentative plans to meet up with him for lunch on friday after my presentation. I have not told him that B is coming. My options are:

a) Never mention B being there, pretend I am there all alone, meet up with him for lunch since I'm spending all of friday at the conference anyways, while B hangs back at the hotel and works on some writing projects, have a lovely lunch with my dad and continue to convince him that I am not crazy and/or evil now that I am not religious.

b) call my dad up sometime before going there (like today), tell him B will be with me at the hotel, and tell him that if he wants to meet up with me, he'll have to meet up with B. This can end in 1 of two ways- 1 he refuses to go, 2 he takes it as the opportunity to meet B who i have now been dating for over a year, without my mother there (Who is more firm on her anti-Bness than my dad). Also in the process I would have to mention that B is staying at my hotel, which would pretty much be admitting to my dad that I have sex (which he probably knows, but which is one of those things we just would never talk about).

This option also has the added advantage of me sticking to my principles, not lying, and not letting my parents hang with me unless they accept B as well, which i think it ultimately going to happen if/when we get married, and why not start getting them used to the idea that they don't get me without B? (i love all the rhyming!)

c) don't tell dad B is there, spring him on him at lunch.

I would never go with option C, just cause that's a douchebag move, and I can imagine my dad saying he will never meet up with me again after that. At this point I'm pretty set on option A. I wish I had the ovaries to go for option B, but it seems I am still full of cowardice. :(

ETA: oh i just came up with option #4- tell my dad B will be there, and he has the option of meeting him, but that I will not invite B to lunch unless my dad is cool with it. But that's still admitting to my dad that I'm sharing a hotel with B.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Obama speech on religion and politics

Very interesting (if long) read, about the place of religion in politics.

I especially like the end part where he talks about abortion and how not all people who are prolife are anti-women...I also like when he talks about how your views must appeal to a broader base and not just your own religious group, even if they are based on religious beliefs. some very intellegent and nuanced arguments here.

He (still) has my vote. And I live in PA, which in this primary may be a state that might actually make a difference for once! (unilke every previous primary I've been in)

ETA: Here's a quote:
Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This may be difficult for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.