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Dena

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PostSubject: Using the Term Observant   Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:38 pm

What does "observance" mean to you? Do you consider or call yourself observant? Why or why not?
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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:12 pm

I think "observant" will always be something I'm not, but which I will ultimately aspire to be.

I see observant as Shabbat observant (refraining from the 39 categories of work) and at least a basic level of kosher (not eating trayf foods, but maybe not keeping separate dishes).
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James

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:20 pm

I think of "being observant" as following every we can, from refraining from restricted activities on Shabbat to keeping fully kosher.

And, no, I don't consider myself as being observant; there is so much I don't do even though I want to. I do what I can now, and I look for ways to increase my observance, but I'm far from doing it all. I'm ok with that. I'll get there eventually. Wink and Smile
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maculated

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Thu Jan 26, 2012 11:59 am

To me, "observant" is sort of a PC term for "Orthodox." I think that comes from having a Modern Orthodox partner and basically to him there is "Observant" and "Bad Jew."

We're working on that.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 06, 2012 10:34 am

James wrote:
I think of "being observant" as following every we can, from refraining from restricted activities on Shabbat to keeping fully kosher.

And, no, I don't consider myself as being observant; there is so much I don't do even though I want to. I do what I can now, and I look for ways to increase my observance, but I'm far from doing it all. I'm ok with that. I'll get there eventually. Wink and Smile

I feel similar. I am not sure when, if ever, I will get to a point where I would be comfortable calling myself "observant".
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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 06, 2012 11:21 am

I hope to be "observant" (keeping kosher and Shabbat fully) one day, though it probably won't be immediately after I convert. Still, I'll still have to make some compromises (particularly if I end up living permanently out-of-town) since there isn't really a way for me to keep kosher and Shabbat if I'm visiting my family overnight. I'll have to be content with eating vegetarian in my parents' house since bringing a week's supply of food along with me seems rather rude. Laughing

Like maculated was saying, I can't stand how some Orthodox people use the term "observant" as a synonym for "orthodox." There are plenty of "orthodox" Jews who don't observe everything, just as there are plenty of Conservative and Reform Jews who do attempt to keep as many mitzvot as possible (though admittedly most of these people are rabbis and cantors).
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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 06, 2012 8:34 pm

LineyLu wrote:
, just as there are plenty of Conservative and Reform Jews who do attempt to keep as many mitzvot as possible (though admittedly most of these people are rabbis and cantors).

You might be surprised by how many laypeople in the reform movement are also quite observant. "The Sacred Table" is a really interesting read for anyone interested in Kashrut from a reform perspective, and also has some statistics about reform jews and kashrut (from memory, converts are the 2nd highest demographic after rabbis that keep kosher).
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 06, 2012 10:14 pm

I'd like to clarify that not only are there "observant" non-Orthodox Jews, but there are Conservative Jews who are not clergy either and who still choose to live fully observant lives---just the same as normative Modern Orthodox except for davening with egalitarian groups (for example, they don't turn on/off lights on Shabbat). I know this very well because that would describe a majority of the members of lay-led minyan. In fact, 30 years ago, the founders were members of a liberal Modern Orthodox shul before they became unhappy with the restrictions on roles for women and formed their own congregation. (The "straw that broke the camel's back" was when the women were prevented from dancing with a Torah even on the women's side of the mechitza on Simchat Torah.) While it is true that there are several members who are rabbis (former congregational rabbis who are now hospital chaplains, and the former director of the Conservative flagship summer camp) and cantors (who formerly held jobs as professional cantors for other congregations), most of the most observant members are not clergy, although many are Jewish educators.

I think it is indicative of the observance levels that a fair number of minyan kids have attended Orthodox day schools---almost half of the minyan kids used to attend an Orthodox high school before the Conservative high school opened, but a few still go to the Orthodox one. And although most of the kids attend the Schechter Conservative day school, a few have attended Orthodox day schools. It also turns out that the first minyan kid to become a rabbi got semicha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, the premier Modern Orthodox university in the US. This is because those families are traditional enough that they fit in just fine with Orthodox families.

