Thursday, January 24, 2008

Conservadoxy and its Discontents

I know, creative subject line. I have wished since at least when I worked on my high school paper that I could make up short, witty titles for articles and other short prose, but I can't. Oh, well.

So, what does Conservadoxy mean to Katrina, you might ask? If you consider yourself Conservadox, you might have a vague idea, or you might disagree violently with what I am about to say. If you are not Conservadox, you might think Conservadoxy is a bunch of nahrishkeit, but the same can be said for a lot of Jewish labels and the particular teeny tiny hashkafic segments of the Jewish world they represent. Here is my answer, anyway, in list form (it is not only my views but also, I hope, contains enough hedging/grab-bagging to snag others too):

1. Being Shomer (or in my case Shomeret) Shabbat and Yom Tov
2. Keeping hekhsher kosher in the house, assuming you don't live in Arkansas or Europe or some place like that, and perhaps outside, too, or perhaps eating some fish and dairy out and feeling guilty about it
3. Being comfortable with davening in either an Orthodox minyan or a so-called Traditional Egalitarian minyan (essentially same liturgy as Orthodox, full Torah reading, but women lead and read Torah, and women and men sit togther); now I now some will say that you don't have to be comfortable in a mechitsa minyan to be Conservadox, and I don't disagree--I just happen to be.
4. At least entertaining the idea of Taharat Ha'Mishpachah after marriage, plus some (varying based on the person, but probably not skirt-related) definition of tzniut before marriage
5. Wearing pants and not feeling guilty about it, if you're a woman
6. Some kind of davening commitment, whether it be the whole shebang on Shabbat, or Shabbat plus one service per day approximately during the week, or more of course
7. Some kind of regular Torah study commitment
8. Having some halakhic principles

Perhpas the real purpose of this post is to complain about #8. I live in a community in which I increasingly feel that people who look at things halakhically are considered Conservadox or Orthodox, while people who don't are considered tolerant and friendly. I don't want to get into the specifics of halakhic controversies that have ensnared at least one of the shuls where I daven, since I am trying for at least some degree of anonymity here. Also there is the lashon hara thing, which maybe I should have put on my list above. The point is that in a shul in which I sometimes daven, which identifies itself as post-denominational, which I consider to be another name for Conservative (and that at least is their style of davening), there have been two halakhic controversies this academic year. It may not be correct to call them halakhic controversies, though, because in both cases, one side has placed halakhic considerations as the number one determining factor in the final decision, and the other has not. Those of us who have the temerity to suggest that although some situations are unfortunate and hurt people's feelings, they still have to be resolved with halakhah firmly mind, have mostly been dismissed as Orthodox and therefore out of touch with the concerns of the majority of people in the shul, and/or intolerant, and/or unfeeling. This disturbs me greatly. I am not unfeeling. I'm not exactly a fundamentalist, but what Conservadoxy means to me, increasingly, is holding the line against Conservative Judaism and its meta-halakhic standpoint. I think that some of the problem in the case of this shul is the massive under-education of many of its members, which is not their fault. Plus there is shul politics and the bonds of friendship, which admittedly makes things more dificult.

Don't worry. This blog is not going to be me venting about my various shuls. I have just been frustrated about this for a long time and wanted to get it off my chest. End of rant.


ALG said...

That sounds to me like what Conservative Judaism is "supposed" to be, according to its own principles. Or you could call it JTS-based Conservative Judaism.

The fact that most Conservative Jews in the US don't hold to those standards doesn't necessarily make Conservative Jews who do "Conservadox" as opposed to "Conservative." (Likewise, I feel like Modern Orthodoxy, based on Rav Soloveitchik's and others' teachings, is not supposed to be laxer than any other brand of Orthodoxy, and the fact that many Modern Orthodox Jews are laxer might not necessarily mean that those who are not lax about halacha cannot still be Modern Orthodox.)

There were a whole lot of modifiers and pronouns and whatnots in there, but I hope my point is clear.

It is also possible that movements are defined by the majority of their members, so if most Conservative Jews don't care about halacha, and are mostly interested in some ritual and cultural aspects of Judaism, then Conservative Jews who do care about halacha can no longer call themselves Conservative and have to add the "oxy" at the end.

