I was walking with a friend the other day when he saw my Ahavas Yisrael pin. I had just told him I was a Jewish Studies major. “Wow, you must be really into it,” he said. “Not really,” I said, “not really at all anymore.”
I explained it to him and he was the only one so far not to say , optimistically, naively, “You can still be Jewish!” He said something very interesting. He said: “Maybe you were looking for a sense of order.”
It makes sense. It makes so much sense. It started in community college in 2010, when I wanted to be a philosophy major. I was really against Continental philosophy. I wanted to be against something. I liked the raw logicality of analytical philosophy, and I hated anything that threatened it. Interestingly, that was also around the time when I started thinking I wanted a different way of life…I had just come back from art school, after a failed relationship (if you want to call it that), a failed music career (if you want to call it that), and a failed freshman year (literally…I dropped out). Music–what I had always assumed I would do since age ten–had failed me. Being gay had certainly failed me. I had originally enrolled in community college wanting to be a business major (!), but ultimately chose philosophy. By the end of my two years there, I was hooked on Judaism. It was only natural that I would end up choosing Orthodoxy.
This need for order–along with my new goal of becoming a philosophy professor–led me to get something like a 3.9 so I could be accepted to William & Mary (an unashamedly traditional school). I was still planning to convert to Orthodoxy. I changed my major from philosophy to religion to Jewish studies. And by the end of my first year at William & Mary, I was basically on an inevitable path. Why stop at Modern Orthodoxy? I took an Aish course online, and considered joining their women-only BT seminary. Never mind that I wasn’t *technically* Jewish. It was painful to think about. It disrupted my order.
That was just the beginning of my growing sense of disorder and liminality. But I was still ignoring it at that time. I withdrew from my classes at W&M and transferred to Brooklyn College. I bought my food from Pomegranate and my undershirt shells from the Shell Station, and not without tons of stares. I didn’t care. Soon I would fit into the framework, if I would only try. I was talking via email to a BT rabbi who lived in Brooklyn, and he was giving me so much encouragement. “I know how you feel, since I felt that way too,” he’d say. I found a minyan and a rabbi who would convert me, and I filed a conversion application with the RCA. Everything was going really perfectly, and of course I considered it a sort of divine will, although I never would have admitted it except to other very frum, religious people.
But then things started changing. I started noticing the stares more. I started getting annoyed by them. I started getting annoyed at other converts, people who seemed too religious, too by-the-book, annoyed at the texts, annoyed at the holidays, annoyed at the singing, annoyed at Orthodox Brooklyn.
And then my annoyance disappeared and was replaced by disappointment. The “Orthodox culture” everyone had told me about was appearing all around me. I noticed that people were just as religious about having seltzer water on the table as they were having challah on it. I noticed people didn’t finish birkat hamazon sometimes. I noticed that gemara had gaping holes in it, and I noticed that people didn’t seem to mind. I noticed that people were forming their own pathways to get around the inconsistencies. And I noticed that those pathways were called “customs.” Judaism wasn’t being held up by a timeless and flawless system; it was being held up by people.
And, just like that, my sense of order was shattered.
That is what I try to tell people when they insist that I shouldn’t have left Judaism after coming out. I was accepted by the community that I had formed around me. Sure, that encouraging rabbi had stopped emailing me. But my real friends were still there. It wasn’t that. Homosexuality proves to me that Judaism is a flawed system; a human one. Its only answers were to either ignore the problem or to require celibacy. I felt deceived. When you think you were brought into a situation by some kind of divine imperative, told the system has no flaws, and you find one, and the very people who told you there were no flaws have no answer for the flaw, of course you are going to feel deceived.
I used to think that order was a sign that God existed. But there is so much disorder within order that I am not sure anymore. If God exists, it is certainly not in the ordered way that books describe. I used to be completely fascinated by the idea of God, and now, frankly, thinking about it makes me nervous. Facing that new void scares me. The sense of order that I got from being religious gave way to complete bewilderment. I felt as if I had lost everything, and all I could do was pick up the pieces. I had built up trust in this thing for two years, and it was gone within a month.
I’m not sad, though. I was sad at first, and really just mortified and embarrassed for quite a while. I still have to tell people I am a Jewish Studies major. “It’s a long story,” I say, although I am getting a little tired of the story. I am feeling more and more distant from my summer in New York, although it seemed so real and immediate and important at the time.
It makes sense that I am newly interested in computer science, since about six months ago. It’s tiring that my interests change almost every year, but there is a common theme at least. Logic, order, reasoning.
It seemed religion couldn’t stand up to that after all.
You can’t really see it, but from left to right it’s:
All Americans, Jewish, Unaffiliated, Non-Christian, White Catholic, Hispanic Catholic, White Mainline, Black Protestant, Mormon, White Evangelical (interesting choice of groups that is)…
I mean, even accounting for the fact that most Jews are, well, liberal and/or Liberal, that’s still 4% more in favor than “Unaffiliated.”
