Friday, January 20, 2006

On a tear . . . or not: “Flippin’ out,” Conservative style?

The oddest thing happened to me last Shabbat (Sabbath). Seeing a scattering of challah (Sabbath bread) crumbs on the diningroom table, I went into the kitchen to get a paper towel with which to wipe the table. I was very surprised indeed when I found myself unable to tear off the paper towel.

It’s a classic in Orthodox circles, known as “flipping out”: A young person, sent off for a year of Jewish studies in Israel, leaves as a Modern Orthodox Jew and comes back as a Chareidi.

I've known for many years that it's forbidden to tear on Shabbat. (Some say that one is permitted to tear open packages that contain food for immediate consumption.) But that hadn't stopped me before. The prohibition against tearing on Shabbat or Yom Tov (Festival) was just one of those negative mitzvot (commandments) that I hadn't chosen to observe yet.

It gets better, folks.

Within the past three years, I've:

1. learned the brachah (blessing) recited after certain snacks ("al ha-michyah") in honor of a former rabbi;

2. added something like half a dozen psalms to my Shacharit/Morning Service (on those occasions when I pray the morning service—I haven't made a commitment to daily prayer yet);

3. gone back to saying "Elokai Netzor," which I knew but used to skip most of the time;

4. added "Ma Yakar" every time I put on a tallit (prayer shawl);

5. added "Modeh Ani," the first prayer recited upon awakening, to my daily routine.

And, speaking of snacks, I've found myself saying the brachot (blessings) "shehakol" and/or “borei minei m’zonot” just about all the time lately. At first, I thought it was just because I usually hang out at my Modern Orthodox buddy's desk for lunch, or because I now sit within visual range of my boss's junior assistant, who's also Orthodox. But then I began to notice that I was making those brachot in shul (synagogue), at home, even while munching during the walk home from the subway. Hmm.

Just last Shabbat, I asked my rabbi when would be the next time to say kiddush l'vanah, the sanctification of Hashem for giving us the moon. I've only said it once in my life before, and have no clue as to the timing or the method.

For the past few days, I’ve done something that I haven’t done in ages: I’ve found myself a nice quiet isolated spot and davvened (prayed) Mincha (the Afternoon Service) at the office during my lunch hour. Apparently, I’ve been davvening long enough at this point that it doesn’t take my whole lunch hour: If I skip the Tachanun prayer, I can davven Mincha in about 10-15 minutes.

Working in an organization founded and heavily "populated" by Orthodox Jews has probably had an influence on me. Hanging around with all the friendly frum (Orthodox) folks in Olam HaBlog, the Jewish blogosphere, has certainly made me think twice about traditional observance and learning. I got so tired of being the resident am ha-aretz (Jewishly-illiterate Jew) of Olam HaBlog, the World of the Blog, that I'm now studying Hebrew for the first time in about 25 years, in the hope that, eventually, I'll be able to do some serious studying. Should I study Chumash Rashi, once my Hebrew is up to the challenge? Or should I study the works of Nechama Leibowitz, who has the twin advantages of being both female and far more contemporary? Could a person who's as easily distracted when davvening (praying) as I am possibly survive in a bet-midrash (study-house/study hall) environment, in which chevrutot (study partners) study aloud, or had I best stick to regular classes? Would I do best at the programs offered by The Skirball Center at Temple Emanu-El or at Hebrew Union College (Reform)? Is the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) more for me? Or should I take the plunge and study at Drisha Institute for Women (Orthodox)? Believe it or not, I'm leaning toward Drisha.

What about the future? Where do I see myself, a few years from now? I'm a tad more observant now than I was five years ago, but far less observant than I was 25 years ago. Do I see myself reversing that trend? How far am I willing to go?

How far will the music move me? I listen to Neshama Carlebach singing the words of her late father, Shlomo Carlebach, "Return to who you are, return to what you are . . . ," and I'm torn.

