Ever since I got to know the Orthodox Jewish community personally in my late teens, I have been extremely impressed with the ways people help each other. From open homes for guests (including strangers) on Shabbos and holidays, to making meals for postpartum mothers, to groups dedicated to visiting the sick, to countless gemachs (an acronym for gemilut chasadim – acts of loving kindness) where people in need can get everything from clothes, to baby gear, to wedding dresses and much more, the religious Jewish community takes care of its own (and strives to do acts of kindness in general) like no other community I’ve ever seen.
But no group is perfect, and a few years ago I heard from a woman who grew up Orthodox and had parents who divorced when she was young. She described how painful it was to be treated like a pariah by the people in her neighborhood. Then especially, but even now, the divorce rate in the Orthodox Jewish community is not as high as the rest of the country, and I believe that there is a (misguided) fear that divorce is somehow contagious. Since I spoke to that woman, I recently heard from a couple divorced Orthodox women who explained how alone they feel in their communities.
Being the type of person who doesn’t like to sit back once she is made aware of a problem, I began to wonder how we could help these women. I was delighted to learn, just a few days after my worrying began, that someone named Chani (Anne) Neuberger (one of our 2013 Orthodox Jewish All Stars) nine years ago asked the same question and came up with a beautiful answer: Sister to Sister (S2s) – an organization devoted to helping divorced Orthodox Jewish mothers.
The idea to start S2S came about due to a random phone call Chani received from a friend one evening who was asking for a donation to help a single Jewish mother who was struggling to pay the bills for her most basic needs. Chani made a contribution, but wanted to help even more, so she started to do research to find the right place to refer the divorced mother. She was surprised to learn that no such agency or organization existed, so she called a group of friends together to come up with a plan on how to help struggling Orthodox Jewish single mothers. She learned that the divorce rate in the observant Jewish community was escalating at an alarming rate, but that there were no resources available especially geared to the divorced woman. Chani’s vision was to create a sense of community for religious Jewish divorced women, so they should not feel isolated and struggle alone, and to give them all the resources, tools and guidance they need to be independent women and healthy, strong mothers for their children.
Our sages tell us that “The world stands on three things: Torah, service, and acts of loving kindness” (Ethics of the Fathers). It was this Jewish value that motivated Chani and her team to make a difference. The Jewish way of life throughout the ages has always been to reach out to our brothers and sisters in their time of need. I learned from S2S that there are thousands of single-parent families in the Orthodox Jewish community where the mother bears the primary responsibility for raising and supporting her children. These single-mother families are among the most forgotten minorities. Socially, economically, emotionally and logistically, the challenges of being an observant Jewish single mother are complex. These women often struggle to cope with feelings of disappointment, despair and isolation, and the harsh realities of limited education, finances and opportunity. S2S therefore offers assistance at every level – from emotional support to job placement to tutoring for struggling children. S2S serves more than nine hundred women in thirty-one communities, with five to ten new applicants a week.
S2S offers an online members-only forum where struggling divorced women can talk to each other, regular events and get togethers for Shabbos and holidays, placement for overnight stays and meals for Jewish holidays, regular conference calls, webinars and other educational events addressing specific issues related to being a single mother. For these woman who often feel alone and forgotten, S2S sends a birthday gift with a handwritten card to each S2S mother on her birthday. (The gift is purchased from a S2S mother-owned small business). Sister to Sister staff also record a weekly “Shabbat Shalom” greeting that is automatically called to each S2S mother on Friday afternoon. The greeting includes words of encouragement and always concludes with “Good Shabbos with love from your sisters.”
Whose lives have been touched by these kindnesses? People like Ruchie – a mother of four and a victim of domestic violence who was raising her children without child support. Unfortunately, Ruchie lost her job as a computer programmer during the economic downturn, and with no one to turn to, her electricity bill was overdue and her power was shut off. She was referred to S2S who provided a volunteer “advocate” and emergency cash assistance to allow her to retain her home. S2S also helped her to find a new job, provided subsidies for mental healthcare for her and mentors for her children during the most difficult months.
But perhaps the impact S2S has made is best heard directly from their members:
I really don’t have the words to give a proper thank you. I know that whatever I say is an understatement for the abundant feelings I have in my heart. I am writing this thank you note just days before I will be getting remarried..and leaving the family of sisters I have known the last few years at Sister to Sister. Although I know I’m moving on, in truth the loving embrace that you have surrounded me with will never leave me. You have enabled me to be the person I am today..someone ready to get remarried, to love again, to live again. You gave me the self-esteem to first get a new job, to make new friends, to become friends with myself again, and then to find my new spouse. You’ve helped ease my most difficult days. I will be able to look back and remember all the good times spent with my dear sisters, and hold on to the warm everlasting friendships. You have filled my darkest days with hope and laughter. You cared about me and cheered me on when I felt such despair. Thank you for the birthday gifts, the Shabbos invitations, for giving me and my children the support and love we needed throughout the year. Thank you for being my family and never giving up on me. Hashem should give you strength to continue doing your holy work with much hatzlacha (success) and nachas (joy).
Everyone in the Orthodox Jewish community needs to be aware of this oft-forgotten group. It is up to us to live up to Torah standards of practicing loving-kindness to everyone. Sister to Sister has led the way and the rest of us should follow.
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Why do your kind only help each other? Why does it only have to be help for orthodox divorced women? Why not help all divorced women without bias to whether they are orthodox jews or not? And also, do people help because they want to and are good people or do they do so only because they feel like they are commanded to or have to because of a rule by which they are bound? Are they being helpful because they feel like they have to because the Torah says so or because they are actually helpful and good? I never understood that about orthodox people who gave up their minds and blindly follow rules. They may not be hungry but Friday night they HAVE to feast, etc. Doesn’t this act lose all meaning (emotionally, not practically obviously) if they’re doing it just because they have to?
Thanks for your comment, Karen Anne, but oy “your kind” – not the nicest way to address a fellow human being! For the record, the Orthodox community certainly helps people beyond the Orthodox Jewish world and even beyond the Jewish world! Please see http://jewinthecity.com/2014/03/the-hasidic-jew-who-feeds-all-people-with-dignity/ and http://jewinthecity.com/2014/05/the-orthodox-man-who-saved-a-life-with-his-yarmulke/ and http://www.life-renewal.org for just a FEW examples.
However, when it comes to tzedaka (giving charity) Jewish law says that if your funds are limited – most people’s are – you should give to your family first. It makes sense. Once your family is taken care of, then the net goes wider – help your local community. Once that is taken take of, you go even wider. This is not a crazy principle to help those in need who are closest to home. Even though the Orthodox community doesn’t exclusively only help our own, all people can understand making sure your family and then community is covered first before you go elsewhere. How could you put out a fire in the next town, if there’s a building burning down right next door to you?
In terms of “why not help all divorced women?” Why not help all divorced people? Or better yet, why not help all people? The reality is that not everyone can solve every problem. And thankfully there are many organizations out there that DO help divorced women in general. The reason why this organization was created is because on the plus side while marriage is very much valued in traditional Judaism, on the downside a stigma gets attached to divorce far too often in this community. So because it’s a community specific problem the founder and her friends looked for a community specific solution.
In terms of why do we people help – is it just because we’re commanded to? We are told that there are three different categories of mitzvos – “eidos” – things which remember historical events, like eating matza on Passover, “chukim” which have no logical explanation to them – like “shatnez” – the Torah commandment to not wear a garment which contains both wool and linen, and finally “mishpatim” – “be a good person commandments.” We are told that had “mishpatim” not been commanded people could have figured them out on their own.
So on one hand we should be doing them to be good people, but on the other hand, we recognize that giving, being compassionate, etc. are spiritual acts. They are the emulation of the Almighty who we believe is the ultimate Giver. So we are doing the right thing, but we are also actualizing our spiritual purpose in the world.
I was curious about this too and asked a rabbi if the mitzvah of being kind would still count if we hated doing it! He said it counts on some level, but the highest level is for the act of kindness to change us so that we love to do it.
In terms of “Orthodox people who gave up their mind and blindly follow rules” again – this is very offensive. Not every person (regardless of religion) is a thinking person, but many of us Orthodox Jews are thinking, intellectual people who are constantly grappling with Judaism in an attempt to live a true and purposeful existence.
In terms of “feasting” on Shabbos even if you’re not hungry – while it is considered preferable to not eat too much on Friday afternoon so you’ll be excited for your Shabbos meal, there is a negative commandment called “achilas gasa” which is the Jewish version of gluttony. So if a person comes into Shabbos already stuffed, he need not eat a lot and make himself sick (hearing kiddush and having a little challah would let him fulfill his obligation for a Shabbos meal)- in fact that would be considered a negative thing to engage in gluttony.
