Monday, October 08, 2007

You Don't Have To Buy The Whole Package

Eeees and I recently attended a Bar Mitzvah. In fact, it was the Bar Mitzvah of the son of the couple with whom we had our snootiness problem about two years ago. Over the last two years, we have become friendly with the family, had them over to our house for meals, invited them to our son's Bar Mitzvah and now attended the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest son.

This Bar Mitzvah was not like the Bar Mitzvah that we had for our son. We had separate seating, they had mixed seating. All of our music was Jewish, theirs had quite a few modern tunes. Ours had a mechitza for dancing, theirs didn't. At theirs, the DJ gave away a giant blowup Simpson's couch to the best dancers (thank God our kids didn't come away with that - they were orange! :) ). We didn't have a DJ or prizes. But that's fine... no one has to do things our way, or their way.

During the festivities, Eeees and I talked about how our Bar Mitzvah was different from this and concluded that this type of affair was not one that we would have. If we had Walter's Bar Mitzvah to do over again, we would probably do it the same way again. Aside from the separate seating (which we did for other reasons), we preferred the way we did it to the way this Bar Mitzvah went. That's not to say that this Bar Mitzvah wasn't good... we had a great time, and loved being present to help celebrate our friend's simcha. It's just not the way we would do it... but that's fine - as I said above, two people don't have to celebrate the same simcha the same way.

One of the things that we talked about at the affair was how we seem to be somewhere in-between several different mehalchim (paths). We're not Yeshivish, yet I wouldn't say that we're really Modern Orthodox either. This past Shabbos we ate with a family who could be described as Yeshivish, maybe even Chareidi-like... and we were comfortable and had a great time. At the same time, we are also comfortable with our friends who just had the Bar Mitzvah, and they are clearly Modern-Orthodox and have a good time with them as well. We daven in a shul that could be described as Yeshivish, but yet has many people who are not in the Yeshivish mold. I don't wear a hat, nor do I cover my head with my tallis, and yet I am the regular ba'al kriah there and sometime ba'al tefillah as well. We hang around with people who are to the "right" of us and the "left" of us. So, where do we fit? What's our "label?" With which community to we belong? That was the question that Eeees asked me yesterday.

I responded to her that you don't have to buy the whole package from any one group. You can take some elements that you like from the Yeshivish mehalech, and some elements from the Modern Orthodox mehalech and some elements from other mehalchim and synthesize them into your own mehalech. There is no one, I told her (apart from some Chareidim) that say that you have to take the entire package of any one group and live by it. Feel free to borrow from here or from there. Sure, you may not end up fitting neatly into one of the "labels" but who cares? People don't (or shouldn't) live their lives to fit into a label -- they should live their lives according to the values, ideals and mores that they hold dear and wish to live by. And that's actually how we've been living our lives for the last sixteen years, taking a bit from here and a bit from there to form our own whole. Maybe we should start a new mehalech called "Wolfish?"

It's very interesting living in-between the different communities. We have a television in our house (and yes, it's in the living room -- not hidden away in our bedroom or in a closet). We go out to movies. I'm a firm believer in higher education (read: college) and critical thinking. I'm a firm believer in encouraging children to ask questions, not stifling them. If you're a regular reader of my blog, then you know my position on many matters regarding Judaism today. I'm very open about who I am and what I believe.

And yet, Eeees covers her hair -- not because of societal pressure, but because she believes that it's the right thing to do. I learn every day, not because I think it's an interesting intellectual pursuit or because I think that the learning police are going to catch me if I don't -- I do it because I think it's the right thing to do. I don't have secular music at a seudas mitzvah not because I don't like secular music, but because I think that, for me, it doesn't have a place at a seudas mitzvah. I monitor which television shows my kids watch, what movies they see and what internet sites they visit, because I think it's the right thing to do. (As an aside, George won a Simpsons blow up doll by the Bar Mitzvah. The DJ asked him who he likes better, Bart or Homer. Eeees and I were laughing because we knew that he had no idea who either of them were -- we don't let our twelve year old watch The Simpsons.) We have some definite ideas about what is considered tznius and how a young girl should act. We have rules on how we feel that our sons, as B'nei Torah should act, both in the Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam L'Chaveiro categories. We have standards of kashrus that the kids know that they can't eat in certain places, even if they are labeled as kosher.

So, we're neither here nor there. But you know what? I'm happy that way.

The Wolf

(Side note: While I was composing this post, Walter called me to inform me of two extracurricular clubs he is joining at school. One will work through mishnayos Seder Nizikin and finish by the end of the school year. The other is a Latin club. It seems that he too wants to take from multiple mehalchim as well.)


Anonymous said...

May you and your family be blessed. You lead a Jewish life in accordance with what you believe and feel comfortable with.

Ezzie said...

I think a lot more people are like that than you think. (Say, us.)

My cousins in Israel used to half-joke that I wore the yarmulke I did (black knit) to avoid being a part of either 'group'.

PsychoToddler said...

Welcome to my world!

Anonymous said...

PT & Ezzie-
Landsman! Landsman!
Thanks for helping not feel so weird.

Josh M. said...

Thanks for the chizzuk. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ooops..meant to say thank you for the nice bracha from the anonymous one!

Larry Lennhoff said...

I like to think ME and I are in the same group as you, although I'm sure we're to your left about some matters. But the willingness to say that you can synthesize your own path out of halacha, rather than choose one out a limited number is the key issue IMHO.

the apple said...

I really identified with this post - I liked it a lot, actually. After thinking for a while that I "needed" to fit somewhere (but not actually fitting in anywhere particular), I came to the realization that it is - gasp! - OKAY to take the best of both worlds and make it my own.

Thank you so much for this post. It was very comforting.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like standard Centrism to me; I don't understand why you're so perplexed.

Anonymous said...

Walter wants to learn Latin and there is a club for it??

I like your approach and subscribe to it myself in a lot of ways. But I think this does not work for most Frum Jews because Judaism is so much about Mesorah / tradition. Children are expected to adopt the parents Minhagim, beliefs etc. It has been the bedrock of Yiddishkeit for many years.

I don't know where to draw the line on being a chooser from all over. It's one thing for someone without a tradition to do this, but someone who has strong roots would be rejecting his family and go out on his/her own.

BrooklynWolf said...

Walter wants to learn Latin and there is a club for it??

Yeah... surprised the heck out of me too!

It's one thing for someone without a tradition to do this, but someone who has strong roots would be rejecting his family and go out on his/her own.

Maybe. As you know, I am just such a person without any pre-existing traditions, so perhaps it was easier for me to "find my own place." Nonetheless, I feel sorry for the person who disowns his kid because the child refuses to wear a hat or believe *everything* that he believes. There comes a point when parents have to realize that their kids (who have grown up, of course) are independent thinking beings and can intelligently choose which hashkafos and minhagim they want to adopt without it being a personal insult to the parent.

The Wolf

The Wolf

Orthonomics said...

Welcome. :)

Jacob Da Jew said...

I'm a Wolfish Jew!

Anonymous said...


When I said "It's one thing for someone without a tradition to do this, but someone who has strong roots would be rejecting his family and go out on his/her own." I was focusing on the person choosing his / her own way is rejecting the family, not that the family rejects the person.

It is not trivial to decide to adopt a different set of minhagim than one's parents, especially picking and choosing. This would need to be asked to a Rav because a minhag may have the status of a neder (oath) and require hetaras nedarim.

Yael said...

We are like you too.

We'd probably even be more like you if we lived in chu"l.

In Israel, the communities are so much more split that you have to take a side...........

Anonymous said...

We're Wolfish Jews as well!