As the saying goes, ‘if you are not sure what to do, do nothing’. This is what I have been doing for years about my lack of growth in Orthodoxy. Perhaps I should listen to my religion and just do something and it will lead to better things, or ‘just do it’ like Nike says.
We all know that it is better to ascend than to descend, as the angels on the ladder to heaven in Jacob’s dream, but staying put seems to me to symbolize defeat. When I was brand new to Orthodoxy I embraced with a fiery love. Doing too much, I kind of had to take a break from certain things here and there… for example I would pray three times a day and then just meditate instead for weeks at a time because I couldn’t bring myself to commit to ‘reading my prayers’ from a book. Everything in Judaism started to seem like a contradiction for a while. My feminist side came out with a fury. Wearing skirts was not only antithetical to how I was raised, but seeing women with wigs, women caring for the children while their men prayed, women doing the serving at Shabbat dinners, was almost too much to bear. It made me mad, sad, and complacent all at once. It seemed like far too many households were the same.
Until I really took in the truth, how women are supposed to be ‘more connected’ then men in Judaism, how women are better at multi-tasking and more nurturing then men, and not the same as the egalitarians are so fast to call men and women these days. Who knew?
Still, I continued to peruse in and out of my faith…back and forth, here and there, kind of checking things out. Maybe I don’t ask enough questions. Maybe I compare myself to others too much, but I do know this: that going fast is not necessarily good, and that you should not do something just because other people are. That is completely anti-Judaism and completely anti-me. And yet, seeing Jews everywhere, wearing black and white, married women wearing wigs, davening from the same books, acting in ways others tell them they should, made me want to puke. Okay not that bad. Maybe I am not humble enough and my ego wants to do things the way I think they should be done, but I like color, and happen to think that Jews didn’t wear black and white years ago so whether is it a habit, custom, or Jews want to be like the letters of the Torah… I still don’t understand and maybe never will no matter how many people explain it to me. I also realize that I don’t have to like it.
So I will reiterate what others say: that you shouldn’t judge Judaism by it’s Jews. Judging others favorably is the key as well of course. After traveling around a bit, and seeing that not all religious Jewish families are the same, that there is actually a lot of variation calms me a bit. I have now been to Shabbat dinners where only candles romantically light the room, where only very healthy food is served. I have been exposed to families where the father is the one who cooks, and shuls where colored clothing is welcomed, where women wear tichels or don’t cover their hair if married (but still are religious) because they aren’t ‘there’ yet. Now I understand better what it means to be religious. It is more who you are inside no matter what others think. Religion is more a frame of mind and a values system; religion is bettering yourself day by day.