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?


elf's DH said...

"Am I Still Conservadox?"

I don't know, but you're not Orthodox either. Welcome to the wonderful world of the unlabeled. :-)

frum single female said...

i think you are whatever label you want to be. does it really matter?
p.s. id forgotten about the naked cowboy!

katrina said...

This isn't really a question about labeling, Elf's DH and FSM. I guess I wrote the post partly to express my frustration at the fact that now I often feel more at home in Orthodox settings, despite the lack of egalitarianism and other issues I mention, than in Conservative ones, which I would not have thought would be a problem in NYC.

Shira Salamone said...

Welcome to my world, more or less. You're more observant than I am, but we sometimes kvetch/complain about the same things.

"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." I've posted a rant or two about pot-luck meals served in a synagogue, a practice that, it seems to me, is becoming commonplace in Conservative synagogues, whether I like it or not. :(

Nu, so now that we're living in the same city, when are we getting together? Write to me at onthefringe_jewishblogger at yahoo dot com.

frum single female said...

i hear what you are saying. the conservative movement of even ten years ago is different from the conservative movement of today.
i have met alot of people who moved to the uws who were more conservative and ended up being more left wing modern orthodox.
i guess change is inevitable in everything in life religion included.

Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

I think your observations are very accurate, re: the JTS students, despite the small sample. I'm in that environment, as a parent, frequently. My sense is that most of these students are so effected by their political beliefs that they see no distinction between the religious and secular life. Hence, they are now secularizing judaism with their prevailing political values. Since this philosophy seems to trump the halachkic process, even as practiced by JTS (and apparently with the blessing of several leading Conservative academics/theorists), conservative judaism is now beholden to the winds of changing sentiments.

You, on the other hand, like my good friend Shira Salamone, want consistency and standards. Hence, the attraction of orthodoxy.

katrina said...

@Steve: My concerns with Conservative Judaism are not primarily with the teshuvot about gays. Those teshuvot are a symptom, not a cause, of CJ's problems. Lack of standards for Shabbat and kashrut is not a political problem, it's a theological problem. Concern about gay rights is a political, moral, AND theological problem, but you can be a Democrat who cares about the pain gay Jews experience (like I am) without thinking that you should toss out what it says in the Torah in order to fix the problem. DovBear has shown a lot of compassion for gay Orthodox Jews without ceding the halakhic point for a millisecond. So let's not make this a political issue.

Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Katrina, you misunderstand me. I am, usually quite proudly, a Conservative Jew. I am a member of a thriving, if aging, congregation with a significant cohort of knowledgeable and observant (far more than me) members. I send my children to Conservative institutions, such as Ramah and Schechter, where they have internalized many of the great aspects of traditional judaism. But the trend among young conservative jews, particularly those who aspire to religious leadership careers, is one in which the secular considerations are freely, and without critical consideration, blended with halacha. And consistently, halacha is trumped by the current fashion, regardless of its longterm viability. You fit in on the right side of the equation, because that's where standards are far more fixed, and there is a consistency rather than a passing fancy. Check out the continuing Hirhurim series on post-orthodoxy. Perhaps that's where you are.

And my personal concerns are not political. Like yours, they are theological. The simple fact is that the reasoning behind the "gay" tshuva would also justify abandoning kashrut. Which means, its not good reasoning.

Shira Salamone said...

"The simple fact is that the reasoning behind the "gay" tshuva would also justify abandoning kashrut." Sorry, Steve, but I don't see the connection. Could you explain, please?

Eek! Katrina, I own you an e-mail!

JMS said...

On a somewhat tangential note: As a single woman navigating the Jewish dating websites, the need to label oneself becomes particularly daunting. Despite my Orthodox shul affiliation and (oftentimes) Orthodox appearance, I still feel uncomfortable with ticking the Orthodox box (both on the sites and in my head). On JDate, I chose "Traditional." I would also avoid putting Ortho down on JDate, for fear of alientating potential Orthophobes. On Frumster, I am "Orthodox-liberal," with footnoted caveats within the body of my profile's essay. Jewish dating can be tricky for those who try to evade labeling -- and this is *before* you even meet in anyone in person!

Howard said...

I am looking for what you call conservadox. Observant of shabbat and kosher, but not of women's hair covering, dress, or sex before marriage. I do hope to find someone out there with these same feelings. Please contact me via email at

Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post, but I found it via a Google search (with the search terms haircovering Conservative Judaism) and just wanted to comment. I can definitely relate to many of things you're saying, and had many of the same criticisms of Conservative Judaism at a certain point. However, now I think my problem was more with the practice of many people who consider themself Conservative, rather than what I believe to be the tenets of Conservative Judaism.

I was also interested in your comment about the tendency of JTS rabbinical students to move to the left. Perhaps it's just the circles I run in, but most of the JTS students I know are more likely to share your complaints that JTS and CJ are not being halakhically rigorous enough. Some of the men have even left to attend YCT and liberal Ortho yeshivas in Israel. The ladies, however, don't have that choice.