Some of the most observant members grew up in Modern Orthodox homes, but some grew up in observant Conservative homes, and others grew up in less observant homes, but became Shomer Kashrut and Shabbat when they married more observant spouses or simply decided as adults to become more observant. Admittedly, my minyan is rather unusual. In fact, when a very well-known rabbi who is a professor at JTS came as the speaker for our 25th anniversary Shabbaton, he was amazed by the level of observance. But he didn't know quite how to deal with the fact that members could have both very traditional and rather non-traditional beliefs (sometimes by the same person): for example, a self-identified Orthodox member was upset that he suggested that the account of Sinai was not literally true (as she believes), and yet at the same time there were members who were upset at the Conservative Movement for not being more officially accepting of gays.

I think it is important to understand that even 40 years ago, the average Conservative Jew was a lot more traditional. A much high percentage kept kosher and were Shomer Shabbat. I know of minyan members who grew up in "mixed" Orthodox-Conservative families (their parents affiliated with different movements) which was possible in part because there was an overlap between the two movements that doesn't really exist any more. But even though the percentage of observant members in most Conservative shuls is much lower today, I think observant members typically exist in most Conservative shuls, just quietly and in smaller numbers. There is a minyan family who is quite observant who now lives within walking distance of the shul led by my sponsoring rabbi. (They want to live closer to the Conservative high school where the woman is a teacher.) It is hard for them because the area is not within an eruv, so before walking to shul on Shabbat the man empties his pockets even of small items like tissue, and it was a challenge when their daughter was younger and found it hard to walk all the way to shul since they would not use a stroller. They have found a very small group of Shomer Shabbat families at the shul to socialize with, although they are lonely because the other families are about 20 years older and don't have young children. They are also friends with some MO families in their area, but to join the MO community would mean that the woman of the family would have to give up leading services and reading Torah at Shabbat services and there would be little participation open to their daughter when she reaches bat mitzvah age.

In the past few decades, there have been a number of young Conservative Jews who attended Jewish day schools and/or Ramah residential summer camps who have been inspired to lead more observant lives. Some of them become rabbis or Jewish educators. Some of them join Orthodox communities, in part because it is hard to find an observant Conservative community and sometimes because they marry Orthodox spouses or because they decide that Orthodox Judaism better fulfills their religious needs. Some of them have created their own "independent minyanim"---most of these lay-led congregations are somewhere in the space between observant Conservative and liberal Modern Orthodox. I know people who are examples of all of the above.

A major difference between Conservative and Reform ideology is that Conservative Jews still believe in the binding nature of Halacha, so keeping kosher, Shabbat, even "family purity" are all still technically required even if a lot of Jews affiliated with Conservative shuls don't do these things, and may not even know that Conservative Judaism requires them. For Reform Jews, these observances are considered optional and can be observed if desired, but it is no "sin" or shame not to observe the most of the traditional mitzvot. I think many people, including Orthodox Jews, assume that Conservative and Reform ideology are the same given the way most members of the two movements live their lives. (And perhaps given some controversial and misunderstood Conservative rulings on certain aspects of Halacha.)


Last edited by Debbie B. on Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 06, 2012 11:49 pm

Debbie B. wrote:
I think many people, including Orthodox Jews, assume that Conservative and Reform ideology are the same given the way most members of the two movements live their lives. (And perhaps given some controversial and misunderstood Conservative rulings on certain aspects of Halacha.)

Yes, I think you are right about that.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:19 am

Debbie B. wrote:
But he didn't know quite how to deal with the fact that members could have both very traditional and rather non-traditional beliefs (sometimes by the same person):

Sometimes I am amazed (and annoyed) at myself over how I can be at two ends of a spectrum at the same time.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:39 am

Dena wrote:
Debbie B. wrote:
But he didn't know quite how to deal with the fact that members could have both very traditional and rather non-traditional beliefs (sometimes by the same person):

Sometimes I am amazed (and annoyed) at myself over how I can be at two ends of a spectrum at the same time.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to be "traditional" in some ways and "non-traditional" in others, at least where the two things aren't closely related. I dislike it when someone makes incorrect assumptions like "Well, if you believe/do A then of course you believe/do B."

