I’ve shared my Jewish divorce experience here and on a freelance writers forum, www.FreelanceSuccess.com, and received much support and also much dissent. In fact, on the forum and here, I was criticized for criticizing Orthodox Judaism publicly and in mixed (read: Jewish and non-Jewish) company.
I chose to delete two comments to my Getting the Get post rather than allow them to post because, hey, it is my blog and I can do what I want, right? I debated whether to allow them or not for several days and ultimately decided that people can talk about me, criticize me and wag their fingers in my direction all they want but here, my blog, should be a safe haven for my experiences and my words.
But the whole thing brought up a fascinating topic. And that is: should we publicly scrutinize communities to which we belong? Or should we relegate that discourse to the community itself, among others who know the context of every issue?
My opponents’ biggest criticisms of my words were some of the details – make that rationales – for how the rabbis treated me during the get process. And what I have to say about that is this: I’ve been an Orthodox Jew for more than 10 years and I understand the desire to sweep any unpleasant interpretation of the way we live under the rug.
Many Orthodox Jews – and in fact, people in every community just about – rationalize the crazier parts of their rituals and observances to make them palatable. If we didn’t, we couldn’t do them. It’s only a certain kind of person who can say, God told me to, and leave it at that.
I’ve never been a believer of blind faith. And it’s not a Jewish value. In fact, every Jew is obligated to understand and know the parts of Jewish Law that he, or she, is obligated to observe. But not everyone does. More often than not, people turn to rabbis, neighbors, relatives or congregational peers for assurance, explanation, and support for what they must do.
It’s a big no-no in the Orthodox world to speak ill of our ways – at all, but especially in non-observant or, God Forbid, non-Jewish company. But how can a system stand strong – even one that has endured across millennia – without real dissent, in strong voices, clear across the rushing waters of the brook?
My experience was simply that – my experience. All too often, though, it is common – women ignored in favor of men in a more extreme religious milieu, free-thinkers cast aside for willing sheep.
The Sages in Jewish tradition were not sheep. They were free-thinkers. They offered dissent. They spoke out, often amid much criticism and even sometimes excommunication.
That doesn’t mean they were wrong.
One of the posts to my blog suggested that I don’t agree with Orthodoxy and should instead consider Conservative Judaism as a more fitting community for me. The poster, anonymous at that, said that I could then keep kosher and Shabbat but think whatever I want.
Well, dare I say, any Jew can and should think whatever she wants, no matter the denomination she officially associates with. The delineations between ideology in Judaism are philosophical and minute – it is incumbent upon individual people to find the most meaningful way to exist as a Jew, in real time.
It doesn’t matter where I spend Saturday morning or attend Rosh Hashanah services – as long as I find higher knowledge, enlightenment and inspiration in this rich tradition. It’s just between me and God – that’s what it all comes down to.
Traditional Judaism has for a long time dealt with the imperfections of a system made by men, in a certain time and place, influenced by social mores and norms. When it comes to divorce, there are countless chained women out there – agunot, in Hebrew – whose husbands will not give them a get, so they are never free to remarry.
You can imagine how I must have felt when my ex-husband, as designated by the civil courts, was reluctant to move quickly on the Jewish part of the marital dissolution. You can imagine how I must have felt when the rabbis declined to call me back – again and again. You can imagine how I must have felt when the process scurried along only when I threatened to write about it in a public forum.
The power of the pen is crucial for true freedom. I will not lay down my pen. It is my strongest tool.