Scarier still is this: "Gotta take that first step . . . make that committment . . . move along the path, move along the path . . ."

I'm moving, but I just don't know how far I want to go.

"You know the time is right." No, I don't, and I'm not sure I ever will. I'm already a misfit in a Conservative synagogue, far more serious about davvening than those members of the shul who talk through the Kedusha prayer, the haftarah reading (usually from the Prophets), and birkat hamazon (grace after meals), far more "liberal" than the many women who won't set foot on the bima (er, prayer stage?). What place could there possibly be behind the mechitza (a partition separating the men from the women in an Orthodox synagogue) for a hard-core egalitarian woman who wears a tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries) and loves leading services and chanting haftarot? Would I even be capable of sitting shtum (silently) at a Shabbat dinner table while all the males sang z'mirot (Sabbath songs), afraid to open my mouth for fear of offending them with my kol isha (woman's singing voice), or would I just end up leaving the table out of sheer frustration at having to stifle my natural urge to sing (and, noch besser, even better, harmonize and sing loudly)? Must I give up going folk-dancing with my own husband, which is one of the joys of our lives, because many in the Orthodox community hold the opinion that it’s forbidden for men and women to dance together, or even to touch in public ? How do I resolve the conflict between the commandment forbidding turning stoves, ovens, and/or electrical devices on or off on Shabbat, on the one hand, and the prohibition against bal tashchit, wastefulness, on the other? And will I ever truly be ready never to travel except by foot or watch television on a Sabbath or Festival again?

I can only hope that, whatever choices I make, these other words of Lenny Solomon, still from the song "First Step," will prove to be true of my buddies from the Jewish blogosphere: "We won't be very far."



Blogger Ezzie said...

What a wonderful post. Inspiring...

As a note, kiddush levana is said in the first half of the month. Usually men tend to say it on the second motzei shabbos of every month, but I think that's conviencence more than anything: It's close to full then, and everyone is there.

Sun Jan 22, 03:49:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ezzie, thanks for the kind words.

Thanks for the information, too. I'll remember that for next month.

And it's nice to know that I'm not the only who stays up 'til ridiculous hours on a Saturday night, er, Sunday morning, er, whatever. :)

Sun Jan 22, 04:13:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Robbie said...

I have to say I sympathize - and just so you know, there are plenty of Conservative men out there who feel the same way - give me a traditional service with people who want to be there and want to learn/pray/observe - but make it egalitarian.

Sun Jan 22, 04:41:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Maya Resnikoff said...

What I'm always reminding myself of is that there is a wider range of observant Judaism than one expects: there are several folks who are Orthodox at my Israeli dance session, and at least two of them will even do partner dancing with people Other than their spouse. Another friend of mine is quite Orthodox, shomer negiah and still dances- just not couples' dances (he's not married: I don't know what he'll do when he meets the Right Woman, especially if she dances). And plenty of the Orthodox world is fine with women singing in contexts of prayer (and zmirot count there, especially if there are at least 3 women singing, or men singing as well), lullabies and singing to one's self.

All that said, I'm certainly not Orthodox: I'm in the hard-core Egalitarian camp. We'll see how well I manage in the real world out there once I'm away from the college bubble of other observant Conservative Jews.

Sun Jan 22, 05:11:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Robbie said, "give me a traditional service with people who want to be there and want to learn/pray/observe - but make it egalitarian."

Amen! But that's pretty tough to find in this neighborhood. Occasionally, a small group of us manage to put together an alternative service in our shul or in someone's home. It's nice to gather where I can not only be counted in a minyan, but can also be called to the Torah as well (when we get brave and do Shabbat Mincha as our alternative service). Unfortunately, in *this* neighborhood, must of the egalitarians are even less observant and learned than I am, so the services aren't quite as traditional as I'd like. On the plus side, since our services don't replace the traditional ones, anyone who comes to our services is there because s/he wants to be there, so the davvening, such as it is, is taken much more seriously.