Also, I think that people can find that some traditional aspects are easier or more appealing than others. So perhaps making dietary changes is very meaningful to you, but the traditional ways of observing Shabbat are either difficult due to other life issues or don't feel right. For example, I don't crochet or do needlepoint on Shabbat, but I have sometimes wished I could because I find it relaxing and it gives me a warm domestic feel in keeping in other ways with the spirit of Shabbat. So maybe if I were a Reform Jew, I would do needle crafts on Shabbat even though it is a violation of Shabbat from a strictly traditional point of view.
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LineyLu

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:40 am

Dena wrote:
Debbie B. wrote:
But he didn't know quite how to deal with the fact that members could have both very traditional and rather non-traditional beliefs (sometimes by the same person):

Sometimes I am amazed (and annoyed) at myself over how I can be at two ends of a spectrum at the same time.

^This. Not saying things won't change since I'm (a) only 17 and (b) haven't actually done too many Jewish things (but I have studied a fair bit.) Like I heard one Jewish blogger describe herself, I'm to the left on theology but (plan to be) to the right on observance. I plan to work my way up slowly to an orthodox-ish place in observance, but I'll likely never believe that every single part of the Torah is divinely given word-for-word, etc.
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maculated

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Thu Feb 09, 2012 2:26 pm

Liney, interestingly, I went to talk to a Rabbi who did an interesting treatment of that very question in a series of podcasts (what makes you Orthodox or Conservative) and he basically came back with "level of practice" is sort of what defines you.

Which is interesting. My husband staunchly identifies himself as Modern Orthodox and we have pretty much the same beliefs and observances. I watch as MO works on tearing down some of the less egalitarian and foolish practices and don't know WHAT I am, so don't define your "label" solely on Torah at Sinai.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Thu Feb 09, 2012 6:19 pm

Humans like to organize and categorize, but it's not like, after we die, God is going to separate us off by denomination. We'll only be judged by what we were capable of doing, but didn't do--not what other people were doing.
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John S

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:17 pm

Hi- new member here and this topic caught my eye!

(disclaimer: I'm not even Jewish- yet- but just muddling through random questions about practice that occur to me as I read and learn)

Do Reform and Conservative Jews mix and play well with Orthodox Jews?

I already know I cannot convert Orthodox, so Reform or perhaps Conservative is my route. However, those second two synagogues are all the way across town while the Orthodox one is only two blocks up the street. Assuming I am able to convert, is it better for me to go to the closest one- the Orthodox- or schlep myself across town? (Not that it's any inconvenience to go across town, of course, but the proximity of the Orthodox synagogue does have a certain pull.)

Now, even if I attended services at the Orthodox synagogue- and I were the most ultra-observant man in the building- am I correct in understanding that I would still not be allowed to participate fully in such activities as aliyah during services and such? Of course I could look the part and join the black hat and beard brigade but I expect as I would not be 'right' from a Jewish law standpoint, no matter what I did or how observant I was it would not make any difference.

I completely understand the need for standards and education for conversion, but it is a bit strange on the one hand to read that for converts it's a case of you're a Jew if you convert Orthodox, but if you convert Reform or Conservative you're *something else*, no matter how many of the mitzvot you follow. This, contrasted with (and please correct me if I'm wrong) born Jews being pegged only on their level of observance. I understand the need to 'prove myself' in order to convert; it's a little disconcerting that if I were to practice fully Orthodox I couldn't BE Orthodox, and would always be defined, not as a Jew, but by my type of conversion.

