~ Tuesday, November 11, 2003 ~
Demoninations and Afflications (pessimistic)
Sometimes I get absolutely fed up with organized religion. It really bothers me that I have to pick a single rabbinic school with a single philosophy if I want to become a rabbi, and that I'll then be expected to go around representing that school's ideologies for the rest of my career. I don't vote straight down the party line. I have the highest respect for Orthodox Jews who think deeply about all the issues involved in being so observant and struggle every minute to embrace the halachic system in spite of the issues that inevitably arise from doing so. If I could be Orthodox and female and a rabbi, I might at least consider it...but they don't ordain women as rabbis, which is okay with me. My cultural comfort zone is in the Reform movement, but that doesn't mean Reform is objectively best. I don't necessarily think it's a good thing that the majority of the melodies I know aren't hundreds of years old, but rather are written by Debbie Friedman (as nice as her melodies are); and I still can't get through all of Birkat HaMazon without struggling with the Hebrew (never mind managing to keep up with everyone else as they zoom through the page under their breath) though I'm working on getting used to the Conservative prayer idiom so I can at least feel more comfortable in that cul de sac of Jewish society.
My philosophical alignment is somewhere between Reconstructionist and Conservative, sometimes, although at other times it's something else entirely. And why shouldn't it be? Of all religions, Judaism ought to be ashamed of itself for expecting its religious leaders to purchase the boxed set instead of designing their own package. To make matters worse, when it comes to prayer, I'm not really comfortable with any of the styles I've tasted at all. Reform is, of course, home base, so that one's the easiest for me, but I despise the English translations offered by Gates of Prayer, and joining the rest of the congregation to recite the scripted responsive reading segments leaves me with the taste of circuits in my mouth.
I can't make the Orthodox style relevant for me either; singing the first line and (maybe) the last line communally is nice, and many of the melodies used at the Carlebach-inspired shuls like Ramath Orah are lovely and sticky and easy enough that even if I haven't heard them before I can guess where they're going (which is probably the intention), but running through the middle section of every other prayer as quickly as possible doesn't work for me. That is for the masters, the well-practiced, the ones whose parents taught them to do this at the age of six or so. My Hebrew (or Aramaic, sometimes) isn't good enough for that, so when I go to an Orthodox shul I end up compensating for my sloth by either skipping sections, reading silently in English instead of whisperishly in Hebrew, or just reading the Hebrew as fast as possible to myself and not pausing to absorb the meaning. This is how I talk with G-d? The heck?
Conservative and Reconstructionist prayer styles are probably the ones I have the fewest problems with, but on the other hand, I'm basing my judgement of Conservative prayer on what I found at Stanford, which is sort of its own thing...not New Yorky, anyway...and Reconstructionist prayer is very much like Conservative prayer in style, although the content is changed. I guess the prayer style for Reconstructionist Judaism is the most appealing to me, because it's in Hebrew (which is important to me in spite of the gaping holes in my skills--the more I study Hebrew, the more convinced I am of its objective superiority over other languages, structurally speaking, and I'm really starting to think Hebrew is the holiest language, at least according to the Jewish idea of holiness) and it doesn't race silently through the middles of the prayers. Furthermore, the standardly accepted siddur seems to be very user-friendly, offering translations that seem to be well-thought-out and showing clearly how the text is broken up by lines (if it's giving lyrics for a song (although why it's anti-Jewish to notate melodies in the siddurim will never cease to be beyond me)).
On the other hand, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism have their own areas of lack, too. Conservative Judaism gets attacked frequently for too little unity and direction (the result, apparently, of its never really having consciously intended to BE a movement, until it realized it would have to make a banner for itself or else fade into obscurity), and it bothers me that the Conservative Administration's stressing of halacha, halacha, halacha seems like it's trying to define itself as Not-Reform instead of just being itself. Whatever that is. Okay, I understand, you're not Reform, but now please come up with something internally coherent instead of just saying, "whatever grandma and grandpa did is good enough for me, more or less".
Reconstructed Judaism as conceived by Kaplan is extremely attractive to me, but Reconstructionist Judaism today is no longer a realization of Kaplan's vision. It's grown and changed quite a bit (as well it should, I suppose), and while it's still approaching the whole reconstruction thing with the same "let's make this relevant to us as we are now" type of attitude, with which I agree passionately, it seems like you have to be a member of a certain specific "we" in order to get it. That "we", as far as I can tell, comprises the religious hipsters--the ones who are hip to the mystical/spiritual jive, but less interested in analysis and rationality and the like than I am. I've never been too good with the spiritual stuff.
