Friday, January 29, 2010

Am I Still Conservadox?

New York City is weird. Yes, I realize this is not the most stunning revelation in the world. The Naked Cowboy is a local treasure here, for Pete's sake.

But it is Jewishly weird as well. One of the weirdnesses is that the frummy-ness of the frummies (Orthodox Jews) tends to move some Conservative Jews further to the right, since the default level of Jewy-ness (I have a Ph.D.!) is higher, but, in reaction to that, it also moves some Conservative Jews to the left, in protest.

So where do I fit in?

I am the sort of person who tends to move right. Meanwhile, TH and I have been going to a few shuls (synagogues), but most often to Ramath Orah (RO). A fellow congregant described it as the most-left-wing actually Orthodox Orthodox shul on the Upper West Side. What he means is that there are a number of minyanim (prayer communities) that are arguably halakhic but not actually Orthodox, in that they don't affiliate, and they follow some version of the Shapiro teshuvah. So, women lead Kabbalat Shabbat and other non-halakhic parts of the service, some read Torah, but there is still separate seating and a mechitzah (partition) between the men's and women's sections. But RO isn't like that. It affiliates Orthodox, its rabbis went to YU as opposed to Chovevei Torah, women don't lead anything, etc. The other shul that we go to is traditional Conservative egalitarian. We hear divrei Torah there, of course, and I have also had the opportunity to talk to at least one Conservative rabbinical student, which I realize is not exactly a wide sample size, but she reported what sounded to me like a deep dissatisfaction with halakhah among rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It seems to boil down to the fact that none of the rabbinical students want to be told what to do, halakhically, and the JTS leadership largely capitulates to that, aside from a few hard-and-fast rules.

I am not trying to paint the Conservative movement, or even JTS, with any kind of disapproving brush because of one conversation, even though that conversation echoes one I had with a high-school classmate and then-JTS-student about five years ago. I am really only attempting to describe my own experiences. And they boil down to: I think I feel more comfortable in an Orthodox setting than in an Conservative one.


One of the earliest posts on this blog, and still one of my most-read, was called "Conservadoxy and its Discontents". It was about what Conservadoxy meant to me. Virtually all of the beliefs and practices I mentioned in that post still hold true for me. I am still Shomeret Shabbat and kashrut (in my home, for kashrut, but I eat fewer and fewer things out, but I still eat out--BAD Katrina--but modern Katrina--I struggle with this a lot), I still wear pants, I still daven once daily and more than that on Shabbat, etc.

Now that I am married, a brief update: I cover my hair in shul only (WARNING! WARNING! As ever, do NOT take halakhic advice from Katrina--she is just being descriptive) and observe Taharat HaMishpachah in a way that is none of your business. How many Conservative people can say they do both of those things, even on the Upper West Side of NYC? Or maybe especially on the Upper West Side of NYC? Is that my fault, or Conservative Judaism's? Well, it's both, of course. Taharat HaMishpachah and hair-covering, even in shul, are, IMHO, largely Orthodox practices that some Conservadox/Conservative people have adopted. But if regular Conservative people get the heebie-jeebies at the idea, I don't really blame them. Shabbat and kashrut are different. The Conservative movement is supposed to stand for both but often, it seems to me, doesn't necessarily any more. So to some extent I moved right, but to another Conservative Judaism moved out under me, took a left turn, and hasn't really looked back. There are lots of things I don't like about Orthodox Judaism:
--mechitzah and all women-are-separate stuff
--insane pro-settlement positions on Israel
--stupid The-Midrash-Says/how-dumb-do-you-think-I-am divrei Torah
--creeping Republicanism, partly as a result of the insane pro-settlement-position above
--IN GENERAL, lack of commitment to social action as compared to the liberal movement (I know, I know, there are a few hundred young Left-Wing MO people in NYC who are in Uri L'Tzedek. It's a positive development, but it's where the liberal Jewish world was on this issue in about 1900. At RO, there is a Bikkur Cholim Lunch 'n Learn group. TH and I went recently. We have to eat lunch, sing Shabbat songs, and study Torah BEFORE we visit the sick, because otherwise we would be Reform or something).
And yet . . . and yet . . .

I find that Orthodox communities on the UWS are often more friendly and less clique-ish than Conservative (including traditional Conservative) ones. And if I want to talk about Jewish texts, or halakhah, outside the loving bosom of Hadar, which has the insane clique-ish problem just alluded to, it's far easier to do it in an Orthodox setting, even as I am gritting my teeth over the mechitzah and wishing TH was sitting next to me.

So, Internet, am I still Conservadox?