Sun Jan 22, 09:57:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

debka_notion: Nu, start a blog, already! :)

"my Israeli dance session" Hmm. Do you run your own session, or are you referring to a session that you attend? If you run your own session, tell me where it is! (E-mail me, if you'd prefer.) If it's in NYC and accessible by subway, I'd love to come! By the way, my hubby used to run a session about 20 years ago.

Yes, I have seen a number of Orthodox folk-dancers who just sit out the couples dances. Some even dance outside the circle during circle dances, when necessary, to avoid holding hands with a member of the opposite sex. It's doable, if one is willing to make the effort and stand a bit apart. Also, there's less and less holding of hands in the more modern Israeli folk-dances. Some complain that that makes them less "folky." But less hand-holding has the twin advantages of freeing up the arms for movement and also making it easier for the shomrei negiah (who don't touch members of the opposite sex except family members) to join in the dancing.

I'm glad that there are a number of different opinions on the subject of kol isha. I do have a problem with the idea that
one can be held accountable for causing sin even when one's behavior was not intended to cause that type of response. I've been debating whether or not to blog about this again. In the meantime, you might find my October 2004 post "Men in Halachah: Shirking their responsibilites" interesting.

Try part 2, also: The first one is about kol isha, the second is about aliyot for women.

Sun Jan 22, 10:23:00 PM 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

Hi! I discovered this blog through Haveil-Havelim. I grew up in an assimilated Jewish home and slowly became observant as a young adult, and can report that I am happily Orthodox for more than 25 years now, but I still remember the feelings you are having.

"Fear of flipping out" is well-known, and personally I think it is a good thing - if you don't let it stop you from doing what you want. For me it made my transformation more real and permanent.

Good luck.

Mon Jan 23, 07:14:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

westbankmama, welcome to my blog! I'm glad that Haveil Havalim provided you with the "road map." :) I don't know that I'd ever make the transition to Orthodoxy, but I would like to learn more and perhaps to add a tad to my observance.

blackherring, call me cockeyed, but I *enjoy* davvening. I should add that, at this point, davvening is still a form of learning for me.

Studying with a chevruta/partner would be really neat. It's the "bet-midrash" part that's the problem--having a hint of attention deficit disorder, I get distracted too easily to learn *anything* with people talking all around me. To be honest, I have the same problem with davvening--I actually find it much easier and more satisfying to davven at home in the peace and quiet than to davven in shul, where half the congregants are davvening aloud several pages ahead of me and the other half are yakking.

As for Pardes, I'd love to go there, but it costs a good deal more to take a plane to school in Israel than to take a subway train to school in Manhattan.

Mon Jan 23, 11:13:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Gila Lowell said...

i posted this on fudge's blog and i thought you might benefit seeing this too.

re: the kol isha thing. i recently asked my Rabbi (btw, i'm a chabadnikit and my posek is a VERY well known Rav) a halachic verdict to the following question(s): a) what is the issur of kol isha really and b)is it permitted for me to record and publicize my recording - via internet, cd's etc. (i have no live-gig singing aspirations so my question was only re: recording).

this is what he said: 1st off - according to the strict letter of the law, ONLY a MARRIED woman's voice is "erva" (provocative/however you wanna define it) so for unmarried women, it's less of a prob. and he said, additionally, according to the dry letter of the law, a recorded voice is permitted, across the board. the issur is a) a married woman and b) live. he said when men decide not to listen to ANY woman's voice, in any form, he said this is a chumrah (stringency) and "derech chasidut." (i don't know how to define THAT. for lack of a better option, "additional piety.") he told me to go record, gezunterheit. i must say, i was pretty shocked when he told me that b/c i was NEVER taught that is any yeshiva i went to (high school, shana alef, bet, etc.)

maybe i'm missing something, but you seemed embarrassed about identifying with elements of orthodox lifestyle. why is that? i mean, isn't the goal, ultimately, spiritual growth? so who cares how you attain it?