Or am I putting waaayyyy too much thought into this, and it's not really that big of a deal in the real world?
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:19 pm

John S wrote:

Do Reform and Conservative Jews mix and play well with Orthodox Jews?

I think it depends on the individuals and the situation. There are certainly many opportunities for Jews of all "denominations" to interact. However, that doesn't mean they always do. I personally do not interact with Orthodox Jews on any regular basis. I only have one Orthodox friend and she's a little different, you could say.

John S wrote:
I already know I cannot convert Orthodox, so Reform or perhaps Conservative is my route. However, those second two synagogues are all the way across town while the Orthodox one is only two blocks up the street. Assuming I am able to convert, is it better for me to go to the closest one- the Orthodox- or schlep myself across town? (Not that it's any inconvenience to go across town, of course, but the proximity of the Orthodox synagogue does have a certain pull.)

That is going to be up to you. I would also speak with the Rabbi. I may find myself in that particular situation in the upcoming future. My husband and I would like to sell our house and we plan on moving into an apartment for a while. One of the apartments complex is right across the street from Chabad. I could easily walk. I know they are fairly welcoming but it's going to be up to me to decide if I want to visit a place where I am not considered Jewish. It could make for some awkward conversations. I would need to be upfront about it, so then people would know and wouldn't consider me Jewish. Or...I could just drive the 10 minutes to my regular shuls.

John S wrote:
Now, even if I attended services at the Orthodox synagogue- and I were the most ultra-observant man in the building- am I correct in understanding that I would still not be allowed to participate fully in such activities as aliyah during services and such? Of course I could look the part and join the black hat and beard brigade but I expect as I would not be 'right' from a Jewish law standpoint, no matter what I did or how observant I was it would not make any difference.

Yes, there would be certain things in which you could not participate.

John S wrote:
I completely understand the need for standards and education for conversion, but it is a bit strange on the one hand to read that for converts it's a case of you're a Jew if you convert Orthodox, but if you convert Reform or Conservative you're *something else*, no matter how many of the mitzvot you follow. This, contrasted with (and please correct me if I'm wrong) born Jews being pegged only on their level of observance. I understand the need to 'prove myself' in order to convert; it's a little disconcerting that if I were to practice fully Orthodox I couldn't BE Orthodox, and would always be defined, not as a Jew, but by my type of conversion.

Or am I putting waaayyyy too much thought into this, and it's not really that big of a deal in the real world?

This is one of the issues you deal with when you convert. For some it's a huge issue. For others, it doesn't seem to be a problem. I admit that for me it's been a big internal struggle. To be Jewish but not accepted by everyone can be hurtful. It's all just a part of what you need to consider before going ahead with a conversion.



Last edited by Dena on Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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James

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:23 pm

John S wrote:
Hi- new member here and this topic caught my eye!

(disclaimer: I'm not even Jewish- yet- but just muddling through random questions about practice that occur to me as I read and learn)

Welcome!

Quote :
Do Reform and Conservative Jews mix and play well with Orthodox Jews?

It really depends, John. As movements, not so much (there there can be friction between Conservative and Reform as well). On an individual level, there can be a good bit of friendliness and such. What you have to understand when looking at the movements is that there are major disagreements on how each views Jewish law and ritual. And this leads to not recognizing rabbis, conversions, who qualifies for a minyan.....

Quote :
I already know I cannot convert Orthodox, so Reform or perhaps Conservative is my route. However, those second two synagogues are all the way across town while the Orthodox one is only two blocks up the street. Assuming I am able to convert, is it better for me to go to the closest one- the Orthodox- or schlep myself across town? (Not that it's any inconvenience to go across town, of course, but the proximity of the Orthodox synagogue does have a certain pull.)

If you do decide to convert your rabbi will most likely expect you to attend his or her synagogue. One of the major parts of converting to Judaism is integrating into the community you worship with, and it's going to hard to integrate into the local Reform community if you daven at the Orthodox shul.