The "Conservadox" label has always rubbed me the wrong way. I feel like I know a lot of people who are fully observant and fully egalitarian, but none of them call themselves Conservadox. It also applies, it seems, to people who grow up Traditional, which to me, means hechshered kosher at home, two sets of dishes, go to an Orthodox shul, kiddush every Friday night, observe all holidays (even Shavuot, etc.), but use electricity and drive on Shabbat and eat dairy out. This is totally different than what you're talking about and is much more prevalent outside large Northeastern cities than in them. Also, it's how a lot of community self-identified as Orthodox was in the 1950s-1960s (when Young Israel, for example, held mixed dances and everyone ate tuna sandwiches out).

Shira Salamone said...

I consider myself an aspiring Traditional Egalitarian Conservative Jew, for lack of a better description. I try not to cook or use the computer or TV on Shabbat or Yom Tov/Pilgrimage Festivals. I keep "hechshered kosher at home, two sets of dishes," and eat only dairy and fish out. I try to davven/pray three times per day. But I take the subway to my preferred synagogue (or a car to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration) and have been known to shop for my son when necessary (man, I hate that!), on Shabbat and Yom Tov/Pilgrimage Festivals. And I haven't yet made a commitment to study. I don't object to the mechitza (barrier or balcony separating the sexes), but I *do* object to what *doesn't* go with a mechitza: Women not being counted in a minyan, not being allowed to lead a service, lein/chant from the Torah scroll, have an aliyah, or chant a haftarah/reading from the prophets. I'm a little too Conserv. to be dox.

That said, I've found myself in the rather interesting position of being opposed to patrilineal descent (on the grounds that it's divisive) while also being the only woman in my local synagogue who wears a tallit and tefillin. And go try to explain to someone that, while I'm perfectly willing to trust people's kashrut in their own homes, I won't eat homemade food at a potluck meal in a synagogue because I believe that the kashrut of a synagogue's food should be under rabbinical supervision. (You'd be surprised at what some of the most well-meaning people [me undoubtedly among them] don't know about kashrut--I've seen some whopping mistakes.) So I think I have a fairly good idea of what you mean about some situations being unfortunate but not "remediable" (if there's such a word) within halachah/Jewish religious law.

"It is also possible that movements are defined by the majority of their members, so if most Conservative Jews don't care about halacha, and are mostly interested in some ritual and cultural aspects of Judaism, then Conservative Jews who do care about halacha can no longer call themselves Conservative and have to add the "oxy" at the end." If that's the case, then what label fits a semi-observant person like me?

ALG said...

Re. Shira's question: I don't know. That's why labels are hard.

I often call myself "observant," even though some would call me Orthodox and some would, undoubtedly, just call me "off the derech" and leave it at that. When I want to explain why I won't eat someone's food, though, I haul out the old "Orthodox" label because it seems less offensive than any wordier explanation might be.

katrina said...

I also call myself observant, since that's easier (b/c more vague, maybe?) than Conservadox. The problem with calling myself Conservative, even if what I do is what Conservative Judaism was meant to be, is that most people associate "Conservative," practice-wise, with the practices of most Conservative Jews they know, which is very different from mine. If I call myself Orthodox, people find that confusing, either (usually if they're Jewish) because I wear pants or (if they're not) because Orthodox=fundamentalist to them, and I'm a Democrat and a feminist!

ALG said...

I know plenty of pants-wearing, feminist, Democratic-party-affiliating Orthodox Jews!

Growing up in Boston, I would even say that that was the norm. Now that I live in New York, it's a little bit different. (More women who only wear skirts, more Republicans. Don't know about the feminist part, though.)

katrina said...

I know you do, alg, and I know some, too, but I said that NON-JEWS think that you can't be Orthodox while simultaneously being a Democrat and a feminist. I agree that the pants issue varies by geographic boundary.

elf said...

I dislike the term "Conservadox" for reasons similar to alg's: First, because it's generally used to mean "Conservative-affiliated, but (at least somewhat) halakhically observant," which is what "Conservative" is supposed to mean;" and second, because it has so many different nuances to different people that it's not very useful. However, I understand that in some contexts it may be the least of all evils.

As for your other point, I think the problem with the shul you mention may be partly due to the "nondenominational" label. Even if its practices are in the "Conservative/Modern Orthodox" range, the idea of being nondenominational sometimes leads Jewish groups to exaggerated displays of tolerance.

