That was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath). I didn’t really want to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday evening (afternoon really; Shabbat started at 3.48pm) because I just felt too tired and overloaded. I forced myself to go and probably would have felt worse if I had missed it, but I didn’t get much out of it. I don’t seem to get much out of shul any more, if I ever did. The mini-shiur (class) in the middle was on an obscure halakhic (Jewish law) matter that is, I suspect, primarily a superstition that has crept into minor law codes, but which has been unearthed by Haredi scholars who are looking for more laws and assume that nothing external to Judaism could enter the halakhic process so it must all be authentic and meaningful. If you’ve read the famous essay Rupture and Reconstruction by Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik you’ll know what I mean (the essay concludes “Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him [God], than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”).
I came home and got through dinner with my family, but then I went and lay on my bed in the dark for half an hour. I’m never sure, when I do that, if it’s a type of autistic withdrawal from emotional overload or just depression. I guess they could overlap.
I just felt all evening that I’m running on empty, religiously. I suppose emotionally too, although I’m only realising that now. I still believe in God, and the Divine origin of the Torah, and the importance and meaningfulness of halakhah and the mitzvot (commandments), but it’s a struggle to get motivated to do anything Jewish. I try to daven (pray) and do some Torah study (more on this below), but it’s hard. Perhaps it would be easier if someone external was congratulating me when I do these things, or perhaps that would just feel patronising and make it seem worse. I don’t know. I just feel I have nothing left to give. I want to keep Shabbat (it’s currently the only truly meaningful or enjoyable Jewish practice in my life) and I wouldn’t do anything drastic like stopping keeping kashrut (the dietary laws), but davening and Torah study get harder and harder, as do mitzvot that aren’t particularly strongly embedded in my life, like not listening to women singing (I was just listening to Annie Lennox/Eurythmics) or not watching stuff that has a lot of sex and violence (my recent binging on James Bond films that I had seen for decades, although to be honest I’m not greatly fond of sex and violence in fiction generally… I like the Roger Moore Bond films because they’re all deliberately cartoonish and unreal).
I don’t think I’ve ever got much out of my religion. I know my parents became more religious because they found adopting certain practices meaningful or enjoyable, but that’s never been my motivation. I’ve enjoyed too little for that to motivate me. I used to enjoy Torah study. I suppose I still do, if it’s about something that interests me. I’m enjoying the Maggid Koren series of literary critical books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). In fact, I finished the volume on Bereshit (Genesis: From Creation to Covenant) over Shabbat. But these days I rarely experience any kind of meaningful connection with God when I daven or “learn” (study Torah… it’s probably telling that I usually say “study Torah” rather than “learn” as most Orthodox Jews do). I’ve largely stopped meditating.
I know we’re supposed to serve God because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re in His covenant, but we’re supposed to enjoy it as well. Other Jews talk about what they get from Judaism, whether it’s intellectual stimulation from “learning” or connection from davening or meditation or the feeling of emotional support in the community, or the warmth of Jewish families… Religious Jews will say that Judaism enables us to enjoy the physical world meaningfully rather than hedonistically over-indulge or ascetically abstain, but I don’t enjoy much generally (depressive anhedonia), have had to curtail my diet because of medication-led weight gain and, am not allowed to have sex because I’m not married, which I suspect is the main thing people are thinking of when they say that Jews are allowed to avoid physical stuff within boundaries. I know we’re supposed to serve God as an end in itself, but it’s hard to keep going when I’m getting nothing in return, just on a simple practical need for refuelling. All I can say is that depressive anhedonia means that not being frum would probably be just as miserable for me, so I might as well stick with Judaism in the hope that there is an afterlife and I get something there that I can’t get here. Which is entirely the wrong attitude, for practical reasons as much as religious ones.
For a while I thought that at least I could model positive aspects of Judaism to non-Jews/non-religious Jews, but I don’t think that’s true any more. If anything my recent bursts of religious OCD just present it in a bad light here.