Quote :
Now, even if I attended services at the Orthodox synagogue- and I were the most ultra-observant man in the building- am I correct in understanding that I would still not be allowed to participate fully in such activities as aliyah during services and such? Of course I could look the part and join the black hat and beard brigade but I expect as I would not be 'right' from a Jewish law standpoint, no matter what I did or how observant I was it would not make any difference.

It is correct that you would most likely not be allowed to fully participate. While the Reform movement will accept conversions from both the Conservative and Orthodox movements, the Orthodox will only accept Orthodox conversions (just an FYI: the Conservative movement typically does not accept Reform conversions either).

Quote :
I completely understand the need for standards and education for conversion, but it is a bit strange on the one hand to read that for converts it's a case of you're a Jew if you convert Orthodox, but if you convert Reform or Conservative you're *something else*, no matter how many of the mitzvot you follow. This, contrasted with (and please correct me if I'm wrong) born Jews being pegged only on their level of observance. I understand the need to 'prove myself' in order to convert; it's a little disconcerting that if I were to practice fully Orthodox I couldn't BE Orthodox, and would always be defined, not as a Jew, but by my type of conversion.

Or am I putting waaayyyy too much thought into this, and it's not really that big of a deal in the real world?

Yep, it can be quite frustrating, and it is a big deal.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:27 pm

James wrote:
(just an FYI: the Conservative movement typically does not accept Reform conversions either).

Have you seen much of that, James? I believe according to the Rabbinical Assembly they will accept Reform conversions when they were done according to the halachic standards. I myself had a Reform conversion and I am a member of a large Conservative shul. It may be a good idea for John to contact other Rabbis in his area and ask, if it's important to him.
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James

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:41 pm

I've seen some. Our old rabbi would accept them only if they included circumcision and immersion. He also required those who identified as Jewish through patrilineal descent or who were more than two generations removed from an observant ancestor to undergo a formal conversion in order to be included.

But we're also a fairly liberal bunch since we're the only synagogue of any type in the area. While we are conservative according to our bylaws, we are not identified officially with any movement. Our recently retired rabbi was pretty conservative, but our new rabbi came from a long stint at a Reform shul in Texas.

I'd agree that John should talk about it to his local rabbis; if he does end up opting for a reform conversion, he can always insist on mila and tevilah.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:49 pm

James wrote:
I've seen some. Our old rabbi would accept them only if they included circumcision and immersion. He also required those who identified as Jewish through patrilineal descent or who were more than two generations removed from an observant ancestor to undergo a formal conversion in order to be included.

Oh yes, of course. I advised John on another forum not to work with any Reform Rabbi who doesn't require circumcision and immersion. It may be done these days but I do not think it's a good idea at all.

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:16 pm

Dena and James had already given you excellent answers, but I will add my experiences, too.

Yes - as James and Dena said, people from the different denominations can mix very well, but it strongly depends on their attitude and ability to get along with people who don't necessarily have the same opinions and attitudes about different things in halacha, which is influencing the everyday life, of course.

Personally I have friends of all level of observances (we don't really have the denominations here because we have only one synagogue and two rabbis - one related to the synagogue and the other to Chabad) - from very observant to practically not observant at all (which consider themselves "ethnic Jews"), and I'm always having in mind their level of observance, so I would not bring them in a situation that could harm their level of observance or I will not have a discussion on the "sensitive" topic if I know that they are not tolerant to other opinions. But all this depend on a person, really. There are very observant persons that are ready to talk about differences in Judaism, and there are, on the other side, not so much observant persons who think that their version of Judaism is the best and the others are wrong (I know - it's kind of a paradox in Judaism!).

Yes, if you go for a Reform or Conservative conversion, you will not be accepted as a Jew in Orthodox congregation, so that means you will not be counted for a minyan etc. But that's just how the things are, and of course, you must check with every rabbi separately. For example, our congregation here has a Modern Orthodox rabbi who accepts some Reform conversions (when there were b'rit milah and mikveh included, and he even recognized one Reform conversion where there was no b'rit milah, even if there were no special circumstances included - like hemophilia or some other condition). On the other side, he does not recognize some other Reform conversions. So you must check every case separately. On the other side, our congregation here is small so maybe that's the reason why Orthodox rabbi would make such an excuses.