I think the host’s response was misunderstood. When you have a guest over for shabbos, particularly a stranger, you aren’t supposed to let them feel
Like a charity case. That might make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable . By saying that it was nothing be is obligated to have the meal anyhow, it was his way of bit making you feel like you “put him out.” I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to a meal and was just in awe at the production and the hostess says “oh I was cooking, what’s two more people?” Don’t take people so literally 🙂 I am happy there is a commandment to host guests – I wouldn’t do it and be a better person if there wasn’t!
The Torah is so beautiful, so deep, and is infinite, Enabling us to learn on ever hightened levels. It teaches us G-d’s ways, what He loves and what He disdains. G-d is a loving , merciful G-d, it’s our free choice to love Him and be in awe of His world, and all of His creations. He is so miraculous. His Torah teaches us to grow and learn continuously, ever increasing our ability to do good, to be good, etc. As a convert to Judaism, I’m grateful to be able to see that Hashem’s ways are so pleasant. Shabbos and it’s meals are certainly beautiful, and inviting guests is difficult but everyone tries to make you feel comfortable, like you didn’t trouble them at all. All the effort, and it is significant effort to make meals, and host guests is all for Hashem and to honor His Sabbath day. The “feast” is to show honor to Hashem’s Holy day, but not an excuse for gluttony. I pray that the “secular” people of the world can all join us in acknowledging the Creator , and serving Him with joy as He is our holy, merciful, and powerful King and Father. The just do whatever you want life is arrogance. We have a Creator, and He gave us His Torah as an exquisite guide to living. As for mindlessly following rules, it’s hardly that. The Torah challenges us to constantly use our minds, to grow and refine our character Bezras Hashem and most importantly to get to know G-d. He is always with us at all times, arranging everything that happens, there are no coincidences , as we learn from Torah. May we all turn in repentance and love to the Creator.
Thanks for you reply. I did not mean to be offensive – thank you for pointing out areas where my language offended you – it was not my intent and I apologize.
And it makes sense for this organization to exist to address a specific problem in a specific community.
However, your explanation has not in any way made sense of my second question. I do not mean to be offensive but I do believe that Orthodox jews (and, for that matter, any fanatical, orthodox person of any religion) has given up their mind to blindly follow rules (they think they are god’s rules, I see them clearly as man’s rules designed to control them and make sense of their world at that time). Live and let live, we are free to disagree, but the fact that you believe you have a commandment to be nice and it is more fulfilling that obligation if you feel it just proves the point! The more you do the more you think you are just fulfilling some obligation. Again, practically, there is no difference as the act is being done, but it discounts all kindness and goodness of the heart. It is 100 percent form over substance, as, in my opinion, all of orthodox judaism.
I remember once being at an orthodox jewish home for shabbat (I am jewish too) and feeling so sorry for everyone there. The whole thing was so insincere and forced. “We are obligated to this and that” is all I heard. I remember thanking the host for the meal and he said “it was nothing we are commanded to have a feast on friday night” and I realized there was no emotional kindness for them to have me for the meal. When I have someone for a meal and make a big meal it is to be kind to that person. These people weren’t being kind to me. They were just fulfilling some perceived obligation to have the big meal which they would do if I was there or not. Anyway, people should live as they want. I don’t think an orthodox jew, who lives his or her life just to fulfill obligations, has any substance, just form, as your post proves (to me.)
Apology accepted, Karen Anne. But I think you did not understand my answer. I explained that a) mitzvos related to being kind to other people are considered by the Torah to be things we could have figured out ourselves – i.e. they should be TRUE to us as human beings, not just as Jews, and b) when I asked my rabbi if being kind but hating being kind counted for anything he said that while there is *some* value in it, the highest level is embodying kindness and loving kindness.
I don’t see how believing that being kind actualizes one’s spiritual purpose in this world if the person ALSO loves kindness takes away from the act. Do most people not do kind these because they ALSO believe that there are doing the *right* thing? I believe the answer is yes. Most people want to do what’s right AND good.
But I will tell you something else – even though kindness may be commanded – I have never seen such abundant kindness like I have in the Orthodox community. I know many nice, caring secular people, but the level and ways that many Orthodox Jews give is something that was so appealing when I first became exposed to it. And I NEVER felt like I was just someone’s “mitzvah point.” The feeling always has been that performing acts of loving kindness is just engrained into their lifestyle.
In terms of Orthodox Jews being fanatical – I see that you have met some – but there are many different types of Orthodox Jews out there so if you’d be interested, I’d love to introduce you to some “non-fanatical” Orthodox Jews. Even though Orthodox Jews believe the Torah is from God, it doesn’t mean they’ve automatically checked their brains at the door.
I will tell you something – coming from the secular world as I did – I found too many people who weren’t thinking deeply enough. I was searching for a higher meaning and purpose to life and too many people in my world seemed content to just live for the moment and not consider any transcendent purpose to their existence.
As far as this family only hosting you out of “obligation” – that is weird! I don’t know them so I can’t speak for them but it sounds bizarre. They were not obligated to host you for that meal. They were obligated to have kiddush and hamotzi. As I said, embodying loving kindness and loving loving kindness is what the goal is. Not simply marking a check off on a chart!
Karen Anne, I think you may be a little bit mistaken in your perception of orthodox Judaism. We are commanded to “KNOW this day and take it to your heart that Hashem is the G-d of the heavens and the earth” (rough translation of a verse FROM THE TORAH). What this verse means is that we must “KNOW” that Hashem is our G-d and not just believe it. How can this be achieved? by asking questions and learning in order to come to a RATIONAL conclusion that what we follow is true — and I can tell you it is possible because I am a “semi” Ba’al Teshuva (its complicated!) and before I just “blindly followed” Jewish law I searched and questioned.
Also about your experience with the host, it sounds like she was trying not to make you feel like you inconvenienced her– I will concede that what she said was rather peculiar and I don’t think it was the right thing to say because it can be misunderstood. She was simply trying to say that she was having this meal anyway so you didn’t cause her to do extra work.
Hope this helps!
Of course, the divorcees who are suffering financially are the ones who probably need our most help and attention, but there are things we can do to reach out to divorced women and their families that make them feel better even if they are financially secure. Shabbos invites are the easiest thing to do…many divorced families are often forgotten when it comes time to invite people for meals. And if a divorced woman has a son (and his father does not live in the community), try to find an adult male in shul who he can sit next to — this also can go a long way in making these kids who are lacking a dad on Shabbos feel more included.
Great ideas, Michael. thanks!!
Karen Anne wrote:
“However, your explanation has not in any way made sense of my second question. I do not mean to be offensive but I do believe that Orthodox Jews (and, for that matter, any fanatical, orthodox person of any religion) has given up their mind to blindly follow rules (they think they are god’s rules, I see them clearly as man’s rules designed to control them and make sense of their world at that time). ”
Impossible to give a better answer than Allison because she is such a good writer (and thinker) but maybe I can offer another answer from the perspective of what you probably consider an even crazier religion.
You are operating from a basic premise from which it is simply impossible for any religious person to act in a reasonable (as judged by you) way. According to you, if you believe that there is a God, if you believe that you can have a personal relationship with this God, that this God cares about you as a human being, and this God has something to say to you about how to live the most meaningful life possible in the incredibly short time span we have on this earth, then you are a “fanatic orthodox person” who has “given up your mind to blindly follow rules.” Game, set, match and there isn’t much more to discuss.
The truth is that as a general rule religious people do not “give up their minds to blindly follow rules.” Even the Amish, whom you probably consider even more fanatic than Orthodox Jews, don’t “blindly” follow rules. They are given a period of time in early adulthood when they may live by the rules of secular society. Then, with full consent and purpose, they may choose to enter the Amish Church and follow that lifestyle — or not. (What you’ve heard about “shunning” does not apply to people raised Amish who never joined the Church as an adult.) Some of them certainly do leave the Amish religion. Others undoubtedly compare the beauty, peace, and richness of the Amish way of life with what they see (at least on the surface) as the materialistic, aggressive, uncaring, hyper-sexualized secular world and choose to return to the Amish community. But there wouldn’t BE an Amish community to return to if every Amish person just “did what was right in his own eyes.” That’s the exact definition of the secular world.
You personally may find that the secular world gives you everything you need in life. And that’s fine. But at least try to realize that for many people it’s not enough. “Why is man born but to suffer and die?” The secular world has no answer except to say “that’s just the way the universe works.” And maybe that answer works for you, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize why it might not work for everyone.