And, in the spirit of things, here is a quote:
“You’re saying, no, the state said two kinds of marriage. The full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.” -Ruth Ginsburg
I wanted to apply as a coder but I’m not good enough.
So with a sad, sad heart, I’m passing this along to everyone else.
Studio G-dcast is the opportunity to spend six days working at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to adapt some of the funniest, wildest, and most fascinating stories in the Jewish tradition as animated shorts or interactive multimedia experiences.
By the way— did we mention the residency’s FREE?
We’re looking for emerging Jewish animators, coders and storytellers currently enrolled as college or graduate students. Storytellers—if you’re a singer/songwriter, novelist, slam poet, playwright, screenwriter, one-person show, or three-ring circus, we’re excited to meet you! Coders-We’re looking for crackerjack hackers who love a pretty algorithm and clean code as much as the next nerd, but still know how to get a job done under pressure. Animators—we’re looking for artists who work in any style (hand-drawn, digital 2D, stop motion, claymation), as long as you can bring your gear with you to San Francisco and can work quickly!
This year, we’re also looking for one coder and one illustrator to pair who will create an original mobile app from their story.
*NOTE: You definitely DO NOT have to be an experienced with Jewish learning or ritual to apply. We’re looking for all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. After all, if you already knew it all, what would be left to learn?
This August 11th-16th 2013. That’s Sunday through Friday morning. We’ll be working onsite at The Contemporary Jewish Museum and staying at a nearby hotel. We feed you three kosher meals a day for the duration of the program, and offer a $350 travel stipend to get you to San Francisco from wherever you may be.
Deadline to apply is March 22, 2013.
Basically, there’s one thing that really annoys me…the fact that everyone knows about LGBT discrimination in the religious community but no one really seems to acknowledge religious discrimination in the LGBT community. When I came out during Orthogeddon 2012, I got two reactions. My straight friends thought I should still stay connected to the Jewish community. I mean heck, I even had a couple of Orthodox friends who didn’t want me to give up. But the reaction was pretty unanimous among my gay* friends: “I’m so glad you’re over that stupid phase! Never go back!” They often then continue with a whole rant about how Judaism has “so many stupid rules” etc.
That’s cool. I know that these people have totally been bullied by religion, especially if they’ve grown up in religious families. But it still frustrates me how hard it is to explain to people that you can’t just throw things away like that. And it’s kind of disappointing to hear that my friends are practically embarrassed for me by my “stupid phase.” Explaining to people that 1.) Although I can’t be Orthodox anymore, 2.) Judaism is still a part of my life, 3.) Which I don’t really feel comfortable with, since its entire structure is based on married, straight life.** Add all that to having to be the spokesperson for Judaism to friends who say things like “And you can’t even use the lights on your Sabbath? I mean, come on! So you’re definitely over that, right?” and it become a pretty…complex experience. What do I say to that? “Oh yeah, it’s totally stupid”?
There seems to be a threshold of how “Jewey” a prospective companion can be. In fact, asking, “What do you do?” is almost always a problematic question, because the revelation that one is a Jewish professional conjures up a set of assumptions that are rarely complimentary: He must be some sort of religious fundamentalist; no one would “willingly” work in that field. These perceptions present an even more difficult challenge when it comes to observant LGBTQ Jews who feel rejected by their communities and Judaism. Finding little room for reconciliation between the Judaism they identify with and their sexual identity, many choose a more accepting secular lifestyle that is, at most, only culturally Jewish. It can be difficult to understand why someone who is LGBTQ would choose to be so deeply involved in Jewish life, both professionally and personally. It appears counterintuitive and could be mistaken for self-loathing. And it is most definitely not sexy.
*I secretly dislike the term LGBT, because although “gay” or “queer” might exclude people too, everyone knows that LGBT usually means “gay men,” and unlike the other terms it’s just rubbing salt in everyone’s wounds with the so-called inclusion of LBT. I don’t use “queer” very often myself, just for the aesthetic reason that it seems to have weird political/radical connotations which I don’t necessarily always want to be there, you know?
**You know it’s true. Everything from niddah to yichus to tznius to shomer negiah to mechitza and the importance of marriage and family is based on the structure of straight married people. Sure, you can fit yourself in there as a gay person, but you try listening to “we have sinned, we have sinned” on Yom Kippur and not feeling totally fringe.
“Men come to the partnership synagogue for a whole host of reasons,
the overwhelming majority of which have nothing to do with feminism.”
-The Men’s Section
The Men’s Section is about the men’s side of partnership minyanim in Israel–their reasons for joining and their difficulties after joining. The author was clearly distressed by her own findings, which even I admit were surprising. Partnership minyanim are generally seen as being the “next step” to equality and gender balance. Admittedly, her research is Israel-centric, but one thing was clear: men weren’t joining out of a sense of feminism. In fact, what we know as the ideal of feminism was actually one of the difficulties men had with the minyanim!
