Monday, July 30, 2007

Am I a Person or a Jew?

dgordon left an interesting comment on my post Modern Orthodoxy's State of Denial:
There's a really basic conflict involved in the Feldman/Maimonides-School encounter. The Maimonides School, and by extension OJ in general, promotes a CORPORATE identity: a cardinal obligation of sb. who is born Jewish is to perpetuate the Jewish people by marrying sb. Jewish and raising Jewish children (esp., OJ argues, in the wake of such environing threats as anti-semitism and assimilation). Feldman, on the other hand, believes in INDIVIDUAL identity: the point of having any sort of religion at all is to explore and extend one's relationship w/ God or whoever/whatever may be out there (this as an aspect of self-fulfillment within a context of respect for others' choices). These two models comprise what sociologist Max Weber called a "clash of the value spheres"; they really can't be reconciled to each other...


In the wake of Feldman's admittedly uneven article (discussed here) I saw a lot of comments that I found mystifying. Boiled down, they essentially took Feldman's intermarriage as an affront to his school, his parents, and the Orthodox community in general, if not the entire Jewish people. They said things like his marriage was "a slap in the face" to his Jewish education and that he "turned his back on Judaism."

As I said, I was mystified. If I had a child, say, who married a rabbi or a Buddhist or even a Republican ;-) I might be concerned for them and perhaps express my doubts. But to take it as a personal insult? Of course not, unless they were literally doing it out of spite. I see parenting (and friendship and love) as something I choose to give freely, not something I'm doing because I expect something in return.

dgordon nailed it. Orthodox Jews see Feldman not as a human being who made what was probably a difficult life decision, but as a Jew who married out. In the same way, when I left Orthodox Judaism, my Orthodox friends and family didn't see it as me just making a choice they didn't agree with, but as an affront to my parents and community. Nobody wanted to know what made me do it or how I was handling the transition; if anything they wanted to know as little as possible about it.

My non-Orthodox friends and family, on the other hand, were genuinely curious about my life-change. They asked for my story, empathized with how hard it was for me, and accepted me for both who I had been and who I had become. Speaking to one Conservative (the Jewish denomination) father was particularly enlightening -- he told me that all he wanted from his children was that they were good people. People like him see major life choices as part of the human experience -- he would no more attempt to dictate his child's religion (even though they were active in their religious community) than he would force them to join a profession that they didn't care for.

I have honestly sought the truth in my life and that's a difficult thing which I think should be applauded, even if you don't agree with my conclusions. The common Orthodox view that they have a monopoly on truth and that those who leave or marry out are akin to traitors, is ludicrous and arrogant. Human beings are not the property of the community or of our parents. We owe our gratitude and respect to those who raised us, but no more.

We have no moral responsibility to make babies for your community or to adhere to your dogma. We do, however, have the responsibility to support and respect the difficult personal choices our loved ones make in their lifetimes, even when we don't agree with them, and so do you, or you're not worthy of the people you love.

38 comments:

Keebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jewish philosopher said...

I think that until recently, marrying a Christian generally meant the Jewish partner needed to become Christian as well with all that entails. This of course was understandably met with horror by other Jews.

Actually, marrying a Jew and not keeping the laws of family purity is a far greater sin than marrying a gentile.

mushroomjew said...

Great post. I agree 100%. As I undergo the transformation out of Orthodoxy I feel so unsupported. A few weeks ago I stopped wearing my yarmulke at work. I felt so liberated-- I was finally being myself and no longer pretending to be someone I wasn't. I wanted trying to insult Judaism or the Jewish people. I was just doing something that fit with who I now am. But I was unable to share these feeling with my family nor with most of my friends (who are all Orthodox). For them, this would just be another example of me "going off the derech". I felt so alone. I just kept telling myself how proud I was of myself. Sounds mushy but until I create a new circle of friends who understand me, it's the only thing that's getting me through.

XGH said...

I think there's more to it than that. Most communities have values, and most parents want their children to live within some basic guidelines that are familiar to them. IIRC, you don't have kids yet, so it's easy for you to sound all tolerant and liberal. Let's hear what you have to say after you spend 20+ years and $300,000+ educating your child with liberal secular values, and then they run off and join a kollel in Bnei Brak.

jewish philosopher said...