You seem to feel insulted by the fact that you think that someone treated you with kindness because they “had” to. I think Allison gave a pretty good answer to that but I would go on to say that it is perfectly A-OK with me if people want to act kindly to me for any reason whatsoever! It does not seem to me that the world is suffering from a vast overabundance of kindness so I’ll take it any way I can get it!
Just as an FYI, in Christianity we are both “commanded” (oh — that word!!!) to “love one another” and also told not to fake it! There’s a project that can occupy your whole life! 🙂
Love your answer here, Catholic Mom, and the follow up below about how we can’t know how to be honest or generous and so on unless we accept a firm guide in this respect.
I’m also at least as disturbed by Karen Anne’s follow up comments as the first. How does she know whether the Orthodox experience for the believer is forced or insincere? Does willing and sincere have to look a certain way in her eyes in order for others to experience it? If everyone experienced Shabbos or kashrus as oppressive and coercive, why would anyone do it? Willingly? With smiles on their faces and dancing and singing and joking around?
I chose this lifestyle after getting a graduate degree in anthropology (during which I studied extensively about other religions and cultures). I’d been raised as a Conservative Jew and was dissatisfied on a philosophical basis. I was completely unimpressed by the atheist and secular humanist beliefs of most of those around me in school. Once I chose to be Orthodox, I found a path for myself based on rational investigation of the options. The same brain that operated during college and graduate school learns Torah and does mitzvos today.
My children are being raised with all the accouterments of an Orthodox upbringing. If anything, my family is more “ultra” than Allison’s. We have no TV in the house, don’t watch secular movies, and I greenlight which secular books the kids read. 75% of the secular music in our house is classical or instrumental jazz, and the rest is also pre-screened by my husband and me. My children are bouncy and vivacious. They read widely and voraciously, and are very curious about the people and world around them. We do not keep them from our secular relatives and neighbors — in fact they are very outgoing and loving towards them.
Our children also ask lots of questions about the world and about Judasim, and my husband, myself, their teachers, and our rabbi give them answers. We try to live according to the standards we raise our kids to emulate. Other than pray, there’s not much else we can do. In the end, they will grow up and live the lives they want to live. And I will have to be okay with that, even if it’s not what I would want for them or think what’s best for them. But, in fact, most Orthodox teens and young adults are aware of the world around them — via the internet, advertising, people they meet, experiences in colleges or offices, books and so on — and they vast majority of them choose to remain in the fold.
Orthodox families are not unique in this. EVERY parent chooses how to raise their children, and every child has the chance to walk away (barring violent, totalitarian regimes such as Soviet Russia of the past or the Taliban today). That’s the way life operates.
The thing that most upsets me about Karen Anne’s comments is that distract from the entire point of Allison’s post, which is about seeing things from other people’s viewpoints and giving to them what they feel they need, not what we think they should want. It’s about helping people who feel left out instead feel included, and to not judge them.
You raise one interesting point (and we will need to agree to disagree on the rest because I won’t convince you and you won’t convince me…)
If Orthodox Jews would allow THEIR children the freedom to explore the secular world as you claim Amish do, and NOT shun those who choose not to return to the orthodox lifestyle (as I bet most wouldn’t) THEN I would feel, perhaps, less sorry for those poor indoctrinated children who are forced to follow, blindly, the extreme rules of their parents/community. BUT THEY AREN’T. If an adult CHOOSES to live by those rules, he/she is free to do so (as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else) but Orthodox jews don’t give their children any such freedom or opportunity, and, in fact, spend their lives keeping out much information/internet/books/people that could interfere with their strict adherence and those who leave are shunned to the point of needing support groups and to be re-educated for basic english and math skills.
I suspect Allison will say that there are less extreme cases, like herself, who’s children have exposure to more. But I defy her to allow her children when they come of age to go out with secular friends on Friday night to a great concert, eat a delicious Big Mac, and (heaven forbid) be treated as equals to males at a reform temple for a year and then see how they feel. She won’t, I promise you. No orthodox jew would. Let them spend a year tasting the sweet life of freedom that the evolved, secular world offers, and then decide for THEMSELVES if they want to return, FREE OF COERSION OR REPRECUSSIONS.
So while I agree peaceful, law-abiding adults are free to live as they choose, I will say your Amish example is a great one to prove MY POINT about orthodox jews blindly following rules all their lives without the opportunity to CHOOSE it for themselves in MOST (not all) cases.
Thank you for your comment, Karen Anne, but I must say that for an “open-minded” person which I believe you consider yourself, you come off as extremely closed-minded and judgmental. Orthodox Jews are not a monolithic group. There is no Orthodox Jewish law which says that kids cannot be exposed to the secular world. Many of us give our kids exposure. In fact, my rabbi – a bearded black hatted rabbi – recently gave a class where he said that when parents put up such high walls around the kids’ (Jewish) world, it makes the kids extra curious and makes them think “what’s out there must be so wonderful which is why our parents are trying to keep us from touching it it.” He said, on the contrary, let your kids know what is out there. Teach them to be respectful but live your life in a way where you show them why you’ve chosen Jewish observance despite the nice things “out there.” This is the kind of Orthodoxy that I believe in.
My parents didn’t raise me Orthodox but they raised me with certain values: values like only dating Jews, values like not drinking, smoking or doing drugs. Did they say to me when I was 18 – “Go forth, Allison and date non-Jews and smoke cigarettes and only then will you know if you want our values.” No – of course they did not and I wouldn’t have wanted them to. They raised me with rules but also with openness. They practiced what they preached, they gave me compelling reasons for what they believed. I didn’t need to “see the other side” as I was exposed to the world but agreed with my parents’ values.
That’s exactly how my children (and many other Orthodox children) are raised. They have access to secular media, knowledge, and all different types of people. We are not unreasonably strict with them. I never tell my children that what we do and believe is 100% provable. On the contrary, I explain that with matters of faith, we can never know for sure until the day we die. But we believe that there is something illogical about Jewish history and the Jewish people. We believe that the Torah is deep and its wisdom imbues our lives with meaning.
For all the freedoms and opportunities my parents gave me, they left one major thing unaccounted for – a life of meaning and purpose. My happy childhood was pierced by an awful tragedy (a classmate’s father killed both of his kids and himself when I was 8) and neither my parents (nor any other role models in my world) had anything to offer me. When my kids hear of bad news, I have a message that brings them comfort. For your examples – that they need the great concert on the Friday night, that they need the Big Mac (P.S. they just went to kosher McDonald’s in Israel with their cousins) – they will have access to concerts six other nights a week just as they have access to lots of delicious food, but living ONLY for these physical pleasures will not bring them meaning in life.
Karen Anne – I remember too feeling sorry for Orthodox people before I lived this way of life myself. Those poor people having to do Shabbos EVERY week. The specialness of Shabbos – when the candles are glowing and my family is finally together, after a week of distraction and constant interruptions – it is all of our favorite day of the week. There is no amount of money you could pay someone to have quality time carved out with the people you love most.
And guess what – we encourage our kids to think and when they are out of our house they will be free to choose what to observe (or not observe). There would be no repercussions or coercion if our kids chose a different path in life. Obviously, every parent has certain ideas and dreams for their kids, but our love for them is unconditional. I know an ultra-Orthodox woman who has two kids that ended up as athiests and she explained in an article she wrote that it’s not what she would have chosen if the choice had been up to her but that she has wonderful relationship with her kids and continues to love them and be proud of them.
So I would encourage you to continue to educate yourself about the Orthodox community and reserve your judgements in the meantime.
Sorry one last point, I do deeply believe in God. I believe he expects me to be a good person. I don’t believe he expects me to follow made-up rules a bunch of ancient men made up. He expects me to be authentic, honest, generous, selfless and true. Follow the instinct and gut that God put in all our hearts and be a good person. Don’t slavishly follow made up rules and claim you’re doing it for God or you have any idea what God thinks about those man made rules. Rabbis are not God – stop treating them as such (in my opinion) BUT I DO BELIEVE IN GOD, just to be clear.
