Tuesday, April 24, 2007

His and hers Judaism (a mixed marriage, of sorts)

This post was inspired by this one, by Holy Hyrax. He's ambivalent about having becoming less observant than his wife. My problem is the opposite.

It was the luck of the draw.

My in-laws were completely non-observant, and frequently changed synagogue memberships for their own convenience. It was just my husband's good fortune that they happened to have been members of an Orthodox synagogue in the years immediately before and after his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. It was his further good fortune that the rabbi who was teaching the Bar Mitzvah class singled him out as having a particularly good ear for nusach (traditional prayer tunes) and made him the only boy in his class to lead Musaf (the "Additional" Service, commemorating the additional sacrifices in the Holy Temple on Sabbath and/or holidays) at his Bar Mitzvah celebration.

To this day, my husband's synagogue and Hebrew skills are better than mine. Even after my recent year of Ulpan Hebrew classes, I can't chant a haftarah without prior practice. He can, and frequently does. His Hebrew vocabulary and grammar skills have always been more advanced than mine, though I caught up somewhat as a result of my recent studies. And he has the ability to sit down and read a page of commentary, albeit in English, while I just get antsy.

I, on the other hand, didn't get the best Jewish education on earth, but I came from a family that observed all the major holidays, and some minor ones, albeit not in accordance with Jewish law (halachah). So, while my husband got a fairly decent Jewish education (as Hebrew School education goes), he had no experience being in a home in which Judaism was actually, actively lived.

In short, he's always been more learned, and I've always been more observant. The result is that I've always been the one to concern myself with maintaining Jewish practice at home, as is traditional for a Jewish wife and mother, but I don't think that traditional Judaism's different roles for men and women have much to do with this--it's just a result of our divergent family backgrounds.

Lately, though . . .

Over the past few years, I've become increasingly observant, though I can't imagine that anyone with my radical theological perspective and hard-core egalitarian views could ever become Orthodox. Nevertheless, it did come as something of a shock to me when I realized that my husband had already lost track of his Omer count before even the end of Chol HaMoed Pesach (the Intermediate Days of Passover, on which one is allowed, if necessary, to work), and that it was largely my fault.

Some rituals that should be part of a religious service had always been a family thing for us. Punster, Son-ster and I would gather in the livingroom and take turns making the brachah (blessing) over, and waving, the lulav and etrog (the color in the photos may be "off"--an etrog is usually yellow), without benefit of Shacharit (the Morning Service), or even Hallel. The same was true of Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer--we would sing a "hineni" introduction, recite the brachah, and count in unison, without benefit of Maariv (the Evening Service). Even when my husband was freelancing during tax season, I would call him, and we'd say the brachah and do the count together over the phone.

It didn't occur to me until a couple of days into Chol HaMoed that, since I'm now saying Sefirat HaOmer as an integral part of Maariv (which is the way it's supposed to be done), I hadn't thought to call my husband out to the livingroom to join me.

I felt terrible. Because of my decision to start saying Maariv every night, I'd completely forgotten to include my husband in the ritual of counting. This is the first year I can remember in which one of us is continuing to say the brachah and the other is not. (Once a person misses an entire day of the count, forgetting to count both in the evening and during daylight the "next" day, that person is supposed to resume counting, but is no longer allowed to say the brachah.)

Trying to respect one another's different learning and observance levels can be a bit challenging, at times. Seriously, what happens in a case such as ours, in which one spouse, already more observant (by comparison), becomes even more so? Sometimes, on weekdays, we have to decide whether the Punster is going to "the office" (the Son-ster's bedroom) so that I can davven in the living room or whether I'm going there to davven so that the Punster can watch television. And it does feel a bit strange seeing my resident CPA dash out to the 8:30-AM-pick-up mailbox, tax return in hand, without davvening (praying) first, while I'm still in tallit and tefillin.

It's an odd, and not always comfortable, balancing act.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, that post reminded me to say the Omer tonight! (Though davening Maariv I'm not quite up to...)


Wed Apr 25, 12:34:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

I already messed up my count this year! Somehow I counted the wrong day one night last week (16 instead of 15). Shalom and Debbie missed already as well, so I'm relying on Ben to say the bracha for me every night.

As Charlie Brown says, "just wait till next year!"

Wed Apr 25, 09:28:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tsk, tsk, you didn't listen to the suggestion that I made on a previous post: Subscribe to the OU's daily Sefirat HaOmer reminder e-mail here. (It's a bit late for you, Elie, but it might help Ben, at least.)

Wed Apr 25, 10:41:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

I have an omer-counter on the wall at home. Somehow it got rolled a day ahead. But you're right, the OU email reminder would have helped, in that even when I counted wrong the night before, I could have corrected it the next morning when I got on my email, and then kept counting with a beracha the next night. I'll have to be sure to set it up next year.

Wed Apr 25, 12:54:00 PM 2007  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I have always maintained that, with the exception of the egalitarian issues, what you really want is to become Orthodox. One might argue that you pretty much are already, as you keep Shabbos, daven, and keep kosher (regardless of your standards).

