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Apr 26

Reform versus Conservative Judaism

Could also be subtitled – The On-Going Saga of a Spiritually Diverse Family.

I still tend to think of us as interfaith, because even after converting to Judaism, Marc and I are often coming at spirituality from such a different place.  Our “faiths” are so different that even though they are nominally the same, we consistently have to debate and discuss before we come to some sort of consensus (or just decide to give up for a while, which is sort of what happens mostly).

Judaism (and this is from my perspective only) seems to be broken into three basic movements.  There’s Orthodox, which involves separate seating, women covering their hair, a really enthusiastic and open embrace of the religion and a total and utter commitment to following the Torah.  Then there’s Reform, which is more liberal, doesn’t consider Biblical law to be binding and more intellectual (at least I think so) – there’s a greater acceptance of those who aren’t Jewish, much more accepting of interfaith relationships.  And there’s Conservative – which is right in the middle.   Jewish laws are binding, but can change and adapt.   Interfaith marriages are not at all what you’d want, but if you did it anyway, they’ll still talk to you and stuff 🙂

Marc would prefer Orthodox, mostly.  He’s not into the separation of men and women, and is definitely a huge believer in religious equality between the sexes, but he’s much more into a really open and joyous embrace of Judaism.  He loves the intellectual rigor, the debate between the rabbis in the Talmud over how to best follow the laws set forth.  He believes in following the laws of the Torah, as much as he can.

I’m not sure where I fit in.  I converted in a Conservative synagogue, and still think that’s a good compromise for us.  And the synagogue is lovely – the people are warm and friendly, and my daughter loves it there.  But secretly, I think I’m pining for Reform.  I don’t think I have to keep kosher for Passover, and more importantly, I resent having to.  So I didn’t.  I’m not good at following rules – and I think that’s the heart of my trouble.  I like knowing what the rules are – and I like deciding for myself whether or not they make sense for me.  Which sounds vaguely anarchist – I know that.  

I went to a meeting at the local Reform synagogue and felt so at home there.  The synagogue I belong to now is wonderful, but it’s wonderful because I converted.  I belong because I followed the rules.  I wonder if that’s part of what’s throwing me off – the idea that I only fit in there if I pretend to be something I’m not – I love the choice I made to convert, but also love a lot of the traditions I grew up with.  I’m very far from a devout Jew.  I put up a tree, my kids believe in the Easter bunny.  I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with bacon.   I don’t like following rules, I don’t like doing anything because someone else said I have to.  This is why I don’t know that I’m good at this Jewish thing.

There’s so much I really, really love about Judaism.  I love the connection to the Divine, I love the thought that I don’t need a priest or a rabbi to communicate with God.  I love the way there is a blessing for every little thing – the sense that we should be so grateful for all that we have.  I love the responsibility of it – that, as a Jewish woman, I’m obligated to do what I can to make the world a better place.  I don’t have to fix it all the way, but I can’t ever stop trying.  I love that we’re commanded to enjoy life, to have sex, to eat good food, drink good wine, love our spouses and our children.  I love the Shabbat dinners, the kiss my husband gives me after we light the candles, the looks on my children’s faces when we bless them.  I love a whole lot about it – and don’t regret, for a minute, converting.

But I do wonder… I think, bottom line (and this is why I love blogging and writing, because sometimes the only way I can make sense of something is to write it all out), that I’m a crappy Conservative Jew, and an absolutely phenomenal Reform Jew.

I feel so much better now that I figured it out.  A conservative synagogue makes sense for our family, for a whole host of reasons.  Our kids love it there, and by converting there, I know that their status as Jews won’t be up for debate by anyone (other than the Orthodox, but that’s a whole other story).  And what I want most is for them to have a strong spiritual base, a religious community to feel a part of, and they have that.  I have that too – I don’t necessarily need to advertise that I’m secretly eating granola bars during Passover, or that I surround my car with a white light to keep me safe when I drive thru a snowstorm.

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