Thanks for your comment, Karen Anne, but once again, your judgmentalism is truly shocking for such an “open minded” person. Have you surveyed a large group of Orthodox Jews to learn if they “slavishly follow rules” or if they (when knowledgeable enough to do so) add their own opinion to the mix? There is in fact a strong tradition in Orthodox Judaism to be a critical thinker. Rav Moshe Feinstein, one of the Torah giants from the end of the 20th century had this to say about being a free thinker:
“even if one’s decisions sometimes go against those of eminent latter-day rabbinic authorities, so what? We are certainly permitted to disagree with latter-day authorities, and sometimes even with rishonim when one has valid proofs, correct reasoning in particular — on matters like this, our sages stated, “A judge has but only what his eyes see [before him]”
That is not to say that there are not Orthodox Jews who do just follow without thinking but I don’t believe that is how we are meant to treat these laws. Even the Torah itself recounts a story of women who challenge how Moses rules when it comes to their inheritance and then God says THEY are correct and tells Moses to over turn the law. If you are interested to learn more about this, I’d be happy to help connect you to resources but please understand that you are very uninformed in these matters.
Your theory of shoving religious values on our children is baseless because by not instilling a specific value system you are left with whatever is out there which by default is the same as instilling a specific value system. aside from the fact to think that a child is capable of making clear headed thought out decisions for themselves without any guidance is just plain ridiculous.
Everyone raises their children in the belief system/practices they feel are right. If you don’t believe that, check out a liberal secular family whose child has chosen to become politically or religiously conservative and see how well they respond! (Some do respond well — on the other hand others simply spend the rest of their lives trying to show the kids how “wrong” they are). So I don”t believe that kids raised in a religious environment are any more “brainwashed” than kids raised in a secular environment. Watch some protest for “pro choice” or “gay rights” with some 7 or 8 year old holding up a sign endorsing their parent’s belief system and I think you’ll agree.
Karen Anne wrote:
“I do deeply believe in God. I believe he expects me to be a good person. I don’t believe he expects me to follow made-up rules a bunch of ancient men made up. He expects me to be authentic, honest, generous, selfless and true.”
How do you know that he expects anything of you? How do you know that he even exists? Unless you are privy to private revelation, we have only two ways of knowing anything about God: 1) what the scriptures say and 2) what our traditions tell us. In the case of Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism, we believe that our traditions (the Catholic teaching magisterium and Orthodox oral law) are reliable interpreters of God’s will. If you are a religious liberal, you reject the authority of tradition. So that pretty much only leaves scripture, unless you believe that God speaks directly to you. But scripture says very very clearly that God does have specific requirements for how humans should behave. Yes – Christianity teaches that those requirements have been “evolved” over the course of the relationship of God and man — from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Jesus — whereas Orthodox Jews clearly do not accept this last “evolution” 🙂 But both religions do not believe that God has said ” be honest, authentic, generous and true and then do whatever you feel like doing.” Why do you even need to bring God into the picture if that’s all he has to say? Not trying to be sarcastic here, but honestly you can get that level of spiritual guidance from a fortune cookie.
You’re the one who brought up Amish as an example of people who send their children out to live in the secular world before they decide if they’re going to adopt the Amish lifestyle. Now you wonder why I use the example of extreme groups indoctrinating their children.
An there is no way to compare secular and orthodox worlds that way. Of the world’s jews, perhaps 7 or 8 percent are orthodox (I am not up on the statistics so I may be off by a bit). That means THEY are the minority, the fanatics, the ones who don’t live according to enlightened society’s norms. An overwhelming majority of the world’s educated, intellectual, kind, good, smart, honest jews are secular (or conservative or reform or reconstructionist or other, but NOT orthodox). When someone forces their children to live in an extreme fringe group, it is them who need to be on the defensive, not the other way around. I do, and will continue, to feel sorry for all children forced into that narrow way of life.
Allison, it’s wonderful to hear that you and your husband are open-minded enough to allow your children the freedom it sounds like you were given to choose a different path than your family. If you are serious about exposing them to all the wonders of the world and letting them choose for themselves, free of reprecussions, then you are the exception and a wonderful one at that. You can protest all you want, but you are the exception.
The evolved north american society, the HUGE overwhelming majority, values equality and doesn’t allow for discrimination based on its citizens’ gender or sexual orientation. Fringe, extreme, fanatical orthodox groups who openly practise segregation, gender discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation are immoral, in my opinion. If groups of consenting adults choose to live that way, as long as they aren’t harming anyone, they are obviously free to do so. I believe in every adults’ freedom of choice, but that doesn’t mean I condone children being forced into archaeic gender and sexual orientation roles. Based on your example above, Catholic Mom, you find secular people like me who believe in equality for all, wrong. I am a heterosexual, married, jewish woman for the record.
I think we will need to disagree. You are free to think people who are acting kind because they feel like they’re fulfilling some obligation are kind. And I am free to think they are shallow. You are free to believe in segregation, gender inequality and discriminate against homosexual people by denying them basic rights and I am free not to. That is the beauty of living in the US.
We do agree that people should be kind to one another, and we all seem to enjoy this forum to have frank and open conversation to at least keep communication open. Nothing I have said has changed your opinion, and nothing you have said has changed mine. I am allowed to feel sorry for religious people and you are allowed to think my life is without a deeper meaning. Here is to tolerance and co-existance in a free society.
Thanks for your comment, Karen Anne but you continue to practice a “fanaticism” of your own by assuming you understand the ins and outs of the Orthodox community and branding us all as “fanatics.” Orthodox Jews make up 10% of the Jewish community in America now and we are the fasting growing group according to the Pew Study. In fact, it appears that the other denominations will intermarry and assimilate into extremely small numbers.
My family, thankfully is NOT the exception. The vast majority of Modern Orthodox, Centrist Orthodox, and even a good number of ultra-Orthodox Jews would not abandon their kids if they left observance. All MO, Centrist Orthodox and some Haredi parents give their kids access to the outside world. There all closed-minded fanatics in the Orthodox world – I will not pretend there are not! But those are the only ones the media talks about. All the nice, normal open-minded ones never get covered.
For the record – many of us Orthodox Jews struggle with the Torah’s view on homosexuality – it doesn’t mean we believe homosexual acts can now be permitted but we focus on what OUR responsibilities are – being compassionate and nonjudgmental and leaving the judging up to God.
The male/female stuff is a whole conversation on its own, but when you’re an Orthodox Jew, what goes on in the synagogue is a tiny part of your Jewish life as opposed to the non-Orthodox world where that is primarily where the Jewish stuff happens. Women in the Orthodox world are learning at top, top levels, they are leaders, working in all sorts of interesting professions. And most of them could go elsewhere if they wanted to. But they don’t because they don’t feel like second class citizens. They believe that men and women have a yin yang relationship and that it’s a good thing when we have different roles and responsibilities.
If you’re ever up for learning about the many open-minded, nonjudgmental Orthodox Jews which are out there, I’d be happy to connect you with some. It’s not very nice to be painted with a broad brush and have stereotypes assumed about you.
It always fascinates me when secular people accuse religious minorities of being brainwashed and mindless. Have you ever considered the profound impact that the zeitgeist has on its people? The “enlightened” Americans of today are doing what most people do….following the cultural norms, rules, and mindset of their dominant culture in the same way that people across the globe and and people spanning human history have always tended to do. If an alien were to visit America, I’m pretty sure they would assume that its the secular folks who are the blind sheep and the “different” religious people who are the independent thinkers. The opinions and views that you have about Orthodox Jews are very typical of atheists and many secular Jews, and they don’t demonstrate any particularly independent or open-minded thinking on your part.
Torah observant Jews have historically been the ones who have never been afraid to go against the grain and not blindly follow their cultures “RULES” (which, historically, has always resulted in a tremendous amount of anti-semitism – clearly, we’re not simply taking the easy way out). Since being in exile, we have always been the minority, and we have always pissed off the people around us by not kowtowing to their oppressive views. Being mocked and ridiculed is nothing new to us.
If you want to understand why we stubbornly go against the grain in every generation, you’re welcome to come learn about our passion-filled lives and our beloved Torah.
90 percent of the jewish community are non-orthodox. (I think it is higher globally, like 94 percent but I’ll take your numbers for US). 90 percent of the jewish community. That is a HUGE majority. Don’t you think perhaps that is for a reason? Don’t you think even websites like yours, which obviously come from a good place in your heart, are only necessary because you are a fringe minority extreme group? If you don’t like the word fanatic, no problem. But 9/10 jewish people either don’t agree with and/or don’t themselves practise your way of life. That makes you and all other orthodox people the exception – the big exception to the rule.
I have never said nor do I think that all orthodox people are painted with one brush. Within that 10 percent I’m sure there are different standards, opinions, etc. I also never said that all orthodox people would disown their children if they left the fold. But you cannot with all reality say there are no repercussions to those people who decide to leave. I acknowledge that there must be differences within the orthodox community as to how much of the secular world children/adults are/aren’t exposed to, but that doesn’t change the fact that once you define yourself as orthodox of any type, you’re living in an insular, group-think, narrow MINORITY. 10 percent is a tiny minority.
