I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.

***

I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.

***

That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

8 thoughts on “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

  1. I’m going to use your own words “against” you: “But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it. I mean, really believe…I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world. I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages” Your struggle is social and emotional, not necessarily religious, it seems. So, how can you divorce your enjoyment and belief in your religion from your personal worries about fitting in and your self-judgment? I have only questions, and not answers. As for E. she’ll make her own decisions about the relationship. I hope it works out!

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    1. I know it’s social and emotional, but it’s pretty much impossible to divorce the social side of things from the religious in the Orthodox community, because it’s so family- and community-centred. I certainly feel pretty tired of all the community options on the table for me at the moment.

      I’m not sure that I really do enjoy my religion much, despite those quotes. But I have depressive anhedonia, so I don’t enjoy anything very much, so leaving isn’t necessarily an answer.

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  2. You mentioned “the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world.” Would there be some benefit to being part of a community where you’re aiming to be more observant than average, rather than in a Haredi community where you’re doing “less” than others because everyone else seems to have gone to yeshiva and spends hours every day studying Torah and davens with a minyan every day and so on and so forth?

    And I don’t think you portray Judaism in a negative light. Ultra-Orthodox observance sounds exhausting, but no more so than highly religious observance of any other faith.

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    1. Would there be some benefit to being part of a community where you’re aiming to be more observant than average

      That was my old shul, before we moved house. It had advantages, inasmuch as I had a degree of importance because I was capable of leading services and giving classes, but it was lonely. I felt there weren’t many people I could talk to, for the opposite reason of why I feel there aren’t many people I can talk to in my current community.

      I’m glad you don’t think I portray Judaism in a negative light. Haredi Judaism is definitely exhausting, which is perhaps why there’s a strict pre-feminist division of labour on gender lines to make it workable on some level. Also why practical and moral support from others in the community is so important, which is why I struggle without that.

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  3. First, I don’t think you’re portraying Judaism in a negative light whatsoever. I just think you’re an individual who is being honest that your community is not the perfect fit for you.

    One thing I’ve discovered over the years is the surprise of talking with people directly and learning they often have aspects of their religious community–or even stream of Judaism–yet they continue attending and observing what they believe to the best of their ability. I remember a Jewish family that lived within walking distance of a Conservative synagogue and were members. They were as observant as any Orthodox family I’ve ever met, but attended the shul that fit them for whatever reason. If you move to a more liberal synagogue, maybe Modern Orthodox, would you be able to be comfortable that you will be as observant as you desire? Maybe that would work for both of you.

    I think people with depression and definitely OCD often have a desire for perfection that may be unattainable or unrealistic. We can only do our best. I hope both you and E. reach a place of peace and comfort whatever you end up deciding.

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    1. I’m still hopeful about finding a Modern Orthodox shul in America if I marry E. Unfortunately, in the UK, most people who go to MO shuls are not frum at all. They are just traditional, and I find it hard to connect with them. My parents’ shul is MO and is fairly frum as MO shuls go. I used to go there (and do go there sometimes in the week), but it’s a bad fit for so many reasons: too big, too much talking in services, a chazan and a choir I can’t stand and, because it’s my parents’ shul, I have no identity of my own there, I’m just my parents’ son.

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