"I have honestly sought the truth in my life and that's a difficult thing which I think should be applauded"

Just by the way, I have no doubt that Adolf Hitler would have made the same statement.

CyberKitten said...

JP said: Just by the way, I have no doubt that Adolf Hitler would have made the same statement.

What a truely awlful thing to say - comparing having the strength to live a restrictive community to Adolf Hitler..... I'm (almost) speechless.

CyberKitten said...

..that should be to "leave" a restrictive community.... [sheesh].

jewish philosopher said...

Kitten, my point is simply that sincerity in and of itself is meaningless. Suicide bombers are also absolutely sincere. People daily convince themselves of the craziest things and this in not necessarily admirable.

CyberKitten said...

JP said: People daily convince themselves of the craziest things and this in not necessarily admirable.

That is *so* true.

Jewish Atheist said...

mushroomjew:

Been there, done that. Exactly there. Chin up, it gets better. :-) Feel free to email me.

avrum68 said...

"Let's hear what you have to say after you spend 20+ years and $300,000+ educating your child with liberal secular values, and then they run off and join a kollel in Bnei Brak."

Bwahaha...so very true.

Shoshana said...

Interesting and well-written post. To give some comparison, when I decided that I wanted to lead a more observant lifestyle than the way in which I had been raised, my parents and even grandparents were very unhappy with my decision and gave me (and still do to some extent) a difficult time. I think most decisions that go against how a child has been raised is seen as an affront to a parent's authority and a rejection of what parents have taught their child and is often responded to with negative reactions rather than positive and loving, helpful ones. Because, most parents will naturally think the way they have raised their child is the right one - and desire to have that child follow in their footsteps. I think it takes effort on the part of everyone involved to make such a life change palatable and workable.

avrum68 said...

"Teaching a child that you "know" something to be true, something that is AT BEST unknowable, and at worst and most likely, total bullshit, is UNCONSCIONABLE."

Why is it that, since The God Delusion, all atheists are child advocacy experts? And why is it that said atheists believe plopping a child in a sandbox, without any interference of the parent's, is the best way to raise a child? Perhaps the atheists on this board can provide some examples of the "truth" they've passed onto their children. How'd you teach them the "truth" about love? Or that sharing is good...or that playing with other's is fun.

Curious

Jack's Shack said...

As a parent you try and do the best you can to raise your children. It is not always easy to see them tell you that they disagree and or reject the principles you believe and raised them with.

Holy Hyrax said...

>The common Orthodox view that they have a monopoly on truth and that those who leave or marry out are akin to traitors, is ludicrous and arrogant.

You are sticking two different things together. I agree that OJ viewing that they have the monopoly on truth is arrogant, but I don't believe that plays a roll if your child lets say decides to marry out.

Keebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xenophon said...

Avrum68 said: "Perhaps the atheists on this board can provide some examples of the "truth" they've passed ... How'd you teach them the "truth" about love? Or that sharing is good..."
I don't see the problem. One teaches by example what one practices. If you are consistent in what you do and coherent in what you say and you practice what you believe (as opposed to what somebody believed 2000 years ago) the child will learn it.
For example if you are cultured and value poetry you might read and explain to your child the following romantic message from Keats:
O SOVEREIGN power of love! O grief! O balm!
All records, saving thine, come cool, and calm,
And shadowy, through the mist of passed years:
For others, good or bad, hatred and tears
Have become indolent; but touching thine,
One sigh doth echo, one poor sob doth pine,
One kiss brings honey-dew from buried days.
http://www.bartleby.com/126/33.html

Anonymous said...

You'd do even better by repeating simple age-old wisdom about love and common sense sayings.

Sadie Lou said...

Wow. I don't see any of the same ol' regulars here except Cyberkitten--Hi, JA. I just wanted to give a shout while I was out hitting old blog friends--

G said...

I will ask you the same thing I asked on a diff blog about this [related topic].

What COULD someone do that would warrant their exclusion from [such a photo] and such enmity from the general community? Does anything meet this standard, in your opinion?

G said...

BTW-

I couldn't help but smile at the sequence following Labels: at the end of the post

--that may not speak very well to my general sensitivities, oh well :)

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie:

Hi!