And for the record, as a secular/reform jewish woman almost none of my jewish “stuff” happens at the synagogue. I go only twice a year with my family on high holidays (mostly to appease my parents). I sit beside my husband and my sons and we enjoy the services. Almost all of my jewish life revolves around the house, holidays, big family meals, simchas, etc.
In my opinion, to which I am entitled, any woman who submits to the archaeic gender segregation that is openly practised in orthodox judaism ( OF ALL TYPES) has given up her equality and doing a grave and sad disservice to her children. I have no problem that people CHOOSE to have different roles in the home or synagogue but the CHOICE HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM ORTHODOX WOMEN. If in your family your husband loves davening and wants to go to shul GREAT. In another family if the woman loves it and wants to go instead GREAT. But she doesn’t have that choice. ANCIENT MEN HAVE MADE THAT DECISION FOR HER AS TO WHAT HER ROLE MUST BE. It’s not that it’s different than her husband’s, it’s THAT SHE HAS NO CHOICE IN WHAT HER ROLE IS. THAT is the point. Each family and person should figure out their own ying and yang. Orthodox judaism takes that freedom and equality away. You’re free to live as you wish, but please acknowledge that the reason 90 percent of the jewish people in this country don’t do that is because it is wrong and they value personal freedom. 90 percent of jewish people in this country disagree with you and agree with me…yet you don’t think that carries any weight.
Finally to your point about homosexuality – the fact that the discrimination even exists you’d think would be enough for any rational person to acknowledge that it is a man-made rule as no loving God would make such a rule. How can a moral person associate themselves in a group that openly and brutally discriminates against other good, jewish people because of how they were born. The fact that you struggle with it is not (in my opinion) enough. Hate will never win out over love. Again, it is 90 – 10 on this one too.
I’m sorry but you can’t say open-minded, non-judgemental orthodox jew in the same sentence. You live by a strict set of immovable standards (albeit some ultra orthodox more than others) but all people who identify as orthodox live by a bar that is already set to preclude open-mindedness and lack of judgement. Again you are free to do so, but I needed to make my points to defend my MAJORITY fanaticism. And btw, if you want to call me a secular fanatic, I’m totally cool with that!
Thanks for your comment, Karen Anne. I knew the Orthodox population break down in the states off the top of my head, but wasn’t sure of it for Israel and I found something interesting http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/demographics.htm According to this study 25% of Israelis are Orthodox, 25% are secular and 50% are traditional Sephardic. Traditional Sephardic means while they are not strictly observant themselves, they pray in Orthodox synagogues and believe in Orthodox theology.
However, even if Orthodoxy were the minuscule minority you assume it is, I’m not sure what exactly that proves. To give a very harsh example (and I am in no way comparing non-Orthodox Jews to Nazis!!), were the gentiles who saved the Jews in Nazi Germany not the minority? Yet this minority was the only one doing the right thing!
Furthermore, the vast majority of secular Jews in the world today have never experienced Orthodox Judaism up close and personal. They have never lived in, they have never studied its text in depth. They only judge it from afar. I will tell you something as a person who grew up hating Orthodox Jews (my father treated Hasidim when he was training as a doctor and my earliest memories of Orthodox Jews were him telling me “they’re dirty, they’re smelly, they’re ignorant, and they can’t speak English” so I did NOT like these people!): when I finally got to spend a serious amount of time with Orthodox Jews and began learning the meanings behind mitzvos and the wisdom in Torah philosophy – I was blown away and felt like I had been cheated out! My parents gave me EVERY secular privilege that was out there but they (unknowingly) robbed me of my heritage. Even my father – that guy who complained about his “awful” Orthodox patients. When I finally convinced him to stop judging me and explore Orthodox Judaism – the people, the text, and the mitzvos himself – despite his successful career as Chief Neurologist of his hospital, his beautiful wife, kids, and home – at almost 50 years old he admitted “I’ve been the biggest fool. This was under my nose my whole life and I looked down on them and judged them.” Then he, my mom and both sisters all became Orthodox. No one is extreme or closed-minded. We all live and are part of communities which are committed to Jewish law yet non-judgmental and engaged with the world.
This site doesn’t need to exist because there are so FEW Orthodox Jews like me, it needs to exist because there are so many people like YOU who have misjudged the Orthodox community. In terms of “you cannot say there are no repercussions for those who leave” – guess what – there are repercussions when a kid chooses to become Orthodox and the secular family freaks out! I met a woman two nights ago whose family stopped talking to her when she started becoming more observant. It was only when she showed them one of our videos and she explained she was not planning on going off the deep end that they agreed to reconnect with her. There are Orthodox families that mess up big time if their kid leaves the community – those are most of the stories that make it to the media. A large number of us love our kids unconditionally as it should be.
In terms of the Orthodox women who “submit to archaic gender segregation” – why is it always the women who want to be like the men? Why are you not rallying for men to get to be the ones who light the Shabbos candles in the house and usher in the light of Shabbos? Why are you not demanding that men get a monthly visit to the mikvah for a spiritual rejuvenation? The problem I have with your brand of “feminism” is that you assume that whatever the men get must be better. Same thing with bar and bat mitzvah ages. Orthodoxy believes girls mature earlier than boys do (which is true) – the non-Orthodox movements in their never ending effort to make everything like the men make a girl wait a whole extra year. (Why don’t the boys just get bar mitzvahed a year earlier to “be like the girls.”)
I am against any kind of forced lifestyle for anyone. But the vast majority of Orthodox women are happy with how they are viewed by “ANCIENT MEN.” Wanna hear a few things “ANCIENT MEN” said? “A man must love his wife as much as himself and honor her more.” (Talmud). “The Children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt due to the righteous women and the final redemption will come about due to the righteous women.” (Talmud). “If a man doesn’t sexually satisfy his wife, it’s grounds for divorce.” (Ketubah). “Sarah was a greater prophet than Abraham.” (Zohar).
The very fact that these women choose to be and remain Orthodox means they WANT their husbands to be the ones davening in shul. Every person is welcome to find their own yin yang, but Orthodox Jews believe that the yin yang from Jewish law is coming from a Divine place so following that is better than just making stuff up!
As far as the fact that “the Torah prohibiting homosexual acts means the Torah must be man made because no loving God would do that.” Guess what – no loving God would let babies die. And no loving God would let children get molested or women get raped or let genocide happen. Oh, but wait – all those things happen every. single. day. So either there’s no God – some people say that. Or God’s ways are beyond human comprehension. To be clear – I am troubled by ALL of the aforementioned – but I believe in God nevertheless. Because if there IS a God, then a little human like me would not be able to comprehend the Divine. Also – to be clear – and let me make this CRYSTAL clear. Neither I, nor do most Orthodox Jews hate gay people! It would be against the Torah to hate them. Those “ANCIENT MEN” instruct us, “”Do not judge another person until you have stood in his place.” (Pirkei Avos) And Hillel said to the prospective convert who asked him to sum up the entire Torah on one foot “What is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow.”
Karen Anne, you are sure that I can’t say “Open-minded, nonjudgmental Orthodox Jew in the same sentence” yet I just showed you that an Orthodox Jew MUST be non-judgemtal according to Jewish law. From the way that you speak about a group you barely know it appears harder to say “open-minded, secular Jew.”
Hi Karen Anne,
Poor, indoctrinated child writing here. I’d just like to give some of my own perspective on raising a child in the Orthodox community. Firstly, as some background, while both of my parents were raised with “traditional” Judaism, neither grew up Orthodox. In fact, my mother was the first woman in her Conservative synagogue to be called to the Torah for an aliyah, since my grandfather (an amazing person with whom I’m honored to be close) was, and still is, a fiercely egalitarian person. Both of my parents chose Orthodoxy for themselves.
About 7 years ago (I’m a college undergrad), I decided to choose Orthodoxy for myself as well. Yes, I was raised with it, but I wanted to feel that I earned it and wasn’t just some mindless follower. I don’t believe that a belief has merit just because someone else, even someone whom I love and respect as much as my parents, taught it to me. So I read the intros to Judaism, about why it’s true. I researched, pretty exhaustively, why Orthodox Judaism would make sense and still be relevant in today’s world. I also did a lot of reading about movements such as Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, and I studied up on atheist arguments. I read up on the core beliefs of other world religions. I wouldn’t necessarily advise other kids to do so, because that gave me a lot of heartbreak, and I can’t tell anyone to do that to him- or herself. (I’ve never felt so awful and depressed as I did when giving honest thought as to whether the beliefs I’d been raised with were true or not, and whether or not God exists. You said you believe in God, so I hope you never make yourself seriously consider what life would be like without such belief. It entirely drains life of real meaning. No better food for teenage depression.) But while investigating, I never stopped keeping Jewish law, because it seemed foolish to stop doing something that might be true, even though I hadn’t concluded my reading, and I was looking for truth.