Many of the men interviewed reported that they didn’t feel a sense of community in their old shuls, or they felt an emotional disconnect, or that they felt constant pressure to be perfect (the “man-on-man gaze”), or that they were dissatisfied with the hierarchies. Note that none of this has anything to do with women. In fact, many of the problems reported by men were with the women–that they had their own incorrect “women’s trope,” or that they didn’t come on time. The fact that women were never taught the trope as meticulously as men were wasn’t discussed, and as Sztokman observed, women were expected to prepare meals for shabbos, and take care of the children, and still show up on time and stay throughout the service. She found that these men will let women into “their space” via the partnership minyanim only if they are willing to abide by the same rules by which the men were socialized. The irony is that these are the very rules and patterns that the men hoped to escape by joining these minyanim.
Sztokman shows they are replete with the same social hierarchies that one might find in any mainstream Orthodox shul. Feminist deconstruction of gender and manhood was not a concern, and it seemed as if the women were there as sort of an afterthought. In fact, when one of the members had a non-egalitarian member of his family come in for his son’s bar mitzvah, many of the members argued that they should rescind women’s leadership positions. As one woman said, “we all fix things up in our home before the mother-in-law visits. How is this any different?” It was obvious that, as strange as it seems, egalitarianism wasn’t a very pressing item.
Before reading this book, I, like many people, thought that giving women aliyot was an end goal in itself, and that partnership minyanim were an insufficient but ultimately good avenue for the eventual expansion of women’s roles. Sztokman’s research suggests that they could instead be actually self-defeating to feminism. In building these partnership minyanim, we are focusing on the male model of what shuls and tefillah should be, and the men who are joining these minyanim are implicitly rejecting this model even as they insist on retaining it.”The Orthodox synagogue,” Sztokman writes, “remains a men’s space based on the way men are socialized.”
Partnership minyanim seem to have become, at least in Israel (although half the men interviewed were originally from the US), an extension of this “men’s space.” Grace aux male participants, they are still pervaded by:
“The process of reaching gender equality is often interpreted as offering women as opportunity to internalize the practices of Orthodox masculinity in bits and pieces. Layn here, learn there, be a meticulous, emotionless, perfect performer[…]Orthodox men have not challenged the supremacy of this model at all. The partnership synagogue is a place where men are reacting to gender hierarchies by inviting women to share their space as objects of a male gaze, perhaps to relieve some of their own pressures. They are bringing women into their box, perhaps as a comforting presence.”
“The problem with Orthodoxy, I came to realize, is not just that women are forbidden from doing what men do. The problem is in the entire set of assumptions around men, the idealization of masculinity that, really, is not what I want in life. Orthodoxy is not really a place for women.
More than that, Orthodoxy is by definition a male construct. Orthdoxy is men. The way to be a complete Jew in Orthodoxy–from the bris to the bar mitzvah to giving a woman a ring and maybe giving her a get–is to be a man[…]I am not merely saying that Judaism is a patriarchal culture. What I’m saying is that Orthodoxy as a construct is male[…]a culture that rests on idealized images of human existence that can only really be fulfilled by men. As a woman, I can never really be truly Orthodox[…]I am never quite inside the culture. Because to be Orthodox in its full meaning ultimately means being a man.[…]We have a nearly two-thousand-year-old Talmudic tradition that prides itself on such punctuality, precision, and perfectionism that the precise words of the Shema must be recited at a certain time. But, really, is that what makes us godly? Or is it just am expression of men seeking control in a world of chaos who measure, cut, and calculate every movement so as to avoid having to actually feel emotions such as fear, uncertainty, and pain?”
Partnership minyanim by definition need men to function–men who are not necessarily ready to give up their previous privileges of power and control. Naturally, these men in turn use what they know from their own male socialization to create more male spaces. Now, I hardly wish to say that this is true of all partnership minyanim, especially since the study was done in Israel, where the culture is very different. But the study shows at least that there is easily precedent for a tendency for these to slide into being copies of the men’s Orthodox culture that has always existed.
Because these spaces are created by men who are “allowing” women greater roles, men who are likely not motivated by concern for women (see quote), I would hardly call them feminist, and I don’t believe they will be until the culture of “men being ‘nice'” enough to give women a “corner” (222) or a bit of practice in masculine performance is replaced by women creating self-functioning spaces themselves (which, of course, is already starting to be done). There is still a long way to go.
Feminism is not only about giving women expanded symbolic roles, it’s not just about giving women aliyot, but in changing the entire atmosphere and breaking down the ultimately harmful paradigm of the masculine ideal of what tefillah ought to look like.