I don't know how to place Reconstructionism on a linear scale with the Reform/Conservative/Orthodox trio that is so familiar to me. Compared to this triumvirate, Reconstructionism is sort of off by itself, or perhaps occupying several places at once; it's philosophically left of Reform and stringencywise it coincides (roughly) with the conservative style.
So much for my struggles with the movements. The schools present their own set of advantages and disadvantages. JTS, the Conservative school, is the most academic, which I really really want, but I'd have to be a practicing Conservative Jew to attend (you're required to take an oath and everything) and BOY am I out of practice. Not only that; I don't even know if I can thrust myself into that sort of stringency for the next five years, much less for the rest of my life. To go around preaching it to people who might end up feeling forced, through guilt, into hypocrisy is not an idea I relish.
HUC, the Reform school, requires no such oath, but the academics are on a correspondingly relaxed level, and the administration seems to care less about each applicant's path than they do about choosing the perfect curriculum that they can then impose upon EVERY SINGLE PERSON, without variation. I understand, this is a trade school that needs to meet a yearly quota--to pop out Reform Rabbis at the end of each academic year and deal them out to the many synagogues around the country that signed up for the program and are paying their dues, but I worry that the whole "we are here to make you a suitable rabbi for the Reform Movement" mentality might overpower the "we are here to provide you with a place to explore and develop intellectually and spiritually" aspect.
It's kind of like Stanford vs. Berkeley. Once you've proved yourself to be worthy of JTS, you're in the club and they're all nice to you. HUC, however, will take all kinds of people and then proceed to indoctrinate them forcibly by making them all follow a prescribed course, and I'm not into drugs, so that sort of non-negotiable prescription scares me. It IS possible to manipulate people's opinions by subjecting them to a certain set of experiences (the year in Israel, for example (although to be fair, JTS requires that too, but not till the third year as opposed to HUC's first year)), and I'm not sure HUC is above that. Furthermore, HUC, like Berkeley, appears to be tolerant and broadminded, but it's tolerant and broadminded in a way that makes you feel like if you're broadminded and tolerant in a way other than their way, there must be something wrong with you. I know someone who just graduated from HUC who had a heck of a time trying to fulfill the obligations of her student pulpit because she doesn't travel on Shabbat and it was implicit in the demands they placed upon her that not travelling on Shabbat was not a lifestyle choice they considered worthwhile.
RRC, the Reconstructionist school, is like HUC in academic rigor being less extreme than JTS's, but the people there *do* seem to be happy. If only they weren't all women past the child-bearing age. That was a mean thing to write, but the Reconstructionist movement DOES seem to attract a very different sort of person, and I don't know if it's me. That, and it's not in New York City. It's half an hour outside of Philadelphia. Stop scoffing, this is important. I'm not sure I want to leave this city...at least, not yet. I like it here.
[Okay, Miriam, I hear you say, you don't like praying anywhere and you're not spiritual and none of the Jewish movements really appeal to you. And you want to be a rabbi, WHY?? To which I respond with the utmost dignity, "LA LA LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU."]
Oh, and also. Reform and Conservative rabbis who graduate from HUC and JTS, respectively, get placed with a congregation as soon as they're ordained. Reconstructionist rabbis don't. Yes, that is a concern for me. I want to have a job when I'm done learning.
On Friday at Drisha's special quarterly hang-out-with-your-teachers'-families-and-your-fellow-students'-spouses Shabbat dinner, I spoke with a guy in his first year at JTS, and his comments on the school are a partial source of all this unsolicited criticism. He also shared these words of wisdom from Rabbi Harold Shulweiss with me, which provide a subtle and in-depth description of the differences between each of the major movements of Judaism:
I really like how it insults everyone so equally.
Applications for JTS are due on 12/31. Four essays, but they want me to work at least halfway down a 20-book reading list before I write the essays. Eek.
For HUC, part one (administrivia) is due 12/1 and part two (two essays, one an autobiography of my Jewishness, yikes, and 6 rec. letters) is due 1/19. /17? Can't remember now.
Anyone want to write me a recommendation letter? :)
Current Music: My entire library, on randomized play. Yay for iTunes.
~ prattled by Miriam at 11:11 p.m. [+]
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