Our rabbi here is very, very observant. He would not stand even to see a pencil in a synagogue on Shabbat, and if you try to touch it, he would scream. :) He walks on a heavy rainy and cold day with his little daughters, and he is not going to open an umbrella. He makes the thought of bringing my purse to a synagogue on Shabbat dreadful (for there is usually a wallet in there). Ok, now I'm exaggerating a little (but I really do think about all these things when I'm going to the synagogue on Shabbat, knowing that it would insult his level of observance).

As for me, I'm observant as much as I can. I keep kosher and I have a kosher kitchen; I keep Shabbat (but not within the Orthodox standards because I'll click the electric light on and off, but on the other side I will not cook or do the other unnecessary things that include work with an electricity), but sometimes I just have to decide in a practical way. For example, I live hour and a half walking distance from the synagogue. I can't afford living nearer and we don't have another synagogue. So when the weather is nice, I will gladly walk, but when it isn't (rain, snow etc), I will not. I know it's not right, but when I put observing that mitzvah and the possibility of getting ill and not to be able to come to the synagogue at all, I choose bus instead of walking.

That means that I'm observant as much as I can, and sometimes I will vote for a more practical solution (but I always try to put both solutions side by side and to make a decision based on a priority to stay healthy and safe).

So that's it. I don't know if I can call myself observant. There is always a possibility of doing/not doing more mitzvot, so I try to do more every day. :)





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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:27 pm

John S wrote:

Do Reform and Conservative Jews mix and play well with Orthodox Jews?
It depends on the individuals and the particular congregations and communities. Some Orthodox Jews think non-Orthodox Judaism isn't Jewish at all and/or think that non-OJ is dangerous and will contaminate or lure away Jews from correct beliefs and ways of living. Some OJ rabbis have ruled that it is forbidden for O Jews to even enter a non-Orthodox synagogue or attend a non-OJ wedding, etc.

On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of interdenominational events. O Jews on the far "right" end of the spectrum will not participate, but then again, those kinds of O Jews may not want to have anything to do with "Modern Orthodox" Jews either. A nice example of a interdenominational event are the various Limmud conferences held all over the world. I have been active on the programming committee of Limmud Chicago since its inception a few years ago. Our next Limmud conference is in only a week: next Saturday night and all day Sunday. So far we've only been able to get participation of the most liberal and open Modern Orthodox communities, but I keep hoping that we'll eventually get more participation from more "right wing" Orthodox groups as has been the case of other Limmuds in other cities.

Sometimes Jews on the non-traditional end of the spectrum can be less than accommodating of other Jews as well. A majority of American Jews do not observe the dietary laws. Nevertheless, I personally feel that I am unwelcome or excluded at Jewish events that serve blatantly treif food or are scheduled such that one would have to violate Shabbat. I have heard non-observant Jews grumble at a requirement that food be certified kosher for a Jewish event because they feel that it is an imposition on them (and it is true that kosher catering is generally more expensive). They resent that whenever more and less observant Jews eat together that the more restrictive requirements will always need to take precedence. An example of these interdenominational tensions that exist (but in this case were resolved): When the founder of Interfaith Family came to present at the first Limmud Chicago, he told me how he stiffened when he saw some men wearing kippot as well as tzitzit (fringes) showing (from wearing a tallit katan) and some women with head coverings and long skirts. He expected not to be welcomed by those more traditional Jews, and when some of them attended his presentation about intermarriage, he worried that they would be antagonistic toward him. In fact, he was pleasantly surprised that everyone, even those in very traditional dress, were respectful and truly interested in what he had to say.

