Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't tell me how religious you are

The nature of my job and the location of my office seem to encourage people in the local Jewish community to share all their complaints about the synagogue--I mean ritual--with me. And because the synagogue was formed by the relatively recent merger of Reform and formerly Conservative congregations, everyone has something to complain about.

Sharing complaints with me is futile if they actually want anything to change. I'm not even a dues-paying member of the congregation, so I have less influence than anyone else. And if they want commiseration and support, the prospects still aren't good. I'm one of the tiny number of religious centrists in the community; I can do Reform or Conservative (or Reconstructionist) and my preference is smack dab in the middle.

The current crop of complaints comes mostly from the right, the "Conservadox" end of the Conservative spectrum. The most heated issue is whether it was OK for members from the Reform-leaning faction of the congregation to do a work of gemilut hasadim on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, taking into account that the people in that faction have never celebrated the second day and don't intend to begin. From their point of view, it wasn't a yom tov at all--just Friday.

Then there's the issue of what time Neilah should end on Yom Kippur. And that there was no musaf in the morning services (musaf isn't in the machzor we use, On Wings of Awe).

I don't like it when people tell me that they are "religious"--as if I and others are not--and object to [whatever]. 

This week I thought of a response, but not in time to use it effectively. I should have replied by asking, "Is your sukkah up yet?"

You see, not even one of these "religious" people builds a sukkah at home. 

I have to confess that my sukkah wasn't complete in time for sunset on erev Sukkot. I had three consecutive board meetings on Tuesday, which would have been the best day to build it. On Wednesday I found that some of the components were too far out of square to use and had to buy hardware; then I stopped work for Hebrew school. But at least I had the frame up, with only the shade cloth for the side walls and the shchach left to put up.

So don't tell me how religious you are if you don't build a sukkah. 

No, you don't have to build a sukkah. But if you don't, maybe you shouldn't portray yourself as the guardian of traditional Judaism. What you mean is that you've chosen to base your Jewish identity on being finicky about one or two points that are no more central to others' understanding of Judaism than the sukkah is to yours.

While you're at it, don't position yourself as the defender of "true Conservative Judaism" and then tell me that you're cooking shrimp on the barbecue. You don't have to keep kosher. You can be a good Reform Jew without it. And so forth.