Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Good Stuff I - Community

It's easy for an ex-Orthodox person to focus on the negative aspects of Orthodoxy, since those are the reasons we leave. However, there are of course many positive aspects as well. Most of these qualities may be found elsewhere as well, but perhaps not in exactly the same way.

One of the best parts of Orthodox Judaism which I have not yet been able to replicate outside of it is the community itself. Prohibited from driving on Shabbat, yet required to attend synagogue with a minyan*, Orthodox Jews cluster together in neighborhoods where they can each walk to the other's house. Restricted by the laws of kashrut, they are prevented from freely socializing with the non-Orthodox and are forced to eat at home, in each other's homes, or in one of the few kosher restaurants in a given neighborhood. Their children generally attend schools exclusively with other Orthodox children. Almost every Shabbat, each family eats with at least one other for the Shabbat meal. Television is forbidden on Shabbat, so children congregate in the afternoons for old-fashioned, unstructured fun.

The result, at least in my experience, was a social community far richer and more tight-knit than available elsewhere in an America which seems to be losing all sense of community due to sprawling suburbs, busy lives, and modern conveniences like cable TV and air-conditioned homes. People like to talk about how the Orthodox community pulls together in times of needs, helping the sick, comforting the mourners, and supporting the poor, and these statements are true, but it's the every day, familial closeness of the community which I find myself missing most.

Being such a tight-knit community has its downsides, of course. It can be difficult for children who cannot or will not conform to the norms. People are practically if not literally excommunicated for being gay, and as many readers of this blog can attest, God help you if you ask too many difficult questions in the classroom. If you wear the "wrong" clothes or yarmulka or hat, or if you have "wrong" ideas or beliefs, some large segment of the population may shun you. If you grow up and decide you can't be frum anymore, you can never go home again and feel a part of the community in the same way.

*quorum of ten men.


Ben Avuyah said...

I agree with you JA,

I think, for all the reasons you mention, many people, myself included, never leave the fold. Some of the traditions do start to grow on you, and after all, even if you can’t come to terms with the theology, nothing ever changes the fact that this is the world you grew up in.
Large portions of your personality are mired in the fabric of orthodoxy. It's the reason you laugh at Godol Hador's jokes poking fun at the Gedolim (Chas Veshalom !), and the reason you nod your head at Mis-Nagid's posts when he rips it all to shreds.
Tragic, wrong, ridiculous, or hilarious, it is still a large part of the personalities of those of us who were raised with it.

I wonder, being outside the world of orthodoxy, do you ever miss it enough to want to come back ?

Jewish Atheist said...

I wonder, being outside the world of orthodoxy, do you ever miss it enough to want to come back ?

I don't, but it took a long time to get accustomed to living "outside." I had to make new friends, new relationships, new habits, and a new philosophy of life. I left because I found myself with no other choice. I wasn't willing to make the necessary sacrifices to remain, so I could have stayed in limbo or made the jump. It took me a while to build up the courage, but jump I did.

As I've written before (in the comments) I still participate in some Jewish observance, mostly by having holidays with friends and family. Likewise, I try to take some of the good of Shabbat while leaving what I consider the bad. I may formally join a non-Orthodox Jewish community at some point in the future.

Mis-nagid said...

"Prohibited from driving on Shabbat, yet required to attend synagogue with a minyan...Restricted by the laws of kashrut...Their children generally attend schools exclusively with other Orthodox children...Television is forbidden on Shabbat"

So, you're saying the social control tools work? Well duh. Joining a cult really does create a sense of community. Sure, you [shave your head/wear a beanie/dress oddly] but so does everyone else in your cult. A major reason cults are so successful is because they offer this sense of belonging.

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