Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Life-after-death insurance? No, just a combination of peer pressure & good old-fashioned Jewish guilt

My son is convinced that I'm becoming more observant because I'm finding religion in my old age. He's wrong on two counts. Let's just say that one would be hard pressed to make a case that I'm trying to score brownie points with the Big Guy Upstairs to ensure my admission to heaven when (a) I'm not sure that I believe in the Big Guy Upstairs and (b) I am sure that I don't believe in heaven.

So why am I trying, with greater or lesser success, to avoid turning lights on and/or off, watching TV, and using the phone on Shabbat? Why am I now saying Shacharit (the Morning Service) and Mincha (the Afternoon Service) every day except Sunday (when I simply can't force myself to wake up early enough for Shacharit or discipline myself to make time for Mincha--yet)? And why am I saying "shehakol" over a yogurt for lunch when no one I know is watching?

Let me be frank: There's nothing quite like having an Orthodox co-worker chide me for even thinking about coming to work on a day when I should be home mourning for the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) to persuade me that maybe I really should use a "personal day" for Tisha B'Av. Not being a great believer in vicarious atonement, I, personally, happen to think that prayer is a great improvement over animal sacrifice, and I have absolutely no interest in the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash. But am I going to explain to a person who has absolutely no doubt that our prayers affect the universe that I fast not because the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed (twice) but because thousands of people were slaughtered in the siege(s) of Jerusalem? No. On the other hand, hanging around with Orthodox Jews all day for the past few years has certainly made me think twice about at least being blatantly in violation of Jewish law. On my own, I would have thought that fasting on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur was quite sufficient. I only fast on Tzom Gedalia in memory of Yitzchak Rabin, who was assassinated for political reasons, as was Gedalia. If I were not working for an Orthodox Jewish organization, I almost certainly would not choose to fast on Asara B'Tevet, Taanit Esther, or Shiv'a Asar B'Tammuz.

But that still doesn't entirely answer the question of why I'm doing all that Jewish stuff even when no one sees me doing it. As my son said recently, spotting me in tallit and tefillin in the livingroom, "Mom, it's Friday." Indeed, it's been so many years since I davvened Shacharit on a regular basis on any day when there isn't a Torah reading to go to at the synagogue that he doesn't remember ever having seen me in tallit and tefillin at home.

It's like this: One gorgeous day, while walking to the subway, I just looked up at the sky and said Baruch yotzer or (Praised is [the One] Who fashions light," and then felt guilty because I hadn't recited the service from which that blessing comes. Or perhaps it was another beautiful day when I was listening to Debbie Friedman singing "Yotzer Or" and felt guilty because I hadn't recited the service from which that blessing comes. Maybe it was both. Jewish guilt will get me every time.

And it's like this: I've spent the past two years hanging out with a bunch of frummies in the Jewish blogosphere. Obviously, not everyone in the J-blogosphere is Orthodox, or I wouldn't be here. :) But it's certainly been a pleasure getting acquainted, on at least a somewhat more personal level, with the vast spectrum of opinions, and some of the people who hold them, within the Orthodox community. It's not abstract anymore--now the "Orthodox observance spectrum" comes with names, even if the names are fake. :)

And I've also been listening to too much of that darn Jewish rock music! :)

So I've got bloggers on one side saying ,

PsychoToddler said...

Sounds like you're trying to stick to a line in a branch of judaism that doesn't stick to lines. Time for a switch?

There are some more egalitarian branches of Orthodoxy out there.

Sun May 14, 10:57:51 AM 2006

And I've got singers on the other side saying " Gotta take that first step." :) and "P'tach libi b'Torahtecha, u-v'mitzvotchecha tirdof nafshi (Open my heart to Your Torah, and Your mitzvot [commandments] may my soul pursue)."

But beyond the peer pressure and the guilty trips, it just plain feels right to pray when I'm supposed to pray and to make a brachah (blessing) over food when I'm supposed to make a brachah over food (which is always!). Maybe I don't always approach prayer literally, or with the proper kavannah (focus, intent). But at least I'm praying.

And that makes me feel good. It helps mitigate the guilt. It also makes me feel connected to the Jewish people everywhere, present, past, and future. That's enough of a reason (or two or three) for me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're my hero.

I keep coming back to an argument in which I seem to be constantly embroiled with my friend Neil over the Conservative laity, and what the attitude of the laity means for the future of the movement. He is convinced that the laity simply is not serious about their Judaism, and that we as a movement have to stop calling ourselves something that, de facto, we are not, which is halachic.

I myself am working on becoming more observant. I am also a fiercely egalitarian Conservative Jew with no desire to switch movements, and I have recently (for transportation reasons, mainly) switched from my relatively liberal, very egalitarian childhood congregation to a closer Conservative shul, in which I am the only woman who wears a tallis, and in which I do not count in the minyan and will not be called for an aliyah. I contunie to attend this shul for two reasons: a) it is two blocks from my doorstep, b) the average age of the membership is somewhere aroung 75 years. I have hopes that, as the "young blood," I can eventually be a part of a change in this congregation. This is how I feel about The Conservative Movement as well. I want to be a part of a change in our movement toward a ritually and halachically observant, egalitarian community with a Conservative philosophical and theological bent.

Anyway... thanks for existing.

Tue Aug 29, 07:54:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I confess that I find the thought of being anyone's hero both mind-boggling and a little unnerving. I only hope that I can live up to your compliment. And thank *you* for existing, too. The more of us there are, the better, and the less isolated each of us feels.

I'm sorry to say that I've given up all hope that my neighborhood synagogue will ever become egalitarian for other than practical reasons. (They started counting women in a minyan when it became too difficult to get a minyan of men only. There's a possibility that they'll start giving us aliyot for the same reason.) I'm afraid that I've gotten in the opposite direction from you because of that--I'm now spending most Saturdays at a synagogue that *isn't* "two blocks from my doorstep." I simply can't find a way to have a synagogue that I can both live *near* and live *with* (short of moving). Oddly enough, I'm *still* probably one of the more observant members of my local synagogue.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go say goodby to my son--he'll be on his way back to college by the time I get home, and we don't expect to see him again until Thanksgiving.

Tue Aug 29, 10:08:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Noam S said...

You are doing mitzvot out of the desire to do mitzvot, which is the highest level.(better to do them out of love of God than out of fear of punishment). And, even if you are not doing them specifically for the purpose of doing mitzvot, there is always the concept that one who does mitzvot even without the proper intent will wind up having the proper intent. If it makes you feel any better, I find myself being more careful in observance and study as the years go by. Faith seems to deepen with years, and I dont think it has to do with a fear of what will happen in the afterlife(see Pascal's wager). Keep on......

Wed Aug 30, 02:26:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Dilbert.

"even if you are not doing them specifically for the purpose of doing mitzvot, there is always the concept that one who does mitzvot even without the proper intent will wind up having the proper intent." I'd love to be able to persuade my son of that.

Wed Aug 30, 11:30:00 PM 2006  

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