Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dissent - Genuine and Otherwise

Chaim G. forwards this remarkable article, in which Allan Nadler, director of Jewish Studies at Drew University, takes exception to this infamous Noah Feldman's self-comparison to Spinoza.

Feldman, he contends, is no Spinoza; he is simply a crybaby.

True dissenters have not only the courage of their convictions, but enough respect for the institutions, religions, or authorities they are defying not to expect sympathy from those defied. They accept the consequences of their actions, without complaining about being excluded, excommunicated, cursed.

I must say, I find him persuasive.

When Bad Cohen and I got married, it was in the full knowledge that our marriage would not be recognized by many segments of the Jewish community. In respect of their views, and out of respect for our own values, we did not have the traditional erusin and nissuin of a Jewish wedding; we chose instead to base our wedding ceremony on Rachel Adler's provocative Brit Ahuvim: in the Palestinian tradition of a shutafut (partnership), rather than kinyan (acquisition). We essentially have a halachically based Jewish civil union.

When, years later, I converted to Judaism under the auspices of our local rabbis (Reconstructionists), it was in full knowledge that my conversion would not be recognized by Orthodox Jews, for despite years of study, involvement in a Jewish community, increasing observance of halacha, and mikveh and bet din - I was not using an authorized Orthodox bet din. I respected my own path to Judaism as legitimate, and not in need of approval from those who would never countenance it. And I respect the right of the Orthodox to set boundaries of their own about what constitutes a legitimate conversion.

Someday, my son will have to deal with these issues. Some Orthodox I correspond with were shocked that I would "force" him to "prove" his Jewishness later in life, if he wants to, by having his own Orthodox conversion.

But, to my mind, this is one of my gifts to my son. Unlike many of his peers, someday, he may have to actually decide where his line in the sand is. Who decides the legimitacy of his identity? Where does his true belief lie? If he wants to affiliate with the Orthodox, he has the option (and the Jewish educational and cultural background) to make that possible, and not very difficult. If he believes that the Judaism he was raised with is valid, in and of itself, he can choose to maintain that identity, and be recognized within liberal Jewish communities as a full participant.

By being honest with him about my beliefs, my husband's beliefs, and respecting the ways in which others disagree with us, we are not passing on a legacy of resentment about his status. Rather, we are passing on the framework for what Nadler calls "genuine dissent," which has served our evolving religion (and others) so well over the past several millenia.


Blogger Modeh B'Miktsas said...

I agree. I have to say, I don't consider your conversion valid, and I consider your husband a sinner, but I greatly admire your cinviction and sense in the matter. Feldman is a sulky superannuated teenager trying to be a badass. You are someone who recognizes that just as no one else can force their religious convictions on you, you can't do the same to them. The world needs more real dissenters as opposed to crybabies

8/16/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

I'm somewhat conflicted about the whole conversion issue.

Given that it is an issue of some considerable bitterness in the Netherlands, i really wish that the process were not quite so daunting and discouraging. There are about 35 thousand halachic Jews in the Netherlands, and nearly twelve thousand "vader-joden" - people whose fathers were Jewish, but whose mothers were Gentiles. The barriers that have been put in the way of their becoming Jews have soured many of them against orthodoxy.

You can probably also imagine their position visavis the law of return, versus the Rabbinate in Israel regarding them as Goyim.

Unfortunately the discussion over this matter is purely one-way. Less a discussion than a talking to a wall, really.

8/16/2007 10:48 PM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

yes, the politics re: Israel and conversion gets really difficult. I blame Ben Gurion. Oh well, that's what you get when you combine parliamentary democracy with theocracy.

8/17/2007 12:27 PM  
Blogger come running said...

I was born jewish and educated in an orthodox school, but I have experienced other religions and chosen to be a jew. I am raising my son to be an orthodox jew, but that does not mean he must stay that way. I want him to question (which he has already started to do -, find answers that will satisfy him and stay or return to how he was raised.

I believe it is a choice and I want him to view it as such when he is older. It means sooo much more.

btw-just found your blog and am definitely enjoying it.

8/20/2007 8:24 PM  
Blogger Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

As someone in an interfaith relationship, I can definitely relate to this. While I think in some ways I would like it if my girlfriend eventually converted, I know it's not something I would ever try to force on her- and even if she did so, it wouldn't change the halachic status of our (presently hypothetical) children, since there's no way she would convert Orthodox- and since I'm not Orthodox, and she's certainly not Orthodox, and our kids won't be Orthodox, the fear-mongering scare tactic some people have pulled on me via ye olde Internet (one guy said I was spiritually castrating myself) really doesn't hold water.

The kids will be raised Jewish, maybe with some small nuggets of secular Christianity embedded here and there (I don't mind stockings; if they were good enough for my Orthodox g.grandparents, they're kosher by me). And we'll be upfront with them- if they want more, if they need that halachic status to feel ok with themselves, or because they want to be more observant, or whatever, that will be their choice and we won't stand in their way.

Oh, and the conversion and right of return thing (along with the institution of Chief Rabbi) being monopolized by the Orthodox is, frankly, complete crap, and another reason why Israel continues to struggle with being both the State of the Jews and the Jewish State. Yet another thing we can all thank BG for.

9/04/2007 3:19 PM  

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