I went to bed far too late last night (gone 2.00am), but I needed to shower and watch some TV (The IT Crowd) to be able to sleep after the stress of the day.  The second-hand DVD turned out to have a fault; actually not a fault, but just gunk on it that came off quite easily once I realised what was happening, but that wasted another five or ten minutes.  Once I got to sleep, I slept for ten hours or more and woke feeling exhausted and depressed as usual.  I woke up to a busy house, with both my parents home as well as industrial cleaners which probably didn’t help things, both from the point of view of noise and of people, from both autistic and socially anxious points of view.  The downstairs toilet still smells pungent.  I’m not sure if it’s cleaner or air freshener.  Either way, I struggle to go in there.

It’s now Chol HaMoed, a term which defies literal translation, but refers to the ‘middle days’ in the long festivals of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Pesach (Passover) where work is permitted under certain conditions, but it’s better to avoid “real” work if possible and enjoy the festival.  So I’m holding off job hunting (I didn’t really have a head for it after the intensity of the last few days anyway) and also holding off writing my novel, as I feel that if I want to build a career of a writer, I should treat it as work.

In terms of what I did do, I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study in the sukkah, which was nice, even though I didn’t understand the page of Talmud I was studying at all and even though I really wanted to do an hour, but ran out of time and energy.  I went for a twenty-five minute run.  I would like to increase the distance I run (at the moment it’s somewhat over two miles), but I was exhausted by the end.  I got a bit of a headache afterwards, but not (as yet) a full-blown migraine.  (I seem to be criticising myself a lot for not achieving more rather than praising myself for managing anything considering how I felt when I woke up.)

Exercise is the sort of thing where it’s subjective as to whether it’s allowed on Chol HaMoed; you have to decide if it enhances your joy or diminishes it and only do things that are either joy-enhancing or absolutely necessary.  I decided jogging was OK, as was miniature Doctor Who model painting.  The latter didn’t turn out too well.  Some of my paints have congealed or separated and I’ve ruined a lot of my brushes, particularly the very fine ones, trying to clean oil-based paints in white spirit.  I’ve bought the paints over a number of years from different companies and some are water-based (and therefore easy to remove from brushes), but others aren’t.  (Things I destroy and have to replace regularly without knowing how I destroy them: paint brushes, earphones, shoe soles.)  My hand shakes too much for fine work anyway.  If I had the money, I should probably take the plunge and buy a whole set of water-based paints and fine brushes.  It would be a big outlay, but it would probably pay off if I do this frequently, although at the moment I’m an infrequent painter.  Part of the problem is that different companies produce different types of paint for hugely different prices and it’s not always easy to compare different colours, or tell what you are going to get, although comparison charts can be found online.

Anyway, I now have a rather messily-painted TARDIS that needs further work, a half-painted thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) that needs a lot more work and a Davros that might be finished (I won’t know for sure until it dries, but it’s looking OK at the moment).

***

The mouse touchpad problem on my laptop is back after going away for a while.  Whenever I turn the computer on, it defaults to tap-to-click instead of left-button clicking, which is problematic for me as it’s too sensitive and thinks I’m tapping when I’m not intending to do so.  It’s weird, the setup isn’t even set to clicking and when I go to change it back to tapping, I don’t even get to the right screen before it sorts itself out.  It’s like it ‘forgets’ what to do and when I start to go to touchpad properties it suddenly ‘remembers.’  Weird.

***

I was thinking of blogging about something rather more abstract than usual and decided against it, but then I came across a rather old blog post that touched on the same subject, so here goes.

This post is talking about Modern Orthodox parents who send their eighteen year old children (males in the article; the situation for women is analogous, but not identical) to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries) on their gap year where they are exposed to a worldview that is at odds with the Modern Orthodox way of life their parents brought them up to have and end up studying (“learning”) permanently in yeshiva and kollel rather than coming home at the end of their gap year, going on to university and then to work.  They also end up cutting themselves off from wider Western culture (museums, galleries, novels, etc.) and sometimes from a family that is perceived as not frum (religious) enough.  This is opposed to a Modern Orthodox lifestyle that values Torah study, but sees work, not permanent Torah study as the focus of most people’s lives and sees positive worth in at least some non-Jewish culture.

