I feel slightly down right now. Not really badly, but a little bit. It doesn’t help that I have a headache (I have long been prone to headaches and migraines on Shabbat (the Sabbath) for reasons I have never really understood) and possibly a slightly upset stomach, but it’s mainly shul (synagogue) that has brought me down a bit.
It started positively. E. brainstormed some suggestions to help me to get to shul for Shacharit (the morning service) on Shabbat, which I haven’t managed much lately. I tried a couple of her ideas. I’m not sure how much it was them per se, but I did get to shul for 10.00am. Granted shul started at 8.45, but I figure that being there for the second half is better than not at all. Even if I did eat too much cake while trying to avoid talking to people in the kiddush (refreshments after the service). I’m being a little facetious, as I was a bit socially avoidant, but did talk a little to some people. I did eat too much cake, though.
I slept quite a bit when I got home and again after lunch, so goodness knows how I’m going to sleep tonight (last week I slept so much on Shabbat that I couldn’t sleep on Saturday night at all and went through to Sunday evening without sleeping). But I did get to shul for the Talmud shiur (class) and Mincha and seudah shlishit (the third meal). This was what brought my mood down, because the shiur over seudah was on Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith. It got off to a bad start with the rabbi rubbishing a book he apparently hadn’t read and seemed to be dismissing on the basis of its title. I have read it, and I don’t think it says what he thinks it says (what the book actually says is not dissimilar to some of the opinions he mentioned as legitimate (if not necessarily what he believes) later on). The shiur itself was mostly introductory (it’s the first of a series) and while the rabbi didn’t say anything about Jewish belief that I outright disagreed with, the general attitude made me uncomfortable and left me looking for legitimate alternative opinions within the masorah (Jewish tradition). It just reinforced a feeling I’ve had for a long time that this shul is not a good match for me in terms of hashkafa (religious philosophy), which is a shame as it is a good match in other ways.
But the thing that really upset me was feeling that the rabbi and congregation might not accept E. if we get married. E. is Jewish, but she isn’t as religious as I am, and I’m worried that the rabbi/congregation will say I should marry a ‘typical’ frum (religious) woman. As far as I’m concerned, the typical frum women had their chance with me and blew it. They were mostly not interested because of my mental health or because of my geekiness or because I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). So I ended up open to someone who isn’t frum, but who isn’t turned off by my mental health and is supportive of my geekiness, my writing ambitions and, yes, my frumness, even if she doesn’t share it (see what I said above about E. brainstorming ideas to help me get to shul – it was her idea to do that, not mine). In any case, I’m not exactly a typical frum man, so why would a typical frum woman be right for me?
I think E. is a really good match for me in so many ways, not least how supportive she is of me (again, something I haven’t experienced much of in the frum world, in relationships or otherwise). But I worry that other people won’t see it that way. Still, my rabbi mentor (whose judgement, as I’ve mentioned before, I respect more than that of pretty much anyone I know) is also really supportive of me being with E. and is hoping it turns out well for us, as are, I think, my parents, although they seem to be a little shocked at how serious the relationship has become so quickly (to be honest, E. and I are more than a little shocked by that ourselves).
The formula I came up with for how much I respect and listen to people turned out to be:
God > E. > my rabbi and congregation
(Don’t ask me where my rabbi mentor fits in on that. Or my parents, sister and friends for that matter. It’s simplified.)
The other thing I that made me feel out of place was a tangent the rabbi went off on about imagination. He seemed to be positing ‘imagination’ as the opposite of ‘reality’ and criticising imagination as something that distracts from real things like God. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what he meant, as he did the frummie thing of not explicitly stating what he was annoyed about because it was too treif (non-kosher) to spell out. He started with computer games, but I’m not quite sure where it went from there; possibly to internet pornography, but apparently also to imagination generally. I’m not sure if he meant to say that any immersive fiction that is not reflective of “spiritual reality” is problematic, but that was what it sounded like.
I don’t share this view of imagination and I’m fairly sure that other major Jewish thinkers of the past didn’t either. I’m pretty sure that Maimonides himself saw the imaginative faculty (to use his neo-Aristotlean language) as the source of prophecy. Certainly Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the nineteenth century thought along those lines and his thirteen allegorical stories, sometimes seen as the start of modern Yiddish literature, are full of symbolic ideas, incidents and characters that have no literal relation to ‘real life’ yet are symbolically linked to spiritual concepts. Many take the form of quest narratives and feature imagery that would fit in folklore or fantasy fiction; I have a secular anthology of Jewish fantasy fiction that features several of his stories. This was very much on my mind, as I’m kicking around ideas for a writing project of my own rooted very much in Rabbi Nachman’s stories, for which I have a great love, despite not really understanding them in all their details; I just love their the language and imagery and every so often a part of the meaning slots into place for me.
So, here I am, wondering if I’m in the right community. I probably am, inasmuch as out of all the communities I could join at this moment in my life, this is probably the best one for me. It’s small, it’s friendly, the rabbi and the assistant rabbi have a reasonable understanding of mental health issues and they take davening (prayer) and Torah study seriously, with a strict ‘no talking’ rule during davening. But I do wonder if I will ever find the community that is 100% right for me and this is not the first time that I have wondered this. Maybe no one finds that, any more than anyone finds the spouse who is 100% right for them. But I do wonder if I will ever find a shul where I feel a reasonably good fit.