Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flying and Fritters

Something crystallized for me earlier this week, a real-life realization of a story someone once told me.

The story: An Israeli who taught in an Orthodox school was seen by her students while driving on Shabbat. They accosted her -- how can you drive on Shabbat, don't you know it's forbidden, you are a sinner -- to which she replied, and what about you? You are forbidden to live outside of Israel. We each choose how we sin.

It might be distressing to acknowledge, yet it was one of the wisest theological comments I'd ever heard. Everyone picks and chooses the components of their own Judaism. This is simply true, as much as we might intend -- or pretend -- otherwise.

That said, it was just an instructional story until Sunday, when I tossed a friend into the back seat of an airplane, got into the front seat, and flew out to Montauk for lunch.

I stuck to my kashrut principles once we got there, but it was she, not I, who said tefilat haderech -- something I should say but generally don't -- at 3,500 feet over the south shore of Long Island. Unsurprisingly, a discussion started after I stuck with my salad and declined the corn fritters. Does being stricter about kashrut but more lax about prayers make me a worse Jew? A better Jew? A hypocrite?

Perhaps there's something to be said for the way Jews get along seemingly everywhere other than here, namely by acknowledging that, yes, we each do this a bit differently, in our way, but we are all respected parts of the same community. Maybe we Jews of New York should try it. We won't, of course, but maybe we should.

Cheeseburgers on Pesach? Jewish Tattoos? Shaking girls' hands? They're all different shades of the same thing, and not so much about what we practice as much as how we choose to do so. On a micro scale, in any case, the combination works out nicely: I fly the airplane while she says tefilat haderech, but all in all I'm the cheaper date.


  1. Hehe.

    I seem to recall a certain conversation about what "religious" means...

  2. Speaking as both a Jew and an Atheist, I can understand how it can be comparable to different shades of gray. Nevertheless, when it comes to interpretations of the Tanach and Halacha as a whole, it is up to the end user to determine what 1. motivates your actions 2. what you wish to uphold 3. how you wish to uphold them. For me, I will continue to uphold the ideas of love and understanding, while shedding the ideas of a hashem, which just get in my way. You have to determine for yourself ultimately what you are comfortable with, but also know that you cannot judge others, for ultimately we all judge each other whether we like it or not. The key is to respect, as you've said.

  3. I've actually been thinking about this topic for awhile now. I used to think orthodox Judaism was black and white but I've lately realized that the shades of gray are many. I know so many different people who practice in their own way. It is better not to judge. But once one knows the halacha, it's hard not to. If you know something is from the torah versus from the rabbis, that will make a difference. Also, having a rabbi to rely on matters. Ex: Not everyone agrees that we are forbidden to live outside of Israel. There are orthodox rabbis to rely on that say otherwise. I personally think we need to live in Israel but I am aware that not everyone does. Shabbas and kashrut, on the other hand, is agreed on by all orthodox rabbis.

    I believe that every Jew gives to this world in their own way. I try my hardest not to judge others in what they do, because only God knows who is the better person- who am I to say that I'm better than anyone else? But, at the same time, if we didn't have that uncomfortable feeling at the thought of someone breaking specific halachot, would it mean that that halacha isn't important to us? Or that if we hang out with that person often, we'll be tempted to break what they're breaking too? I'm not saying that we should judge others- because we certainly should not- but I'm not sure being completely comfortable with another person/friend breaking things is the right thing either. I've come to the conclusion that I should accept how others practice but I make sure to maintain a thick line between accepting it and being too comfortable with it.

  4. @Anonymous: I won't pretend to like the concept of "shedding the ideas of Hashem," but like you say, it's a matter of respect... which itself sometimes hinges on not bringing the topic up for discussion. :)

    @Ariella: I agree about that thick line. What's really been underlined for me by my experience with the person in my post, and with Judaism in general, is...

    a) that it is, and should be, possible to be comfortable with someone and accept their practice, even without being completely comfortable with that practice or softening your own, because as conscientious Jews they're dealing with the same questions we are even if they're coming up with different answers, and

    b) that only God knows what God wants, and the best even a great rabbi can do is make an educated guess, so at least in routine life it's simply up to us to do our darndest and hope we're doing it right.

    It may come as no surprise that I'm from a long line of misnagdim.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.