So why don't you look for a women's minyan or a more egalitarian Orthodox minyan, or a very right wing Conservative minyan? Come on, you're in NY, you can find anything there!

Wed Apr 25, 04:09:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keeping kosher, davening, and observing Shabbat does not make one Orthodox or even "right wing" Conservative. Those things are in theory obligatory on all Conservative Jews.

There is a way to restart counting the omer with brachot if you lost track. That is act as shaliach tzibbur at maariv, and as shatz you get to recite the bracha with the count, and once you've done it you can keep doing it on your own.

I find the easiest way to keep track of the omer is with the help of Homer...Simpson , that is.

Wed Apr 25, 11:32:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reb Barry, thanks for info on how to restart reciting the brachah legitimately. You might call that a "brachah booster-cable" method. :)

Mark/PT, I think Reb Barry is right: The Conservative rabbinate has always maintained that we're obligated to observe the mitzvot (in accordance with the Conservative interpretation), but a large chunk of the laity just doesn't follow their lead. Personally, I've always been more than a bit ambivalent about the whole idea of obligation (chiyuv?), preferring to accept observance voluntarily. Of course, if one doesn't accept commands, it makes the term "mitzvah," commandment, a bit problematic. Also, I haven't yet been able to give up traveling (and occasionally eating out, and even shopping [much as I hate that]) on Shabbat and Yom Tov. There's also the problem that I'm an agnostic who doesn't accept rabbinic authority as binding--I prefer to make my own decisions. As far as becoming Orthodox goes, I ain't even truly Conservative. Just call me one of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

Thu Apr 26, 12:27:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I find it interesting that four people have responded to this post (one of you twice), yet no one has addressed the central issue. Perhaps discussing disparities in observance between spouses is considered, er, "pahs nisht" (?--"it isn't done"). Or perhaps, in this particular case, I'm not reaching my target audience (not that I would know how to target them). In all serious, I'm not the only Jew who's ever married someone from a different background and/or observance level. I was wondering how other people handle this sort of challenge.

True story:
Years ago, two friends of ours had to decide whether they wanted to embark on what they jokingly called a mixed marriage--he was Reform, she was Conservative. He agreed to keep kosher at home; she agreed to ignore the fact that he ate pork and shellfish in restaurants. He agreed to observe the laws of keeping kosher for Passover if she would do all the kashering and preparation, though he said he'd miss his favorite Pesach treat, ham and cheese on matzah. ("Hey, just because I don't keep kosher doesn't mean I don't observe Passover!") Then they got to a make-or-break issue: She told him that she wouldn't marry him unless he made a commitment to fast every Yom Kippur, something he'd never done before. Suffice it to say that she was kind enough to lend me her wedding gown when we got married.

And, of course, we all know the classic story of the Jew by Choice making his/her spouse more observant. (Yep, we know a couple like that. The no-longer-so-new Jew assures us that "shul politics" are just as bad among the Presbyterians. :) Their kids are Jewish-day-school graduates, by the way.)

So, nu? Pipe up, out there, if you have any stories, reactions, suggestions, etc.

Thu Apr 26, 03:20:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

I think such "mixed" Jewish marriages can be successful; my in-laws were one of them. Working out the religious differences will certainly take patience, mutual understanding and compromise - but the same applies to many other marital diasgreements. If coth parties are committed to one another and the marriage, they can usually find a way to make it work.

Of course, unfortunately one can argue the same way about a true "mixed marriage". And thus my issue with such is not pragmatic, but religious. Or said another way, I'm not afraid that intermarriages can't work, I'm afraid they can.

Fri Apr 27, 12:01:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, so far, so good--our 30th anniversary is in June. We have what might be described as a "mutual non-interference" agreement. I don't chide him (too much) for eating non-kosher chicken outside of the apartment, and he doesn't make (too much of) a big deal of the fact that I'm now trying to davven 3 times a day, every day.

As for intermarriage, oy. Our only child is a boy, and neither of us accepts patrilineal descent. So we have only a 50-50 chance of having Jewish grandchildren. I try not to think about it (too much).

Fri Apr 27, 04:16:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

OK, I'll bite. I'm a convert, and as such (obviously) have a different background than my husband. But there are really 3 issues:
1) background - family traditions (or lack thereof), how/when your Jewish identity becomes important or comes into play, etc.

2) personality/interest - my husband is all about his Jewish identity/ethnicity, and the politics of that, especially as grandchild of Shoah escapees. He relates to the Torah as family history, from what I can see. (yes, we have a wacky family). I, on the other hand, am drawn to the intellectual/spiritual side of Judaism, and feel an affinity with Jews as we are drawn into Torah discussion, not simply because we share the same religion/identity/whatever.

3) gender - A male kohen who can be counted for a minyan anywhere (even if he can't do the priestly blessing because of me) has a very different relationship with Judaism than a female (feminist) convert with a "question authority" attitude.

Overall, I'd say we're equally observant, but in totally different ways.