The writer states that such students will either adopt their yeshiva‘s values wholesale or “the student can bifurcate his (or her) world – they can split their life into two pieces: when in Yeshiva, or around their teachers from school, they pay lip service to the school’s philosophy, they wear black and white, they live in line with what their teachers expect. However, outside of school, they live within the guidelines of their more open, modern background: they watch television and movies, listen to secular music, find (forbidden?) pleasure in their required readings for English Lit., and generally, enjoy other activities of which their school would not approve.”

This resonated somewhat with me.  For one thing, it is part of the reason I never went to yeshiva, a decision I still think about a lot and wonder if it was responsible for many of my issues or if going to yeshiva would just have made my issues worse.  When I was eighteen, I was unaware that there were Modern Orthodox yeshivot where this bifurcation would not be necessary.  The (Haredi) Jewish Studies teachers at my (Modern Orthodox) school assumed I would go to yeshiva and were surprised when I didn’t.  They never actually asked me about it or told me about the range of yeshivot on offer.  I suspect if I had asked they would have referred me to a kiruv yeshiva (yeshiva for people not raised religious) which would doubtless have been equally indoctrinating as the yeshivot referred to in the blog post.  Perhaps I’m wrong about that.  (As an aside, one of the teachers who expressed surprise or annoyance at my “getting away” without going to yeshiva goes to my shul sometimes, but I don’t think he remembers me.  Another turned out to be a friend of the new rabbi.)

That was not the main resonance.  I am more concerned that I live with this dissonance in my shul.  From the Shabbat dinner discussion a few weeks ago, I feel that not everyone in my shul considers themselves Haredi, although some certainly are and others aspire to be so.  Most, if not all, of the working age men in the community work rather than studying full-time in kollel.  Some people do not have televisions while others do and there are divergent thoughts on Zionism and perhaps also on conflicts with science.  On the other hand, I suspect many people see television and Western culture generally as a bidieved, something allowed of necessity, for relaxation, but having no intrinsic value.  This contrasts with the more positive view of Western culture put forward by Modern Orthodox thinkers past and present like Rav Hirsch, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein and (lehavdil bein chayim lechayim) Rabbi Lord Sacks and which I personally follow.

A commenter to the post suggested that, “There’s another option: learn and pray among the Haredim while dressing acting and thinking the way you want. Not for the faint of heart. People will think you’re weird. But I suspect it won’t be as hard to find schools or shidduchim [‘dates,’ but used as a metonymy for ‘spouse’] for your kids as the confirmed would have you believe.”  This is basically what I do, phrased more positively.  But I’m not sure that the consequences are as benign as the commenter thinks.  I don’t know how weird people think I am and I don’t know how difficult it would be to get a religious school or yeshiva to accept my hypothetical children.  But I am struggling to find a wife and I’m not sure how much that is because of this.  Certainly no one in the community is setting me up with people, not even the members who have said I should marry.  Do they not know anyone suitable or do they think I’m too weird/atypical?  It is difficult to tell.

This blog post chimed with the idea I had been thinking of laying out here.  It is an idea I heard at a shiur (religious class) when I was in Oxford, ironically from Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, a Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Principal) from a Modern Orthodox yeshiva (I think one where several peers of mine from Oxford studied after finishing their degrees, I think somewhere where I would feel less bifurcated).  I won’t set out all the proof-texts and reasoning from the biblical text, but it sees Jewish history as having a tension between the descendants of Leah, whose task is to seek pure spirituality, and the descendants of Rachel, whose task is to make the physical spiritual.  This plays out across history, from Yehudah vs. Yosef (Judah vs. Joseph) in the Yosef narrative, to Shaul vs. David (Saul vs. David) later, to the split of the kingdom in two under Rechovoam and Yeruboam (Rehoboam and Jeroboam), finally playing out at the end of history with the two Messiahs, Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David (where the two strands are reconciled, with Mashiach ben Yosef preparing for Mashiach ben David).  My chiddush (innovative opinion) is to see Haredi Judaism and Leah-type pure spirituality and Modern Orthodoxy as Rachel-type spirituality in physicality.  This gives me an idea of where my life should be focused and makes me feel less embattled (because the sons of Rachel were numerically far fewer than those of Leah) and it helps me to conceptualise the Haredi world in a way that makes me less angry and resentful of it, but it doesn’t help me decide what to do about my shul community.

3 thoughts on “The Bifurcated Jew

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