But I do feel that I own my Judaism, because I concluded that it is true. Yes, I know plenty of people who, unfortunately, do follow the philosophical paths they were born to. Although a good number are Orthodox (most of the people I know are), most of them are my non-Orthodox classmates and friends. There’s also a Torah commandment to “know that God is God.” Basically, to investigate and determine one’s belief, not just to blindly follow a pre-established route.
I also want to emphasize what Allison eloquently wrote above. It’s difficult to keep hold of the reality that a loving God would create Ebolavirus, ISIS and the dementia that is destroying my wonderful grandmother. It’s very hard to accept that God would create people a certain way (if homosexuality is inborn — the scientific evidence is still fuzzy) and then forbid them from acting upon their inclinations. No one can claim to understand the ways of God. I don’t know about you, but I prefer Someone smarter than me running the world, so I have to accept incomprehensible things. They don’t detract from objective truth.
Back to the original point.
S2S is an amazing organization, which constantly invents ways to support frum divorced women and their children. It may seem exclusive to the “non frum” but actually its role is inclusion. Divorced women are the most marginalized–and stigmatized–population in the Orthodox world. The Rabbeim and community simply automatically and blindly side with the ex-husband. Of course, the children suffer most.
S2S doesn’t judge. At its yearly Shabbaton, dozens of women from Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg–as well as hundreds from every spectrum of Orthodox life– find respite and relief in a setting where they are accepted and respected, not seen as “nebuch” cases.
The frum world can be so beautiful– but it’s terribly, heartbreakingly judgmental of divorced women.
“The Rabbeim and community simply automatically and blindly side with the ex-husband” [End of quote] I beg to differ!!!! On the contrary. From where I am sitting, in the Orthodox community it is the husband who is presumed guilty until proven guilty because women can’t abuse men and it is ALWAYS the husband’s fault when a couple gets divorced. Generally, everyone is tripping over each other’s legs to wipe the divorced woman’s tears and invite her to Shabbat meals. In the best of circumstances, the divorced man is overlooked. At the very worst, he is despised. Aside from the husband having to give the wife a get, he is at a TOTAL disadvantage when it comes to divorce, especially in family court. Also, when a woman gets divorced she is often seen as being “bold and brave”, while when a man gets divorced he is seen as being a “failure and loser”. Not to take away from the suffering of divorced women, but there is a reason divorced men are more than twice as likely to commit suicide compared to the general population (at least in Israel)….
Thanks for your comment, DivorcedDad. There is one divorced man in our shul and he is very popular and well liked but it is a shame for people to mistreated anywhere.
For the first commenter: Does “her kind” (whatever that means!) help divorced Orthodox women in a way that is helpful and comfortable for them? I can tell you from experience that when I trying to get help for my daughter from a Jewish organization, they would not help us because we are Orthodox and send her to a Jewish day school. I ended up paying for everything myself, even though she has a medical condition and it was very difficult for us to afford what she needed. But they are the ones with the money, so they can decide how to allocate it. I may not have liked their decision, but I don’t use it to paint the whole group with a broad negative brush. You’ll notice I’m not naming any names here. I’m sorry they could not help me, but I am happy that they are at least helping others.
I am somewhat confused as to why some of the posters are even on JITC’s page; they seem to find no value in a Torah lifestyle.
As a young woman who was raised in a Conservative tradition, with significant exposure to Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal communities, yet has chosen to take the journey towards an Orthodox (not sure on specific sub-denomination yet) I am further astounded by the assertions of some commentators that “any woman [in the Orthodox tradition]…has given up her equality and doing a grave and sad disservice to her children.” As a student (I am in the process of completing a degree in biology, with a minor in gender and sexuality studies) I have been confronted by many arguments suggesting as you have that women in Torah observant Judaism are not considered full citizens or not as respected as men; this is categorically untrue. I have studied both American history and other religions in order to fully form my conclusion regarding the standing of Jewish women in today’s society. As far as I have been able to tell, women in Judaism are not considered lesser, merely different. Trying to say that women and men are 100% the same is absurd; neuroscience has shown that there are definite differences in both the structure and functioning of male and female brains (it is based on in-utero development and is suggested as one of the causes for Gender Identity Disorder). Judaism recognizes these differences and finds a place for each person within a religious framework that speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of each person.
The reason there are no female prayer leaders in Orthodoxy is that women are not obligated in the same way men are – women are considered to already be closer to Hashem, and thus do not need as many prayers and rituals. How can a man be led to do something by someone who is not obligated?
I have seen many types of Judaism, and feel strongly that you do not understand the role of women in Orthodox culture. Obviously, there will be exceptions to anything, and maybe you have seen those exceptions, either in the news or personally, but in the vast majority of Orthodox communities, women are held in the highest regard. Many, if not most, men will sing “Aishes Chayil” to their wives on Friday nights; a song all about respecting and being in awe by the role of women in Judaism.
I am sorry you think that Jews only do things because they are obligated – most Jews that I have encountered, from Modern Orthodox to Chassidic, take joy in preforming mitzvot. I myself have chosen to take on many mitzvot in the past few years as I have become more religious, and each one adds a sense of purpose and connection to Hashem to my life. I take each mizvah on with joy.
Suggesting that because Jews do not have something comparable to the Amish rumspringa they are brainwashing their children is a seriously close-minded view. I am guessing that if you have children you have taught them that stealing, vandalizing, smoking, and taking recreational drugs are not appropriate activities. You do not set aside a time in their life for them to go out and do all these things correct? So why do you expect Torah Jews to send their children out into the secular world, where they know few people and thus would not be likely to find support, to do things that they know to be inappropriate? Most children and teens from the Orthodox communities I have spent any amount of time with see the secular wold as completely against what they want in life – they view it as shallow and self serving when they wish to lead lives full of introspection and community. Sure, there are children who feel differently, but to suggest that there are only repercussions if a child goes form the Orthodox community to the secular is astounding to me personally. I have felt the repercussions of my choice to be more religious than my natal family much stronger than any consequences I have seen from friends who chose to go from more religious to less so. Based on your comments, I doubt you would think well of your (hypothetical) daughter if she chose to become Torah observant – you might even make it supremely difficult for her to do so.
Suggesting that because people are in a minority as Orthodox Jews are means that they are wrong is also astounding. There were times that the people who wanted to abolish slavery, people who wanted give women the constitutional right to vote, and people who thought all children should receive a basic education were all in the minority. Does that mean they were wrong? Certainly not.
I hope you understand that the media coverage regarding Orthodox Jews is highly biased and one-sided. I wish I could find the article I read a week or so ago, where a journalist spoke about how every story that put Orthodox Jews in a positive, or even neutral light was shut down by his editors because (I paraphrase since I cannot seem to find the article right now) “nobody will buy a story about good Jews.”
Obviously there are going to be exceptions, you will find misogynistic Jews, but to assume that any group is immune from that is absurd; just as with anything regarding humans, there is a vast array of human differences, but the things that make us the same are far more important – we are all human, we are all here for a short time, and we are all tying to have the best life we can given what we know about the world and given our current circumstances.
Sounds like you had a traumatic experience in your life regarding religion, I hope you heal.
As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I make many choices. I chose to be Orthodox. I chose to worship in an Orthodox synagogue where I can connect to G-d surrounded by other women without any of the pressures that come with a mixed gender crowd. I also chose to belong to a women’s book club, even though there are book clubs that include men. Other women belong to sororities, sisterhoods, moms groups or other women’s only organizations where they hang out with other women.
I serve on my shul’s committees, I work side by side with the men in our community to run programs, I give Torah classes and I learn.
I am not marginalized or forced to do anything. I am a woman and no one forces me to do anything. Ever. Period. I resent the fact that anyone would insinuate otherwise.
I am also not on the defensive. Just as I want my choices to be respected, I respect your choices. I don’t need to convince anyone of anything, but I love to share the beauty of my way of life. My friends (Jewish, non-Jewish, Orthodox, Non-Orthodox…) ask great questions and I am always happy to answer and to correct misconceptions. That’s why I love Jewinthecity so much!
Thank you to all the posters.
You are all apologists for a cult, minority way of life.
