Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A few things

1. I really hope the miners in Utah are still alive and that they will be rescued. The whole idea of mining scares me stiff, as does the idea of being trapped in the dark for 6 days. ::shudder::

2. Many people in the blogging world (or, more specifically, their commenters) have been calling on Orthodox bloggers to address the points that Noah Feldman made in his NY Times article (sorry to bring it up again). They point out, correctly, that whether Maimo cropped any photos or not, and even if the school chose the photo that didn't have Noah in it simply because it was the best photo, it doesn't mean that Feldman's other points/examples are incorrect. In the name of intellectual honesty, they say, we should be talking about the issues he raises: exclusion of the intermarried; the valuing (or not) of non-Jewish lives as something inherently important; incidences of religious fanaticism which produced, he believes, Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein. Did I miss anything?

It is true, these are all important issues to discuss. However, I disagree that I or any other Orthodox blogger should feel obligated to address them just because Noah brought them up. See, when these issues are brought up by someone who is asking respectfully, or innocently, or with genuine curiosity, or out of confusion, or with a sincere desire to hear an answer that sits well with him, then hey - let's talk issues!

But Noah is, and always has been, what one commenter on another blog called "the wolf in the classroom." If his essay was just about feeling excluded as an intermarried person, I might be more inclined to address it. But if he's going to compare tefillin to pain-inducing ritual objects of the Opus Dei, if he's going to talk about intermarriage and Baruch Goldstein in the same breath, then you know what? I don't have to respond to his points.

The bottom line -- and I've given this a lot of thought -- is that I do not want Noah Feldman to be part of my community, and so I really don't give a damn what his issues are. I know, I know. He's a Jew and so in some broad sense I'm supposed to hope that he reconciles himself with all the problems he currently sees in Orthodox Judaism, and start coming to shule and fulfilling all the mitzvot he possibly can, given that his wife and kids are not Jewish.

But I don't want him in my shule. Not because he's intermarried -- for all I care, an intermarried man is welcome to an aliyah -- actually, I wouldn't be surprised if an intermarried guy would get an aliyah in my shule -- but because he's a pompous . . . . ugh, I can't say it! He's pompous, OK, and I don't like him. If my shule were full of people who were intra-married but had his personality, I wouldn't go there. It would not be my community. Actually, I do know shules like that, and guess what? I avoid them. You know why? Because when I think about "my community," my standards are higher than simply demanding intramarriage and keeping Shabbat and other basic requirements of the Orthodox lifestyle. For me to want someone to be in my community, I also want them to be nice company, friendly, able to connect with me and with others.

So, no, I'm not addressing his points, and accept any consequences that might come from that. What could he do, anyway? Print an article in the New York Times maligning my faith?


3. What does it mean to be part of the Orthodox community? I am thinking of a friend of mine, whom I'll call Q because that is, actually, my nickname for her (hi, Q!), who is certainly part of MY community. Several of her close friends are Orthodox, including me. When I lived in New York, we often had Shabbat meals together at my place or at the home of other Orthodox friends. She came to shule with me once or twice. She knows all the Shabbat niggunim and why I'll drink milk from the local supermarket but our Cholov Yisrael friend wouldn't. I've slept over at her apartment when I needed a place to crash in New York, and we make sure to talk on the phone every few weeks despite her incredibly busy schedule. I quote her all the time, because she's really funny. She's not Orthodox at all, but I think she has an Orthodox community. There is a circle of Orthodox people who care about her just as deeply as she cares about us.

This happened because she is no more prejudiced against us than we are against her - and because we are very cool Orthodox people. Not all Orthodox circles are made up of warm folk. Some of them are full of people like . . . well, pompous you-know-whats. But coldness cuts both ways.

Orthodox people at a synagogue should realize that the new family standing in the corner -- the one that is maybe a one-parent family, or not observant, or is poor, or not white -- might be there for more than just prayer. They might want to make an emotional connection with others, with these people they are praying next to. And they won't keep coming to pray if they don't make an emotional connection.

By the same token, I find that often non-Orthodox Jews cast aspersions at the Orthodox because we "aren't welcoming." Well, when was the last time they were genuinely friendly to an Orthodox person? Instead of waiting for an invitation, how about calling them and saying "I'd like to get to know you. I know you can't eat in my house . . . but it's summer, and there's a nice park nearby. How about we bring bagels and blankets next Sunday and let our kids run around?" I love Q not just because she's funny and listens to my shtick, but because when she came to shule with me once, I left her to get a drink and came back to find that she was in an animated conversation with someone else. She can take care of herself. She made herself part of the scene.

I know, I know. There are going to be commenters -- with genuinely sad stories -- about how they tried everything and the folk at their local Orthodox synagogue never wanted to be friendly. And that is wrong and very sad. It's unfortunate that something like, say, Talmudic scholarship does not by definition inculcate good social skills. It's one of the reasons I am very careful about which shule I go to (or, rather, which shule I would go to if I made it to shule more often) and am extremely picky about my friends. It is true that being Orthodox does not, by definition, mean that one is warm or responds well to friendly overtures. It is also true that being Orthodox does not mean, by definition, that a person is insular or cold or unfriendly.

AND I'd bet that most of the people who walk around talking about the Orthodox as "those people" (as in "those people are so insular" and "those people are so racist" and "those people care only about themselves") have never done much to actually talk to "those people." To act toward "those people" the way they want "those people" to act to them. It might be no harder for them to be friendly to you as it is for you to be friendly to them. So let's not all be hypocritical here.

The Chayyei hath spoken.

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