Then again, maybe that's not the issue at all. Even officially Conservative congregations today are more likely to have members committed to progressive values than to halakhah. (That isn't to say that commitment to both isn't possible; it's just not very common.) People who aren't accustomed to halakhic modes of thought often can't wrap their minds around the idea that someone can, say, oppose kiddushin ceremonies for same-sex couples without being homophobic, or not count women in a minyan without being misogynistic, etc.

There's also the interpersonal factor, which you mention in your post. Sometimes in shul politics people's feelings about each other overwhelm the actual issues to the point that no conflict can be dealt with rationally, regardless of members' actual positions. But I won't say any more about that.

frum single female said...

growing up modern orthodox and having many non-orthodox cousins and other relatives, i always thought of conservative judaism as being a little more ritually observant than reform , but much closer to reform than to orthodox as most conservative jews i knew werent nearly as observant as you describe. your observance model seems to more describe liberal modern orthodox liberal. growing up outside of new york many attendees of orthodox synagogues observed similar to you. i guess as orthodox judaism turned more to the right and conservative judaism veered more to the left, anyone conservative who veered more to the right became more like modern orthodox-lite and thus became conservadox. which i suppose could be liberal modern orthodox-lite as well.

Miss Shona said...

Shavua tov. Well I typed in "Conservadox" and I ended up on your blog. Let's see...I am a convert to Reform Judaism (well technically the congregation where I did my conversion was unaffiliated; their practice was a bit to the right of Reform...but they used the Reform movement's protocols {+ mikvah} for my conversion). A year later, I started taking classes at an Aish HaTorah center. I quickly developed a high respect for Orthodoxy and wanted an Orthodox conversion. I went through the logistics to get set up - including buying a new wardrobe, learning Hebreww reading/writing/speaking, and moving into the community. I encountered some issues though; mainly in that where I learned and where I felt comfortable was Modern Orthodoxy. Whereas where I lived and davened on a regular basis was a more Yeshivish community. It took yet another year for me to "change my Rabbi" in that I just thought I needed time to get used to the Yeshivish community...but ultimately I just couldn't make it work. So I find a home w/Young Israel.

I was "in the groove" pretty much so to speak; and got a lot of encouragement from two trips I made to Israel (which I feel very at home at -- I love how the air in Israel just oozes "Jewishness"). However back in the US, I started having some problems again. As I inched closer towards Orthodox conversion and as I got more involved in the community I saw the slight pity being shot my way in that here I was...a 25 y/o + minority woman who wants to become a frum Jew. Also I felt increasingly uncomfortable with being "sized up" all the time and having my life outside of shul (like my job, my friends, even my taste in music) being held under a microscope.

Anyway, G-d just basically took me out of that situation completely for the time being. I was in a car accident and hospitalized for weeks. Upon my release, I had to give up my apartment in "the shteibl" and move in with my non-Jewish Grandparents in another state.

Now that I am getting better, I am still trying to assess my situation; what I learned, what is important to me, and who I am (in terms of religion). I went to a Conservative service years ago (after my Reform conversion) and was not impressed by the double-speak I heard from the Rabbi at the time. However I decided to make a go at it again. I am not shomer shabbas -- because I live too far from the Jewish community and I'm not a "halachaic" Jew anyway (it's funny...but I don't think I will ever think of my self as a full-fledged Jew unless I undergo an Orthodox conversion...but I am way past being a Christian...or even being a "Noachide" that stays outside the Jewish community). However I miss services and the connection to Klal Yisrael sorely. So this past Shabbas...I attended a Conservative service. I am glad that I was nice to hear the prayers (albeit shorter and a little different), and the Torah reading, and discussion.

On the other hand I could see right away that I was "doing" more than most other congrants (like kissing the mezuzah when entering the sanctuary, reciting Birkat Hamazon after kiddish, etc.). The Rabbi (who impressed me with his drasha and morning Torah class) even inquired where I "got my learning" (in that I demonstrated that I can read and understand the Hebrew in the shiur). While this is flattering to me, it was a bit evident that several members there did not know Hebrew (however in all honesty, I ran into this in the Orthodox movement as that people studying for conversion tend to have a pretty high working knowledge of Judaism).