Tue Jan 24, 01:42:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Gila Lowell said...

wait - i'm sorry if it sounded like i was insinuating that orthodoxy is the only way. that's not what i meant at all. i just meant that, there are MANY paths to spiritual growth, so why not see what you can get out of ANY of them...

and making sweeping, hostile generalizations is unhelpful. orthodoxy=the most fear and cowardice etc etc... come on, i understand that that is your opinion, but please don't try to pass that off as fact.

and like i said, there are many paths to spiriutal growth - and restriction can be one of them. like the various forms of yoga practice can require fasting, celibacy and other physical restrictions to attain an intensely enlightened state, right?

Tue Jan 24, 11:58:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Blackherring, thanks for the information about Drisha. I'll take my chevrutah/study partner with me and go look for one of those nice quiet rooms. :)

Drumbumj, it's nice to know that even the Chabadnikim give some leeway on kol isha, though I would hope that getting married doesn't bring that leeway to a halt.

Blackherring, try to keep it respectful, okay? I will admit, though--and I've written this before (on dilbert's old blog, I think)--that I often think that Orthodoxy keeps pulling to the right because Orthodox Jews are nervous about being mistaken for Conservative.

Drumbumj, you asked, "maybe i'm missing something, but you seemed embarrassed about identifying with elements of orthodox lifestyle. why is that?" I once described myself, in a previous post, as a member in good standing of the B'not Akiva Late-Learners Club. There are folks in the Jewish blogosphere who knew more by the time they were 10 than I'll probably know the day they cart me away. It's a bit embarrassing to have to admit that I still don't know even the basics at this ridiculous age.

There's also the emotional factor. I guess I expected to have everything figured out by this point in my life (I'll be 57 next week). Sigh. And there's the inevitable truth that, no matter where I go in the Jewish world, I'm a "perpetual misfit," as I say in my "masthead." I'm too traditional for the liberals, too radical for the traditionalists. I didn't call my blog "On the Fringe" for nothing. No matter what kind of Jew I become, I'll always be at least partially on the outside looking in. That's not an easy way to live a Jewish life.

Wed Jan 25, 01:50:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for adding the word opinion to your post.

while i too am sort of a round peg in a world of religious square holes, it never bothered me b/c i've always felt that everyone has their own unique path to G-d and that's it. so it's true that i define myself as Chabad, b/c after checking out many of the various forms of judaism (yes, conservative and reform included), i decided that was the closest to fit MY soul. but that isn't to the total exclusion of other streams of judaism. like for example: in our house, we use a reform tune for havdalah b/c it moves me tremendously. (just to clarify though: the inclusion is only for things that do not contradict chabad. yes, at the end of the day, i do nullify myself to the square peg, but only b/c of the spiritual journey that preceded my acceptance of chabad in my life. but that's just me.)

so while i hear what you're saying about the age-vs.-knowledge thing, and it can feel disheartening to say "i've come this far and still feel so far away from where i wanna be" - the point is "but look how far you've come! and keep growing!" b/c it's the growth that is the reason we're here to begin with, imo. the growth is not a means, but an end, imo. (personally i feel that THAT is part of the message of Succot, but that is a whole other story.)

Wed Jan 25, 12:08:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"while i hear what you're saying about the age-vs.-knowledge thing, and it can feel disheartening to say "i've come this far and still feel so far away from where i wanna be" - the point is "but look how far you've come! and keep growing!"

You have a point, there. I've learned a tremendous amount since my mid-twenties, and I seem to have been be on a bit of a roll for the past several years.

"it's the growth that is the reason we're here to begin with, imo. the growth is not a means, but an end, imo." I'll keep that in mind.

Thanks for the encouragement, on both counts.

Drumbumj, you're very fortunate to be reasonably comfortable being a square peg in a round hole. Personally, I've never found being a perpetual misfit an easy way to live.

Fri Jan 27, 01:10:00 AM 2006  

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