Monday, October 26, 2009

Existential dilemma

I had a wonderful, romantic, rat-free weekend with JV. So why am I in such a terrible mood today?

Could be the changing season. It's definitely fall, I'm getting less sun. I started using my light box again today. The rats chewed through a lamp cord but didn't ruin my light box. I guess I was lucky. Unfortunately, I threw away the lamp before JV could tell me he knows how to rewire a lamp. I should have assumed he could. Russians are very handy.

And this one is definitely never going to be orthodox. Or conservadox. Or shomer shabbat. Or fully shomer kashrut. It's just not going to happen. I'm not going to be able to undo all the damage that his ex-wife and the frum community have wrought.

Or as JV puts it: "It infuriates me to see you sacrificing your life and your happiness on the altar of this bullshit."

How do I turn my back on 20 years of my life? And yet, I can't entirely disagree with him. I've suffered tremendously at the hands of numerous "frum" dates, boyfriends, roommates, business partners, and administrators. (The Bad Place is part of an allegedly orthodox institution. None of the evil professors were frum -- one wasn't even Jewish -- but the higher-ups at the institutional level are, and they failed to help me when I was being abused and harassed.)

A friend of mine posted the most depressing poll ever on Facebook:

I am looking to (unscientifically) collect data about young, single, Shabbat-observant Jews who eat Shabbat meals alone more than twice a month. Are you one of them? Also, please mention:

1. where you live (city, neighborhood, whatever)

2. whether you eat alone by circumstance (no one invited you and you didn't want to make food and invite others) or choice (you had a good book that you really wanted to read while curled up in your PJs and it's hard to do that with guests around)

Thanks and feel free to share with others! It's for something I'd like to write, and nobody's name will be used without their explicit permission. (I'm not planning on using names anyway, mostly just want to get a sense of whether there's a story here or not.)

I didn't want to admit that I'm usually alone on Shabbat these days. I just don't bother calling families anymore to shnorr for an invitation. And I didn't have to say it, because someone else said it for me:

There are so many singles that eat Shabbos meals alone, sad as it seems... I think the older one gets, the more likely it is to happen; many are embarrassed to be "that single" at a family's table, others can't find a peer group of singles who would make meals together, and many have just given up on the stress of finding a meal week after week...

I could have written that.

Why do I feel like a failure every weekend?

Why do I feel such antipathy when I see other frum Jews -- as if every one of them has judged and rejected me?

How can I abandon 20 years of practice -- and bad dates, and worse boyfriends, and awful roommates, and good friends -- for the chance to find love, respect, companionship, and possibly children?

If I don't, am I sacrificing my life and happiness on an altar of bullshit?

If I'm not orthodox, who am I?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. It's a big 'besides' but how are you and JV getting along when you are not debating religion? You haven't said much about what you have in common, or why you enjoy his company.
    Tell him you want to put the theological debates aside, for now. Then see where it goes.
    Good luck!

  2. Do you really have to question everything you believe in order to find love and happiness?

    Maybe... maybe you need to question.

    But do you need to ABANDON everything you believe in order to find love and happiness? No.

    No, you shouldn't be ready to throw away something this major, even for something as major as love.

    You should BOTH be willing to compromise, to hear each other, to listen to each other, and to allow questions to be asked.

    That isn't the same thing as calling everything you believe a heap of bullshit.

    Understandably, JV is angry as a result of some unacceptable treatment by the community. I'm angry, too. But you don't need to leave everything behind in order to be with him. He needs to give you space to have your beliefs, just as you give him space to have his. Why do you think it has to be all or nothing? It doesn't.


  3. Also, agree with From the Trenches.


  4. Is he as ambivalent about you as you are about him? You would take him if he were observant.Would he only take you if you were non-observant?

    All the best,


  5. One of my very best friends (and roommate for 7 years), MO like you and me, dated her non-Orthodox bf on and off for 7 years because of this dilemma. It is not an easy decision to make. But in the end they got married and have 3 beautiful daughters. She is still Orthodox, he is still not. Their home is kosher, but when he visits his mother he eats the treif delicacies there. They keep Shabbat in the home, but sometimes he goes out to a ball game with his friends. It is not perfect, but it is not impossible. And as far as an outsider can tell, I think they ahve a good marriage.

  6. this is your best post in this blog, great job in illustrating the tension and frustrating embarassment! It would be intererting if you could have JV write a post from his side to lend another voice to this story, i really like his charactor, keep him around for a while. BTW - don't feel bad about leaving your religious practices behind, they are a tool for spiritual growth, like a hammer is a tool to hit a nail; if you are using either one to hit yourself in the head then you are better off putting it down until your learn how to get it to do what you want.

  7. FTT, we get along beautifully when religious practice isn't an issue. JV was and is the best boyfriend I ever had. The things I used to find so annoying no longer bother me, although I still notice them. He's brilliant, kind, interesting, a great listener, affectionate, romantic, respectful, supportive, and incredibly passionate.

    Rafi and bella, I don't think JV wants that kind of marriage, with different levels of practice.

    Anonymous, I would love to have him do a guest post explaining his POV, but I doubt he'd be willing to do it. He's very private. I'll ask, though.

