An Open Letter to Everyone Who Asks Me Why I’m Still Here

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This is the second post in a two-part series of blog posts written by high school students. We encourage you to engage in constructive conversation with the authors around these posts. Read the first post here. 

eden_farberEach morning, my first destination is my living room. I take out my
siddur
and
tefillin
(unless it’s Shabbat, of course) and I pray the
Shacharit
service as my family bustles around. As I finish, I swap out my tefillin and siddur for a
gemara
to study. My day continues on, and between my chavrutas—studying with friends—and teaching at Hebrew school, my Jewish practices are hardly put aside. Meals are symbolized in both start and finish with blessings, and the chunks of the day are split up by my recitation of Mincha and Ma’ariv.

Somehow, because of these practices, I am “not Orthodox.”

The fact is: I am Orthodox.

Yet, I’m living in a paradox. When I say I want to daven (pray) more, I’m considered less religious. I take on more practices, suddenly, I’m less religious. I want a leadership role in my community’s prayer, I’m less worthy of actually being in my community. This attempt to purify the Orthodox community from people who practice differently—or rather, different people who practice—isn’t going to work. When we do this, we’re simply shutting doors on people who are committed to and in love with Judaism. Pushing me out won’t fix the problems, won’t stop the questions; it will merely slow down the process of change.

The problem is that the Orthodox community no longer defines itself as a group of people who are committed to Judaism. Rather, it is a group of people who are committed to a particular version of Judaism—a gendered Judaism. I believe it is time for a new paradigm of commitment to mitzvot, and a new paradigm for Orthodox Judaism.

Mitzvot are Mitzvot

Gender is not prescriptive of the ways that a person connects to religion. There is no such thing as male spirituality or female spirituality. Some women want to lay tefillin while some men don’t; some women want to be religious leaders while some men don’t. As an Orthodox community, we can either push away the women deeply committed to mitzvot on account of gender roles, or push away the gender roles on account of a deep commitment to mitzvot. I recommend the latter.