What keeps different denominations from "playing nice" are the suspicions that other groups are judgmental of other groups' religious beliefs or choices. Those differences are real and some groups are indeed judgmental. On the other hand people often have opinions based on assumptions or false understandings about the others.

I recently read a very interesting story about an Orthodox rabbi who went on a trip to Israel with a group from his city in which the other participants were non-Orthodox Jews: http://klalperspectives.org/rabbi-ilan-feldman/ (Read the section titled "A Failed Paradigm" about half-way into the long article.) He tried really hard to not express his feelings about things being done "wrong" and to be as open as he could. He came to a totally new understanding and appreciation for Jews who simply has a different way of being Jewish, but were still very dedicated to Judaism and the Jewish people in their own way.

Quote :

I already know I cannot convert Orthodox, so Reform or perhaps Conservative is my route. However, those second two synagogues are all the way across town while the Orthodox one is only two blocks up the street. Assuming I am able to convert, is it better for me to go to the closest one- the Orthodox- or schlep myself across town? (Not that it's any inconvenience to go across town, of course, but the proximity of the Orthodox synagogue does have a certain pull.)

Now, even if I attended services at the Orthodox synagogue- and I were the most ultra-observant man in the building- am I correct in understanding that I would still not be allowed to participate fully in such activities as aliyah during services and such? Of course I could look the part and join the black hat and beard brigade but I expect as I would not be 'right' from a Jewish law standpoint, no matter what I did or how observant I was it would not make any difference.

I completely understand the need for standards and education for conversion, but it is a bit strange on the one hand to read that for converts it's a case of you're a Jew if you convert Orthodox, but if you convert Reform or Conservative you're *something else*, no matter how many of the mitzvot you follow. This, contrasted with (and please correct me if I'm wrong) born Jews being pegged only on their level of observance. I understand the need to 'prove myself' in order to convert; it's a little disconcerting that if I were to practice fully Orthodox I couldn't BE Orthodox, and would always be defined, not as a Jew, but by my type of conversion.

Or am I putting waaayyyy too much thought into this, and it's not really that big of a deal in the real world?
I think you need to understand that official conversion to Judaism is more than the "I believe" aspect which is more important to other religions. It is also a kind of licensing situation. An analogy: A person without a US driver's license, even if they are very skilled at driving (perhaps even possessing a German driver's license which is much more difficult to get), cannot legally drive on US roads even he is more skilled than most of the drivers on the road. Or the analogy that I like best is to US citizenship: you can be a citizen by (1) being born in the US or having a parent who is a US citizen, or (2) becoming a naturalized citizen. I know many people who speak very fluent English and have lived, worked, and paid US taxes for many decades, and probably know more about US history and government than most citizens, but are not US citizens. They can live and work in the US, just like a Reform or Conservative convert can attend services at an Orthodox synagogue, but non-citizens cannot vote, just like non-O converts cannot take an aliyah.

I have attended Orthodox services at various synagogues and private minyanim, but it doesn't matter that my Conservative conversion wouldn't be considered valid since as a woman I can't be counted in a minyan or take an Aliyah anyway.

Incidentally, I am more observant (in kashrut, Shabbat, etc) than some Jews I know who attend an Orthodox synagogue and than some converts I know who converted under Orthodox auspices. It is important to understand that there is only a correlation between observance levels and Jewish denomination, but it is not definitive.

If a particular stream of Judaism is truly and completely right for you, then conforming to requirements for conversion standards of that denomination will be something that you will be able to do. It is not just prejudice that causes traditional rabbis to refuse to do or be reluctant to do conversions that would result in an intermarriage; it is also concern for the prospective convert and their marriage. Observant Judaism affects many aspects of your day-to-day and personal life and having a non-Jewish spouse can cause severe marital stress. Remember that Judaism does not believe that non-Jews ought to convert---it is fine for them to not be Jews. So it may be better for a person to remain a non-Jew than to introduce problems that a conversion would cause.


