Monday, May 08, 2006

A Nonexistent Middle Ground?

I grew up Modern Orthodox, but would certainly not use that label for myself anymore. There is something superficial about the way Modern Orthodoxy functions, about the circles it runs around halacha. Torah matters most of the time, but every once in a while when it gets in your way, you can ignore it.

And yet, I would not, could not call myself Charedi or Ultra Orthodox either. Black hats still scare me a little, the centrality Torah plays in the yeshivish world is something oh-so-beautiful, but something I have a hard time identifying with. There is a closed-mindedness to different ideas that I cannot accept.

I went to Michlala, but I go to Columbia. I cover my knees, elbows, collarbone, but not my toes. I enjoy discussing the Rambam and Kant. I respect women who choose to be stay-at-home moms, but I am going to be a lawyer. There is something inherently beautiful about men choosing to learn as opposed to work, and yet there is something that bothers me about how widespread the practice is. I believe that halacha is the absolute basis of Judaism but also that inspiration and passion are necessary elements to religious practice. I believe in secular education and good literature and philosophy and interaction with the secular world but also on the centrality of Torah to Orthodox Judaism--indeed, to life.

That leaves me someplace in the middle, I guess. Someplace not Modern Orthodox anymore but not yet Ultra Orthodox. Someplace that works for me. Someplace that involves secular college but occasional phone calls to Israel before making decisions. Someplace where I am happy with the decisions I've made but am none-too sure they're right for others. Someplace where I've found fulfillment both in the realm of academia and Torah.

And yet, I wonder if I'm making this all up, if one truly can straddle the fence, if I'm creating a place that does not exist. Perhaps the transition between Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra Orthodoxy is not so fluid, perhaps it is more like a high stone wall than a fence. Perhaps there is no middle ground. Perhaps the place where I think I'm standing does not truly exist. Perhaps it is an artificial production of a dream world and one day soon I will realize that I have been trying to stand on clouds that cannot hold me. Perhaps sooner or later, I am going to have to choose where I stand, and give up on the concept of a middle ground.

14 Comments:

At 5/8/06, 9:02 PM, Blogger bellanny said...

Nothing to do with Judiasm, but along the lines of straddling fences, does that mean the Independent party should be abolished ;-). Those who cannot decide where they belong and jump from one to other depending on who they like at the moment. Just an interseting analogy. Anyways I'm gonna leave it at that cuz I'm starting to ramble because I'm exhausted.

 
At 5/8/06, 11:06 PM, Blogger Nephtuli said...

You're generalizing both MO and UO. There are variants of the groups, and you could very well fall into one of the groups like RW MO or LW UO. Maybe you should take that Orthodoxy test LamedZayin created a while back.

 
At 5/9/06, 4:31 AM, Blogger scwitt said...

Perhaps Modern Orthodoxy is the one precariously tip-toeing the tight-rope, attempting the never ending, oft never achieved act of balancing orthodoxy and “modernism”.

 
At 5/9/06, 6:27 AM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Nephtuli, yes I am generalizing. That's true, and I don't think anyone truly fits within a label. But I think there is still a degree of accuracy to what I've described.

And I did take the test. It told me I was confused. Which I probably am.

 
At 5/9/06, 9:31 AM, Blogger Elster said...

You will find that there is no such thing as the middle, or, perhaps more truthfully, everyone is on someone else's middle.

Your struggles with the Torah World and the Real World are not unique in any way. People older and younger than you face it all the tme (though they may not even realize it).

Life is about choices - it's about figuring out how you can fit the Torah World into the other wolrd you live in. It's about deciding that flip flops are ok for you but elbows are not. It's about sectioning off the time spent in a day for torah, davening, working, studying or watching tv (lehavdil!!!).

It's about the person who will be right for you. It's about everything.

There are very few correct answers. So long as you fit into the framework of halacha, the rest is about the individual chices you make.

 
At 5/9/06, 2:25 PM, Blogger TRW said...

There is no "real" box. You are Orthodox, period. Shomer shabbos, kashrus, etc., while trying to grow.

Why do you have to be in any box?

The only one we use in my house is FBB-Frum Before Birth, which is everyone! ;)

(BTW-I found LamedZayin's test to be rather skewed, asking specific questions based on misunderstandings.)

 
At 5/9/06, 5:29 PM, Anonymous Essie said...

TRW took the words right out of my mouth (keyboard?). Why do you feel the need to fit yourself into a box with a label? You are a growing Jewish woman who is trying to do the best she can while following the Torah and G-d's laws. We all pick and choose and do the best we can. I think that is all G-d wants of us. Keep it up!

 
At 5/10/06, 10:13 AM, Blogger Elster said...

You guys misunderstand my point. Of COUORSE there is a box in orthodox jewery. There is no two was about that. There is something called Halacha. ONe must ALWAYS fit within its parameters. THAT's the starting point. There certainly is room for individuality within the box, but the box remains nonetheless.

To state it any other way is simply naive. Judaism isn't necessarily opposed to individualism, but there is still a fence around it. No two waya about it I'm afraid.

 
At 5/10/06, 8:05 PM, Blogger moon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5/12/06, 2:03 AM, Anonymous lvnsm27 said...

I know what you mean. I'm also middle of the road.

 
At 5/12/06, 6:26 AM, Blogger Josh said...

I think the frustrating piece isn't putting yourself into a box. It's finding others like you that is difficult. We want to be idealistic AND find others that think like us, both as validation and because, frankly, none of us wants to be alone.

 
At 5/12/06, 9:12 AM, Blogger Out of towner said...

The fences are more cultural than religuous. I agree with Elster that the box is halacha, though I would not describe it that way. A nice decsription of individuality within halacha is to think of halacha as the laws of physics and the individual as the architect. That the architect does not design a structure to be built that defies the laws of physics does not mean that all buildings look the same. There is great room for creativity, innovation and choosing your own path.

 
At 5/14/06, 12:12 AM, Blogger HaJew said...

A rosh yeshiva of mine once said that when you try to straddle the fence you become a Y'UNIC (get it? - those rosh yeshivas can be so witty).

Eventually most people get married and that forces them to choose. I hate that. You have to be the "serious" one in the modern community or the open thinker in the blat hat community. Uch. It's all so shallow. I'm with you. Don't give up on the dream. i wish I could tell you how it's done. I hope you figure it out, and then tell the rest of us in twenty years if you really struck you're own balance or fell back into the modern orthodax community as so many do...

 
At 5/16/06, 5:08 PM, Blogger Scraps said...

I figured out a long time ago that I was in that middle place (as are a good number of my friends). I call it "Right of MO, Left of Yeshivish". The problem that I'm having with this middle ground is that far more girls inhabit it than guys. Blah.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home