The other thing that worried me over Shabbat is whether I actually care about anyone. I know my parents care about me and my sister does and E. certainly cares about me, but I find it hard to know what I feel about other people. My feelings are often a black box that I can’t easily access except with therapy or slowly writing stuff here. I know some people think that this blog is self-indulgent navel-gazing, but really it’s a kind of archaeology, slowly trying to unearth and understand what I’m thinking and feeling at any given time. I just happen to let other people read it too. I’m not sure that I know exactly what “caring about someone” would feel like. I worried that I didn’t care much about my cousins, but then when we were worried that my cousin had gone missing last Shabbat (which I think I downplayed here because by the time I could write she was home, but I was really worried at the time) I was very upset that something might have happened to her, so maybe I do care about people.
Asking myself “Would I do X for person Y?” to try to see how much I care about them doesn’t really help as I’ve conditioned myself to think that I should (my favourite word again) give anything, my life even, to help others, even though the reality is that if I had to go out of my way for most people, it would make me resentful, but some of that would be autistic annoyance at disruption. If someone said, “Can you do something minor for me right away?” or “Can you do something major for me in a week’s time?” I would probably find the former harder, because I wouldn’t have time to plan for it and accept it, whereas the big thing I know is coming and can prepare for, practically and emotionally, which is much easier from an autistic point of view (my parents have never entirely grasped this, one reason we don’t see eye to eye lately).
I read a bit and went to bed earlyish even though I didn’t feel tired and had no intention of trying to go to shul in the morning. Even so, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read some more. I don’t know what time I fell asleep in the end. Probably somewhere around 2.00am.
I slept through the morning again, struggled to get ready for lunch and then had to go back to bed for a bit afterwards, before eating seudah quickly and hurrying to shul. I did somehow daven a bit at home and get to shul for shiur and Ma’ariv (Evening Service). I only really did that because I have my little job tidying up the papers after Ma’ariv. I didn’t really want to go to the shiur or the service.
The shiur was on Daf Yomi. Daf Yomi is a thing whereby you study one page (that’s both sides of a page) of Talmud a day and you complete the whole Talmud in approximately seven and a half years. It’s been going since the 1920s I think. They just completed/re-started another cycle (in fact I think the re-start is tonight/Sunday), so it’s been in the air in the Jewish community recently. In theory it allows ‘ordinary’ people to study the whole of the Talmud, although I’ve never been sure if the average person really understands that much Talmud in one go, even if they go to a shiur. It would take me about an hour to study that much Talmud, but that would really just reading through it. Serious comprehension would take longer, possibly indefinitely. But apparently tens of thousands of people manage it, including growing numbers of women (although not in the Haredi world).
The rabbi spoke about making a set time each day to study Torah. He said even doing five minutes, even two minutes, a day was OK if you genuinely could not do more, which reassured me a bit. Unfortunately, he then undermined this by saying that we should all really do Daf Yomi, that Rav Moshe Feinstein (the leading Haredi posek (jurist) of the twentieth century) said that there’s a mitzvah to study the whole of the Talmud that can be fulfilled through Daf Yomi (I very much doubt any rabbi before the twentieth century would have said there’s a mitzvah for all men to study the whole of the Talmud; Talmud used to be for an intellectual/religious elite, not everyone) and that everyone should have a set time for studying Torah morning and evening even if they’re ill. So that just fed a load of my fears about not doing enough and thinking that I will never be a good enough Jew and that even thought I’m ill, I should be doing a lot more study.
I’m home now, obviously, and back in weekday mode. I still have these worries about running on empty religiously, and how much worse I might feel once I start work and have that drain on my resources, and whether I care about my parents or E., not to mention what caring for E. would/could/might one day actually entail and so on.
It was hard to do anything this evening. I didn’t manage any proofreading, but I spent a bit of time working on my novel – a bit under an hour, and even less when you take out the procrastination time dotted inside that hour. I did write over 600 words, which is better than my usual target of 500 per hour. The procrastination just made me feel more depressed, seeing things online that upset me one way or another, not necessarily in ways that are easy to explain, but tied in with my weak sense of self and identity, and my isolation in the frum community.