Last edited by Debbie B. on Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:17 pm; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : added some internet links)
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John S

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Mon Feb 11, 2013 9:49 pm

Thank you all for your insights on this issue; it's always good to have an idea what to expect out there when considering a new community. As for the 'level of observance' I'm rather self-conscious about being that one guy who's *DOING IT WRONG*- so whatever I'm going to be doing I want to be doing it correctly, of course!

Much food for thought in these forum pages- lots of experiences from which to draw lessons and inspiration.

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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:17 am

You'll need to get over being self-conscious since it will take some time to learn enough to look like you know what you are doing. It is better to just acknowledge that you are new to Judaism, and if you are lucky you will find "beginner's services" or classes, or a knowledgeable person who is willing to give you some help such as pointing out which page of the prayer book the the service is at. (A woman who was just starting to investigate Judaism 30 years ago and did convert a few years later told us only a few years ago that she will always remember with gratitude that when she first visited the university Hillel that my husband noticed that she seemed lost and very kindly showed her the pages in the prayer book for each part of the service.)

Take for example Conservative or Orthodox Saturday morning services: there are 2.5+ hours of Hebrew prayers with lots of parts that congregants sing or chant along with, and choreography---in addition to when to sit down or stand up, there are even traditional motions like taking small steps forward or backward, bowing, or rising on ones toes, for parts of certain prayers. That's why it takes most people years to learn enough to really know what to do for the whole service.

So I think it is better to just let people know that you are a beginner and that will excuse the fact that you don't know exactly what to do.

Note that "level of observance" is more typically used to describe ritual choices rather than whether a Jew knows what to do.
For example, for kosher observance:
0. does not observe any of the kosher dietary laws
1. simply avoids pork and maybe also shellfish
2. also avoids eating meat and dairy together, but will eat meat that was not ritually slaughtered
3. above restrictions, plus eats only meat with certification of kosher slaughter, but does not insist on preparation in separate cookware for meat and dairy
4. separate cookware for meat, dairy, and Passover; waiting period between eating meat and dairy
5. above plus will only eat food with more stringent rabbinical certification such as only milk that was milked and processed under Jewish supervision
(and there are actually many sub-categories---"kosher" means different things to different people)
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John S

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PostSubject: Re: Using the Term Observant   Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:13 am

I'm already used to wearing a kufi (a little larger than a kippah) so covering my head isn't a major life change, and, of course a simple thing like the wearing of tzitzit is not a problem either. I'm used to a halal (think kosher lite) diet, so taking the extra step to a more proper kosher diet isn't something completely alien.

At first, looking at the classic "list of the 613" is daunting- but then I look at many of the commandments and realize I'm already doing many of them and some of the others are not inconvenient at all, it's just a matter of *doing* them. When you set aside the ones that don't apply, The List becomes a little less intimidating and more manageable.

But, as for some of the various Islamic practices I'm used to, there's a difference between 'doing it' and 'doing it RIGHT', and for me that's where the lines tend to get really fuzzy with this scholar saying 'this is how you do it' and another saying 'no, THIS is how you do it'... and according to Islam as long as both scholars have the proper Qur'anic and hadith references, you can be *right* in following either one, even though they may have diametrically different conclusions!

From my initial impressions in reading on Jewish practices, though- and correct me if I'm wrong- there is little difference on the actual 'mechanics' on how to do things, and it's more a simple matter of doing it or not doing it. Of course, some things are bound in tradition (black hats and suits for some groups, for instance) but as far as the basic rituals am I right in understanding there's a set way to do it? For example, for the opening of Shabbat, will the actual order and reading the ceremony be the same for Reform as well as Orthodox, and it's just a matter of doing it or not doing it- or am I wrong and there are major differences in the actual performance of the ritual?

I have to admit, the more I read the more I am fascinated by the minutiae of ritual observances and finding the optimum 'how to do it right' formula; I am sure as I read and learn from others, though, that all will eventually be revealed and- just as my former practices did- in time the new ways will become second nature. There's a lot to learn between now and then!
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