  8. Ayelet, I still think you should give this relationship a shot. But if JV is indeed as supportive and respectful as you say, he will give you the space to sort out what is right for you in terms of your level of observance. It is part of who you are, for better or worse.

    I appreciate the implication that he would not want to live as a hypocrite--ie be nominally observant just for you. On the other hand, marriage and relationshops are about compromise. Is he willing to compromise in other ways--ie where you guys might live, you working/not working, having kids (or not)? I'd want to be sure that the whole religious issue isn't a red herring in terms of him accepting and respecting you for who you are.

    Looking forward to meeting him sometime, in any case! Enjoy the romance.

  9. The bullshit doesn't come from Orthodoxy, per se. It comes from the people perverting and twisting it. It comes from the misapplication of Torah and halacha.

    Don't blame it for the slings and arrows you've suffered. Blame the people.

    Now that you've done that, you have to decide how much meaning it brings to you, specifically. Do you go to shul that often? Do you enjoy it? If yes, then keep doing it. JV doesn't have to. If not, be happy that there's no pressure on you.

    Shabbat and kashrut are tougher nuts to crack, because part of it is whether they're meaningful to you, and part of it is the certainty that g0d demands their observance. For better or worse, we're conditioned to *know* that they're required. So work through it together and try to find a working compromise.

    Regardless, I think it's more important for you to be in a stable, happy, LTR than to worry about the minutiae of Orthodoxy. And in the endgame, if you have to give it up, I say give it up. You will not lose your friends, and you will not lose 'who you are.'

  10. Well if you were more observant you wouldn't be hanging around this guy at all anyway so you wouldn't have the dilemma. Its not an existential dilemma, that gives it too much philosophical emphasis. Its a basic question, do you believe the Almighty wants you to observe shabbos and kashrus or not. That's the only question. If you do, then sometimes these mitzvot might be difficult, but if they are true, they are worth it. You have to decide if they are true. Don't let your heart make an intellectual decision. Figure it out.

  11. The last 20 years played a role in making you who you are today.

    They are not, however, binding on you today.

    If it is better for you to change directions, change directions. If it isn't, don't.

    But don't let worrying about what that means about the "last 20 years" affect it at all.

  12. I've heard more than one rebbetzin say that it is OK for the woman to be more observant in the relationship. Mine even told me when I look for a husband I should look for someone who is less observant or not strict about everything because it would stimulate a lot of growth (and not just in observance).

  13. If the concern is about changing what you have done because of being afraid of change, or being concerned about "who you are" because of a sense of loss of identity, been there, you get past it. And quicker than you might think.

    What I notice you haven't mentioned though, is that by letting go of OJ, you believe you are sinning, going to hell, denying your fundamental belief system or whatnot, that is different.

    And it wouldn't be "throwing away" anything. That is the journey that got you where you are today. Where you are with JV. And you are not the community with which you are identified. You are Ayelet (or whatever your real name is).

  14. It surprises me that you consider this a religious issue, it's really a mental health issue. Is he going to respect your autonomy in the marriage or not? If you cannot keep your own religious beliefs while being married to him, maybe there's something else wrong with the relationship too that you're not aware of. I'm not saying that it can't work, but you need to find out if your boyfriend can be more accommodating to your cherished beliefs and lifestyle, because accommodation is one of the key parts of a happy marriage.

  15. Ploni, it's not so much a mental health as a lifestyle issue, and he's not going to marry anyone who adheres to that lifestyle.

  16. In other words, he's *not* respecting your autonomy, or your religion.

  17. No, Ploni, he respects my religion and autonomy, but he's not going to marry me if I keep following them to the letter. Which is his right.

  18. orthodox is a label. into which you don't fit, so get over it. you keep kosher and shabbat, within your definitions, you sleep with men, dress as you will, and judge and slam people viciously (verbally speaking). these are not judgments, simply observations based on your own words. stop thinking in labels. at best, you are observant-of-some-aspects-of-judaism and not of others. to some degree, this defines most, if not all, of us. even JV - I assume he does not murder, steal, is basically a decent guy. It sounds like he's a good deal kinder to people then you are - frankly, I personally (as an "orthodox" jewish person) find that to be more important then much else.

    but forget the labels. of if you must obsessively use them - you aren't orthodox - maybe modern orthodox, maybe old-school conservative (wherein shabbat and kosher were a given), maybe traditional, maybe somewhere in between. and bear in mind that outside of nyc these labels have a bit more fluidity to them. take your pick.

    see what i mean? labels are not the point. you pick what you think is right. So does JV. you aren't that different. you're certainly not better. and you're more then a label.

  19. Anonymous,

    Food for thought . . .

    Personally, I like the label "Unorthodox" for myself.

    All the best,


  20. That's my new handle, Rafi: Modern Unorthodox ;)

  21. I'm intrigued by the poll, as I am one of those observant 30-something single Jews who eats Shabbat dinner alone at least half of the time. Is your friend still seeking responses?

  22. Pretty sure the poll is closed, Rachel, but if you want I can introduce you to her on Facebook.