When they had the Torah procession and asked if I wanted an aliyah, I found myself missing the mechitza. I also wish more time would have been allocated for personal davening and to have included more of the service. And of course, afterward everyone just went to their cars and drove their separate ways. No long Shabbas afternoon where lunch carrys over until 3 pm and you take your nap, visit your neighbors, then try to catch Maariv and do Havdalah. As much as I miss those things, I hesitate to seek out the Orthodox congregations in the area. Understand that as a potential ger in the Orthodox community, you just have this cloud (weight?) hanging over you...even within Modern Orthodox circles (especially if you are single...maybe it's different if you are converting for least you don't have to worry about shiddichim). I am not eager to assume that weight again. Also as much as I love (deeply) Judaism and the notion of being Jewish, I am also proud of my background (which is Indo-Caribbean and Black American) and my diverse set of friends and family. I love being a Democratic Socialist and insularity really scares me. I desire a Jewish mate who acknowledges and respects Judaism -- and if he is frum, fine, I'll cover my hair, do the cholav Yisrael thing, whatever (except shave my head bald and wear a sheital AND a hat...true I would have to convert like two more times before any of this would even happen though!). On the other hand, I've always had a weakness for the creative or musical types. It would be nice if he didn't mind my tattoos (which I got post-Reform conversion by the way) or the fact that I don't eat pork or cheeseburgers.

I am a newbie to the Judaism thing...even though I am "well read"...I have no family background to help determine my path. I sort of long for an Orthodoxy that is gone it seems; the Orthodoxy where if you observed Shabbos and kept kosher, then fine. All this with the clothes, and sheitals, and kol isha, and shomer negiah, and yichus seems to make the Orthodox lose sight of the big picture. I am not opposed...I even enjoy how Orthodoxy takes all aspects of life and places a halachaic framework over it. However the most important thing that Judaism has to offer is to "love the stranger in your midst" and to be perpetual bearers of acts of loving kindness. And I am sorry is this is lashon hara, but there is so much of the opposite going on in the frum community.

I am sorry...I know this is long. But I have to say that for now, I will also wear the "Conservadox" label (Noachide to frum Jews). It is not totally comfortable to in although both the Consevative and Reform movements are moving to the right regarding ritual, they still harbor some philosophies that they embrace as "progressive" (I know we disagree here...but I would not attend where there was a female rabbi...or where there was an accepting position of homosexuals...such as a GLBT minyan). I love Chabad's philosophy...just celebrating Jewishness and taking each mitzvah observed as a step forward for all of Am Yisrael. But beyond that...they are chassidic; complete with the various rules and regulations that come with chassidishe hashkafah. So anyway...the whole label thing is hopelessly confusing. Especially for those of us who were not born as Jews!

Gabe Koshinsky said...

I couldn't agree more. Conservative Judaism as a whole is moving rapidly to the left of the religious spectrum as opposed to the Masorti (Conservative Movement) in Israel.

The real problem I see with Conservative Judaism is that it's becoming to relatavistic and thus the whole Jewish education aspect is thus undermined as a consequence.

Given the fact Modern Orthodox are moving to the right of the Jewish spectrum, I believe a large proportion of observant Jews who may be more egalitarian in some respects [not all] are left out.

Mikewind Dale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mikewind Dale said...

I burst out loud laughing when I reached #8.

Incidentally, I feel compelled to note a phenomenon I've noticed. I've noticed that among the traditional Jewish blogs, males fall into three types:
1) Frum -
1a) Yeshivish modern Orthodox;
1b) Modern Haredi/Yeshivish;
2) Academic, scientific, university professor, etc. and/or left-wing modern Orthdox who would be an an academic university professor type were he to get a degree in something Jewish;
3) Far-right ultra-nationalist Israeli "settler" types, usually including pronouncing Hebrew like an Arab and advocating abrogation of Rabbenu Gershom's takana against polygny.

By contrast, women fall into two phenomena:
1) Ultra-spiritual baalei teshuva, often with very pretty Hasidishe vorts, and usernames like "bt613";
2) Right-wing Conservadox or left-wing Modern Orthodox, often but not always converts.
3) Somewhat but not overbearingly matronly women, usually writing about their married lives and the fiction they read, and often including women living in the West Bank with moderate-right-wing political views.

To these two lists, there are a few exceptions, but I've found that 99% of the traditional Jewish blogs I've visited fall into one of the categories I've listed, and the sexual division I've indicated hasn't been challenged in my experience yet. Very peculiar.

Suffice it to say, when I saw this blog on Google, "Conservadox and single", I was pretty sure its author was a female. As for me, I'm male #2.