Fri Apr 27, 06:36:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

1) background
Pretty different, as I said. My husband's Jewish observance was created almost singlehandedly by the rabbi who prepared him for his Bar Mitzvah celebration (and by his Hebrew School teacher, he adds). Mine was about 33% home, 33% Hebrew School, 33% synagogue, with a nice dollop of Jewish day camp and United Synagogue Youth on the side.

2) personality/interest.
My husband is largely synagogue-observance oriented. I, on the other, am probably equally synagogue- and home-observance oriented.

We both enjoy discussing the parshiot, haftarot, megillot, prayers, etc., but he, being more patient, and, perhaps, a tad (but only a tad) more traditional in his thinking, is more likely to pay attention to commentaries, midrashim, etc., whereas I, myself, tend to think things through almost entirely on my own.

At the point at which we met, I was already wearing a tallit every Shabbat, so my husband certainly knew what he was getting into.

Still . . .

While I think that being a non-Orthodox feminist automatically makes one a person with an authority-questioning attitude, I also think that being female makes a difference even among egalitarians. Though my husband has always supported my egalitarism and the egalitarian approach in general, it's simply not avoidable for him to have a different experience of Judaism than I. As you said, a man can be counted in a minyan anywhere. Never in any man's life will he be asked to go home and send his wife to Shacharit instead. I first began wearing tefillin (on those days when I went to daily morning minyan) when I was in my late twenties. I gave it up for roughly a decade after moving here, because every Sunday morning (which was the only day that the hubster could watch the toddler), I got a "reject" slip from the "minyannaires." After about six months of being told to go home, I finally did. I didn't start wearing tefillin again until our son became a Bar Mitzvah (figuring that, as a Conservative Jew with a child clearly old enough to stay home alone, I no longer had a reason and/or excuse to stay home). No man would ever have to put up with being treated as if he's invaded someone else's turf and doesn't belong.

This may sound as if it has nothing to do with marriage, but it's just another one of those awkward things. It's a source of some annoyance and frustration to me that my husband can walk into a synagogue anywhere in the world and get an aliyah, whereas I can't even say Ashrei without hearing the complaints ("oh, there she goes up on the bima again").

Sun Apr 29, 12:40:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

honestly, I think we're all in mixed marriages. The specific issues vary, but it's got to be awfully rare that two people from EXACTLY the same corner of Judaism marry.

But I also think it's less obvious in the more gendered parts of the Jewish world: if davvening is for him, and the home ritual is for her, there's less scope to even notice the differences.

Sun Apr 29, 06:10:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

One might think that such differences in observance might be less obvious, and therefore, less problematic, in a marriage between more traditional Jews. If the wife is interested in home ritual and doesn't care that the husband doesn't davven (pray)and/or study, as long as he respects her home practice, that might be okay, in theory. Likewise, if the man is interested in prayer and/or study, and isn't concerned about the home, that should also be fine, in theory.

In practice, however, I think that one partner's disinterest would invariable impact on the other, in a traditional Jewish home. A man who's committed enough to davven and study would probably want a wife who's equally committed to keeping a kosher kitchen, lighting candles, and observing the laws of family purity (taharat hamishpachah). And a woman who's committed to maintaining a Jewish home might find it upsetting to have a husband who doesn't want to say kiddush or havdalah for her or to be her representative in synagogue when it comes time to say kaddish for her parents. (We won't even talk about the fights, in either case, over watching tv or DVDs, listening to radio/CD player/ipod, using the computer, and/or getting home late for or working on, or lighting candles late for, Shabbat [Sabbath] or Shalosh R'galim [Pilgrimage Festivals].) And the impact on the children, in such cases, can be extremely problematic. What's a wife to do if her husband refuses to take their sons to synagogue? In the traditional community, a woman is in no position to help her son learn how to lay tefillin. And what's a husband to do if his wife won't teach their daughters how to run a kosher kitchen? What kind of shidduchim (marital matches) can be made for such girls? And how can a man invite guests to his home if he can't rely on the kashrut of his own kitchen?

So it's not so easy in the "more gendered" segments of the Jewish community, either. There are still issues--they're just different ones.

Again, agreements would have to be made. "I know you're not really into this, but we can't be a part of this community unless you promise to keep a kosher kitchen, to make the home kosher for Passover, and to teach our kids about keeping kosher. We can't invite guests or get our kids admitted to yeshiva if we don't keep a kosher home. And you have to light Sabbath and holiday candles on time, or the neighbors will talk." "I know that praying and studying aren't really your thing, but you have to go to synagogue at least every Sabbath and Festival morning, not to mention the High Holidays, Purim and Tisha B'Av, and we have to have a seder, if we and our children are going to be accepted by this community, not to mention if you want our kids to be admitted to yeshiva and find proper spouses."

It may very well be true that exact matches are not always possible. But I think that, in that case, compromises of some kind are probably necessary in just about any segment of the Jewish community. Perhaps the only couples for whom these issues might be irrelevant would be those in which both partners are completely secular/chiloni.

Sun Apr 29, 07:22:00 PM 2007  

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