G:

What COULD someone do that would warrant their exclusion from [such a photo] and such enmity from the general community? Does anything meet this standard, in your opinion?

I'm having trouble imagining a scenario where a person would be accepted at a reunion but shouldn't be in the picture. If they're such a bad person, they shouldn't be allowed in. If they're not so bad, it's just Stalinist propaganda.

G said...

I knew I should have edited the comment, forget Feldman.

What COULD someone do that would warrant their exclusion from and such enmity from the general community? Does anything meet this standard, in your opinion?

G said...

As an aside:

"I'm having trouble imagining a scenario where a person would be accepted at a reunion but shouldn't be in the picture. If they're such a bad person, they shouldn't be allowed in. If they're not so bad, it's just Stalinist propaganda."

So basically your saying, if your in your in and if your out then your out. No gray areas.

Jewish Atheist said...

G:

He didn't murder anyone or commit rape. The man just married someone the community doesn't approve of.

Jewish Atheist said...

So basically your saying, if your in your in and if your out then your out. No gray areas.

I'm saying if someone is in, the community shouldn't pretend that he's out. And vice-versa.

G said...

"He didn't murder anyone or commit rape. The man just married someone the community doesn't approve of."

No argument, just checking if there ARE standards. There are people who would (and have) said that they could not think of ANYTHING that would warrant such a response (in which case there is no reason to even keep talking).
-------

-So basically your saying, if your in your in and if your out then your out. No gray areas.

--I'm saying if someone is in, the community shouldn't pretend that he's out. And vice-versa.

I don't think that's fair. If Mr. Feldman had been told to leave upon showing up w/ a non-jewish companion I can only imagine the kind of piece that would have been written. I somehow doubt that his internal monolouge would have said, "Well, at least they are being consistent".
In a way it comes back to the title of this post. In the eyes of orthodox judaism upon marrying a non-jew one does in a way end their status as "jew" and takes up the status of "person". Right or wrong you act differently to a member of your faith then to one who is not a member of your faith and anyone who is being honest with themselves knows that they draw that same line somewhere based on some criteria. It does give another the right to act negatively toward that peraon but it would be foolish to think that one will be treated as if nothing had happened.

G said...

Forget it, your busy giving Ez a hard time. Concentrate on that, it's more important and more entertaining :)

David Fryman said...

>>Orthodox Jews see Feldman not as a human being who made what was probably a difficult life decision, but as a Jew who married out.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. In this case, both are accurate.

Is your point that Judaism values community over individuality? Well of course it does.

Anonymous said...

Have you read this?

http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14367


You wrote about the Orwellian cropping. Are you going to retract?

Are you going to retract your post to Andrew Sullivan? Given that you hung your case that Orthodox ignore the reality of people they dont like on feldman's lies?

Anonymous said...

"In the same way, when I left Orthodox Judaism, my Orthodox friends and family didn't see it as me just making a choice they didn't agree with, but as an affront to my parents and community. Nobody wanted to know what made me do it or how I was handling the transition; if anything they wanted to know as little as possible about it."

There are all kinds of people, but I have not seen this happen.

Jewish Atheist said...

Anonymous:

Thanks for the link. I had not seen it. I just posted a correction. (I didn't post on Andrew Sullivan's blog, btw. He linked to me and included an excerpt.)

Anonymous said...

Right, I mis-phrased that. I presume you sent him a link to your post. Is that incorrect? Is he a regular reader?
If you sent it to him, are you going to inform him that the story as presented in the NYTimes is false?

Jewish Atheist said...

I presume you sent him a link to your post. Is that incorrect?

I didn't. My best guess is that he reads 2blowhards, which also linked to my post.

Anonymous said...

I apologize then. I thought you sent him the link.
Does 2blowhards read you, or did you send them the link?

Jewish Atheist said...

Someone there just started reading me, I think. I'm a frequent commenter there.

Anonymous said...

k
I apologize again for assuming you sent the link.

G said...

Whoa!!!

Comment from 3:20 PM, August 01, 2007 should have read:

"It does NOT give another the right to act negatively toward that peraon but it would be foolish to think that one will be treated as if nothing had happened."