And the example given by Allison about the minority Germans helping Jews in Nazi Germany is terrible and not analogous.
In North America all Jews would and are free to be orthodox if they wish.
I would guess most all in major cities like LA and NYC have exposure to Orthodoxy.
I understand that you need to justify your membership in this tiny minority group, and I AM HAPPY FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE HAPPY WITH YOUR CHOICES. If you have found a happy life, I am happy for you.
Please just don’t presume to understand the other 90 percent of Jews’ perspective (and I’m sorry Alison your perspective from when you were 8 doesn’t count, I am talking about secular adults). Only once EVERY SINGLE ORTHODOX JEW FROM BIRTH tries on a life of secularism, freedom, equality, not being ashamed of your body, not covering up like Muslim extremists, love for all walks of life, gay straight or bi, being in control of one’s own decisions, roles and passions, and decides after educating themselves and trying it on that they prefer the Orthodox life, THEN you can comment back on MY life. My guess is you’d lose 95 percent of your members.
I am so deeply offended as a moral person by Orthodox rules around segregation and discrimination it baffles my mind how any rational, sane person could follow them.
And yes it works both ways. But what you don’t admit is that it is NOT two-sided. Men ARE free to visit the Mikvah (women are not free to be included in your minions). Men CAN light the shabbat candles if women aren’t around (women can’t read Torah in a mixed service. Men can do ANY mitzvah of a woman (that they are anatomically able to do) and WOMEN CANNOT DO ANY OF A MAN’s. You are allowing yourself to be treated as a second class citizen and anyone who tries to argue that orthodox judaism isn’t a patriarchal religion obviously is not prepared to have a real conversation on the matter and may be happy, but is gravely delusional.
The posters were so one-sided I needed to comment back.
If you live by “What is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow” then I will tell you that you are not living by the Torah rules every time you deny a legally married gay couple a “family membership” to your shul. You are acting hateful.
You are all a bunch of apologists and I continue to feel sorry for you, although I continue to maintain you are free to live as you like as long as you’re not hurting anyone.
Karen Anne, these ad hominem attacks (calling us “cultist apologists” and “gravely delusional”) are really quite offensive and not the least bit “open-minded” or “non-judgmetal”. If you didn’t like the Germany example, another commenter mentioned slavery. I’ll throw in two more – societies that practiced child sacrifice and the world before women’s suffrage. The latter examples were free societies where the majority of people practiced something abhorrent. Again – the purpose is not to say that eating non-kosher is analogous to enslaving people, but rather to demonstrate that just because a group is in the minority doesn’t mean that they are in the wrong.
I’m not exactly sure why you believe that we are part of a “cult.” We’re all explaining that we respect different types of people and raise our kids to know that there is a world out there and that our love for them will not be conditional on what they observe or don’t observe Jewishly. I think the existence of open-minded, nuanced Orthodox Jews rocks your boat about what you believe Orthodox Jews are about and you find it threatening.
In most of the world Jews are free to observe if they so choose – however, the vast majority of Jews have never actually observed a single Shabbos! The vast majority of Jews don’t even know how to say the word “Jew” in Hebrew! We are a highly educated group yet we are COMPLETELY ignorant about what our own books say and what it’s like to observance many of our own mitzvos.
I know it is convenient to write my opinion off because you believe that I left the secular world at “8” but I didn’t. I only started searching for meaning at 8. I didn’t start becoming observant until my late teens. I made many of my transitions to Orthodoxy in the middle of attending an Ivy League university! And as I said, my parents – two highly intelligent, successful former secular Jews both became Orthodox (and are now very much like me) when they were 50! My sister became an Orthodox Jew when she was an undergrad at Barnard majoring in Women’s Studies and Sociology.
See, many of us commenting here USED to be secular much like you, got to explore Orthodox Jewish observance and traditional Jewish texts in depth and saw that these things were meaningful enough to change our lives around. YOU, on the other hand, have never lived as an Orthodox Jew, so perhaps it is YOU who have not opened yourself up enough to what’s out there.
I am not “pretending to know the perspective of 90% of Jews out there” – although I spent half of my life as a secular Jew (and still live in the secular world) I would never presume to understand people I didn’t know. What I DO know, though is that most Jews who do not observe have never tried to observe (or studied Torah in depth).
Men are free to go to a mikvah but are you aware that it’s not a “mitzvah” for them to dip in a mikvah? Only a woman has a blessing and a mitzvah connected to mikvah. You will find groups of women in the Left-wing Modern Orthodox world reading from the Torah (to other women), but similarly there is no blessing or mitzvah associated with doing this.
A woman can technically put on tefillin, wear tzitzis – it’s just that a woman is exempt from these time bound mitzvos for two reasons: a practical one in that a child often prefers his mother to his father or the mom is pregnant or nursing, and a spiritual one – we believe men and women were created differently and therefore have different spiritual needs. We believe that women are inherently more spiritual than men are (as women are at the pinnacle of creation – creation went from simple to complex – and are more similar to God as women are creators and sustainers of life).
Why is the assumption always that whatever the man has must be better? Let’s say there were two students. One got 100% on her test, the other got 80% on his test. The teacher only offered extra credit to the students who needed to catch up. Would the student with 100% be upset that she wasn’t able to get extra credit? It was only offered for the kids who were lacking something.
Now for the last point – “what is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow.” THIS is a question I am happy to discuss with you because it is a real struggle and an important concept. Living an observant Jewish life is tension wrought. On one hand, I must keep kosher, on the other hand, I can’t, God forbid, make someone feel bad if they offer me non-kosher food. There is no simple answer on how to handle this but to truly be an observant Jew we must strive to uphold sometimes conflicting priorities and do our best to make both work. But let’s just make something clear – this is not an Orthodox only problem. Would a Conservative synagogue accept a family that had a Reform conversion or a kid who only has a Jewish father but is not willing to convert? (Answer: No.) And as progressive as non-Orthodox synagogues are, if a polyamorous family came in and wanted to become members, it would not be so simple.
To sum this all up -no – we have not given up our minds or our compassion. We believe that life is not meant to be simple or easy and so we strive to live with a balance.
Trying to come back to the original subject of the post, if I may.
Mrs. Josephs writes:
But no group is perfect, and a few years ago I heard from a woman who grew up Orthodox and had parents who divorced when she was young. She described how painful it was to be treated like a pariah by the people in her neighborhood. Then especially, but even now, the divorce rate in the Orthodox Jewish community is not as high as the rest of the country, and I believe that there is a (misguided) fear that divorce is somehow contagious. Since I spoke to that woman, I recently heard from a couple divorced Orthodox women who explained how alone they feel in their communities.
I know this is going to sound so totally cold and unfeeling, but I think we should be open-eyed and objective about the fallout of divorce on the children and the community.
In a sense, divorce is contagious in the sociological sense. The more often you hear that it happens in your community, among your own friends and family, it becomes a sort of norm. The more easily the divorce option will spring into your mind when you encounter serious marital difficulties and you feel desperate for a final solution.
I am NOT defending the practice of social ostricization of divorcees and their children and I am in complete agreement that financial assistance should be extended, but PUBLIC social overtures of acceptance and normalization of single-parent households may have unintended consequences for the community at large.
For the record, I and my wife are proud to have routinely invited hosted divorcees at my Shabbos and Yom Tov table with no stigma attached. But my point is that we do this as private individuals helping other private individuals who are experiencing difficult circumstances.
The only public services for divorcees I would deem free of unintended consequences is: 1) financial assistance until remarriage or until the children become independent adults 2) big brother/sister volunteer orgs to fill the role-model vacuum of the missing parent, and 3) coaching/seminars and networking to facilitate single parents to get re-married.
The common denominator of all these services sends the message that a single parent family is not the norm. I am wary of publicly advertised social support groups for divorcees because they may encourage normalization of the single-parent status. Word-of-mouth referrals by rabbis and social workers is preferred.
Thanks for your comment, Dovid, but you are correct – it does sound cold and insensitive! This post is about how much these women are struggling. NO one is romanticizing this. This organization is about helping people who have been marginalized and forgotten. Our posting about them is because we are proud that there are people who are remembering the forgotten and we want to encourage more people to open their eyes to this problem. We have already heard from several readers that they plan to seek out the services of Sister to Sister and had not heard about them before. We’re proud to know that we can play a small part in people who are hurting getting help.
Thank you for commenting, but I’m afraid I was misunderstood.
“NO one is romanticizing this.”
This was not how I characterized the communal orgs I described. I characterized some of them (not necessarily S2S) as normalizing divorce socially in our community. And despite the enormous good they are doing, I think this is a danger we should at least consider before endorsing them. And I don’t think such a consideration automatically makes one cruel and unfeeling.
Don’t you agree?
When I said “romanticizing” I meant it as an exaggeration. I don’t think any org. romanticizes it or normalizes it. The very fact that these organizations need to exist mean that the women are not coping otherwise. There’s nothing attractive or “normal” about that. If anything, reading the stories about how hard these women have it would make me LESS likely to want to get a divorce honestly!
I know you were trying to be helpful with your comment, but the people at S2S are very dedicated and working hard to help people in serious need and I just don’t find a comment like this to be helpful. The reality is divorce is happening, the reality is too many Orthodox people are forgetting about divorced families. So not only do we want to publicize the people at S2S who cared to be there when people were hurting, we ALSO want to raise awareness in the Orthodox community so that we all do a better job at being more inclusive.
Shmuel, I agree with you that divorced fathers do need support, as well as divorced mothers. And not just to help the parents, but because it is good for the kids. That said, if you see a need – do something about it! This organization was started by women who saw a need, so they focused on other women, which makes sense. Why don't you and other fathers start a an organization to help the fathers?
I just had to respond to Karen Anne’s comment about women in the secular world not being ashamed of their bodies. As an educated, middle class, 40 year old woman I have never met a woman who was not ashamed of some part of her body. Body image issues are off the charts even for little girls and cannot possibly be used as a “point” for the secular world.
I should add to my last comment that I am not orthodox. Yet.
“You’re all oppressed and in a cult, and you need to make your own choices – and live the way *I* think is right!”
That seems to be the gist of what one commenter is saying… repeatedly. Good grief. That is an awful amount of judging and name-calling. People in glass houses…
Jana- are you an investigator? I think you managed to pull out the key sentence…
Personal offensive untrue Judgement from an individual on a whole sect of people comes from fear, anger, and ignorance. So from one jew to another have a happy new year full of clarity, love, and connection.
Just as I would never explore scientology, jehovah’s witnesses or any other fringe religion to know it is wrong, I would never explore orthodox judaism. You are correct, being in the minority doesn’t in an of itself make you wrong, neither does it make you right. And often times, after many, many hundreds of years, when something shrinks and remains a minority (unlike women’s vote, civil rights, slavery, gay rights etc which have all become majority positions based on enlightened society) one needs to examine why, which obviously you are not prepared to do. I guess by your logic your minority will, eventually, become the majority position (like the examples sited above)?
Any jew in the world is intelligent enough to know there is orthodoxy out there, and if as you claim they choose not to explore it (I bet) like me because any immoral group who segregates women and discriminates against people for their sexual orientation is NOT a group I need to explore to know it is wrong.
You have ensured I won’t return your site.
Thanks for your comment, Karen Anne, but the difference between scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Judaism is that a) Orthodox Judaism is not as you call it a “fringe religion.” It is the basis of all Monotheistic religions AND b) as a Jew, it is your heritage. I don’t know how far back you’d have to go in your family to find religious Jews, but every Jew here today (except converts) descended from religious Jews. Not only were your ancestors religious Jews, I’m sure that some of them were willing to give up their lives in order to preserve our traditions. Yet, you haven’t even taken the time to explore why that might be. The is the definition of prejudice. I would respect your opinion a whole lot more if you came to it after having given some serious study to Jewish texts and having explored the Orthodox community through personal experience.
In terms of what’s shrinking – for the record – it is the non-Orthodox movements that are disappearing. All offshoots of traditional/Orthodox Judaism (i.e. Karaites, Saducees) have eventually assimilated and intermarried into non-existence. If the trends continue (as it seems like they will) Orthodox Jews will be the only identifiable Jews (outside of Israel) in the world. I just wish you would take the time to see things from our perspective. We are not a perfect people and the Torah is not always easy to understand. But there are many good people who live lives with compassion and open-mindedness and I believe that is exactly how religious Jews are meant to live. Sorry for scaring you off the site, Karen Anne. You are always welcome here!
A wonderful teacher of mine explained keeping mitzvot this way, “G-d told us he loved us by giving us mitzvot as a way to connect with Him. Every time you do a mitzvah, even the smallest one, it is like getting a hug from G-d. The biggest ones, the ones that are hardest for you to do for whatever reason, are you giving Him a big hug back.” Whenever I feel like not doing a mitzvah, like making challah or davening on my own, I think to myself, “okay, you don’t want to do that, but do you think you might want a hug?” It makes it a joy.
I wish Karen could understand this, but I think she will just consider me brainwashed because she doesn’t agree with my choices. She feels sorry for my children, and I feel sorry that she will never the joy I receive from being part of a loving Orthodox community. BTW the community liked me before I became Orthodox. Karen will never know what she has given up for her “freedoms.” The secular world is seductive, but not satisfying. The Orthodox world has rules, which I find liberating in the same way that laws bring order to anarchy.
I was raised in an interfaith family. My mom is Episcopalian, my dad a secular Jew. Dad made sure to teach us about Judaism and celebrate some of the holidays. Meanwhile we went to public school and attended a very liberal/progressive Episcopal church. I am a deep blue Democrat and have worked on local, state and national Democratic campaigns for candidates and the Party. I was not satisfied with the Judaism my dad observed and I was deeply I satisfied with Christianity. When I lived in Israel, studying at Hebrew Univseristy of Jerusalem, I took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about a part of Judaism I had never experienced. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. For the first time, I felt truly like I was worshipping. I didn’t expect to like the mechitza … But I did. I thought I would hate being shomer Shabbos … But I loved it. I thought keeping kosher would be miserable – but it wasn’t. I liked that my personal space was respected. I liked that I was viewed as a person and not walking boobs. I felt like I had finally found the place my soul had been looking for. But I was engaged to a non-Jew. And I knew that this was the man created for me to marry. So I wasn’t going to convert to Judaism unless that was also something he wanted to do.
He wasn’t. So I decided that I would try and force myself into Christianity. I knew I was going after a graduate degree, and an episcopal seminary had an excellent program for what I was looking for. I began pursuing a three year Master of Divinity degree. I studied Christian biblical interpretation, history, theology, ethics, leadership – I took every class that future priests take. I now have the same education they do. I loved my time there. I have many friends in the church. But, instead of finding a place for myself in Christianity, I simply confirmed that I was not Christian. My husband saw me do this. He saw me trying to be something I wasn’t. And he started learning about Judaism. And the more he learned the more he loved.
J and I are now converting to Orthodox Judaism (MO). Together. There are things we don’t yet understand. There are some things we aren’t sure we like. But we are committed to staying and wrestling with God on those issues. We are making this choice very intentionally. We did a lot of studying on other movements. We met with Rabbis and attended services in other movements. We have lived Christianity and we have lived secular. Orthodoxy is where we feel authentic. I have zero judgement for Jews who choose other paths. I have spoken with my father extensively about his religious choices and mine. I know the experiences and reasons that led my dad to make the choices he has made. Would I make the same ones? I don’t know. I’m not him and I haven’t lived his life. Would he make the same choice I am? He doesn’t know because he isn’t me. Dad challenges me to make sure that I am thinking about what I am doing – in religion and in everything else. I answer his questions and ask some of my own. One sister is agnosticly Chrisitan. The other is a practicing Episcopalian, married to another Episcopalian and are very happy members of The Episcopal Church. They find the services and theology meaningful and I am ecstatic for them. Their Episcopal kids will play with my Jewish kids. We will have Thanksigiving Dinner together (justin and I will figure out how to celebrate and keep kosher). Our kids will view age-appropriate tv and read secular books. They will have (hopefully) close relationships with their secular and Christian grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Justin and I have non-Jewish friends. We aren’t abandoning them.
My story is unique because there is no one just like me. But people with stories like mine, who face situations similar to what I will face are NOT unusual. I respect the fact that not all will make the choices I have made. If you don’t agree with me, that’s totally fine. Just because I didn’t fine Conservatice, Reform, Reconstructionist, Christianity (Protestant and Catholic), or Secularism meaningful doesn’t mean that I don’t fully acknowledge that others do! I’m not going to judge you for your choices and preferences. Please don’t judge me for mine. I am not oppressed or repressed, so please don’t try and rescue me from an evil patriarchy. I’m not abused or weak and in need of being saved. I am a strong, educated, independent, feminist woman. Let me advocate for myself and please don’t put words in my mouth. And really don’t try to solve problems that don’t exist in reality. And assumptions born out of misperceptions, misunderstanding, ignorance and bias are not reality.
Wow. Sarah, you’re AWESOME.
(Just had to say that.)