Saturday, April 28, 2012

On Her Own

Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Kendrick Macdowell for his very interesting interview last week.
Thanks so much for sharing with us Kendrick!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome On Her Own.

On Her Own is an Atheist and I know you'll enjoy her interview as well!

Here Is On Her Own's Introduction:
Born and raised in the Modern Orthodox Jewish tradition, On Her Own spent many years trying to come to terms with what she saw as the contradictions within the Jewish faith before leaving the fold. While she still values many of the rituals and traditions of her ancestors and still practices many of them, she is now an atheist.

On Her Own blogs at

1) What religion do you practice?
I'm in the semi-strange position of continuing to practice some elements of a religion (Judaism) while not believing in its basic tenets at all.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I was raised an Orthodox Jew. I guess I've gradually "converted" to be an atheist Jew. Judaism still plays a big part in my life as I celebrate many of the holidays, though generally not in the traditional way I was taught to celebrate them.

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
I'll just talk about Judaism now, since I guess I still do consider myself to be Jewish (although, how odd -- I don't believe in the religion, but I still consider myself to be Jewish; I think Judaism is one of the only religions that is also an ethnicity). Yes, Judaism has a variety of different types of observance. (I'm also going with different types of observance rather than different "degrees" because I've met some very observant Jews in all of the different denominations; they just have a different philosophy of how Judaism should be observed. I don't buy into the "Orthocentric" view of Judaism which classes all the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism as "less observant."

In Judaism, there is Orthodoxy (which itself can be split into Litvish, Hasidic, Centrist, Modern, etc., etc.), Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and probably loads of other smaller branches that I don't know about. What separates the Orthodox and Conservative movements from the others to me is an allegiance to time-old rabbinical interpretations of Jewish law. However, where the Conservative movement allows for reversals of old interpretations of the law by their rabbinical court and is relatively socially progressive in their interpretations of the laws, Orthodoxy remains more rigid.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
Okay, well I've already established that I am atheist but let me also step back for a minute and say that belief in God and in the veracity of the claims the religion makes (i.e., with Judaism -- that the Torah is authored by God and was received at Sinai) is not necessarily essential to be considered a practicing Jew. (Some Jews will inevitably disagree with me here, but I even know people who practice Orthodox Judaism who don't believe in these things.)

In any case, I am an atheist but I do still practice/observe Judaism in some ways. That said, I don't fall very easily into any of the categories that exist. I recently discovered a branch of Judaism called Humanistic Judaism, which is secular humanist in its philosophy but still ascribes to some of the values and traditions of Judaism. I guess this would be the closest to what I am, although I feel odd categorizing myself as such as I have never been to any service/celebration that was Humanist Jewish, nor have I ever met a Humanist Jew.

Here's a rundown of my current level of observance:

-- I don't keep kosher (even on Passover) or do anything to observe the Sabbath most weeks (I do occasionally do something though) or fast on Yom Kippur.

-- I do have my own way of celebrating the holidays (which I usually decide upon soon before the holiday and are frequently not very traditional) including holidays that most secular Jews don't celebrate (read: Sukkot, Shavuot, Purim). I do identify strongly as a Jew and read Jewish-related books/websites/articles, attend Jewish-related lectures, etc.. I also occasionally enjoy participating in Orthodox/traditional celebrations of Shabbat and/or holidays.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
Oy. Well with Judaism it's not really so clear cut. Popular Jewish culture definitely ascribes to the idea of heaven and hell, at least to some degree. Growing up, I always heard that a Jewish soul spends up to a year in gehennom (hell) to cleanse it before going to heaven and that this was why people said kaddish (a prayer of mourning) for someone who died for a full year after their death. Also, people love to talk about evil individuals (read: Hitler, etc.) as being in gehennom.

However, the idea of hell/heaven isn't really so fleshed out in the Torah and it seems to have developed later on in the history of Judaism. But here's me being scholarly! Certainly in popular Jewish culture those ideas exist -- as well as the idea of "Olam Habah" (the world to come) and ideas of messianic times where everyone deserving will be reincarnated.

I still think that even in popular Jewish culture these ideas are not quite as well defined as they are, for example, in Christianity.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
I don't believe in heaven/paradise.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
Um, well. The degree to which I practice Judaism has more to do with my upbringing and the respect for my ancestry/cultural history than anything else. Atheism is a good fit for me because it intellectually makes sense to me.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
Jewish holidays include: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot/Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Tu B'Shvat, Purim, Passover, Shavuot, Tisha B'Av, in addition to a bevvy of smaller fast days and other smaller holidays. If I go with the term "holy days" instead of necessarily "holiday," there's also Shabbat, which happens every Friday night/Saturday

I try to do something for most of the holidays to feel connected with my heritage and my upbringing. Sometimes I celebrate these holidays in a traditional manner but most of the time it's non-traditional. For example, whereas Yom Kippur is generally observed by fasting and attending synagogue (even amongst the less traditional branches of Judaism), last year I went on a hike. This reflected my understanding of the spirit of the day, which is contemplative and reflective.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Yes! Always! They are some of my favorite friends, too. Indeed, my friends poke fun at me for always wanting to know so much about religion and swaying the topics of discussion towards religion (be it how they were brought up or if/how they celebrate it or feel towards it now).

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I have. Last year, I attended a Christmas service at a church and joined two of my friends for Christmas dinner. To me, it's just a way of appreciating life and humanity as a whole. Similarly, I have invited people who are not Jewish to celebrate Jewish holidays or Shabbat with me. I actually enjoy it more that way. I like the pluralism of it and getting to talk about where the traditions are rooted, what they mean/have meant to me, and how they look to someone for whom they are completely unfamiliar.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
This is a really tough question. Rather than talk about the burka or Shariah, I will talk about the Jewish laws of tzniut (modesty, which overwhelmingly apply to women rather than men), since I have more background in Judaism.

I see Jewish tzniut laws as a reflection of the society in which the religion was born and continued to grow. In that society, women were considered property and were most certainly governed over by men. The way I see it, these laws were a way to keep women in check and keep them from posing a threat to the establishment.

Today, many women who I consider to be strong, interesting, and vibrant individuals (and who sometimes consider themselves to be feminists) ascribe to these laws and feel a connection to them. I don't necessarily understand why they wish to do so or why they believe that these laws are directly from God, but I respect their decision to follow the laws. The only time I will start to get angry/upset is if I feel like a woman/women are being bullied into keeping these laws against their own will (be it by their husband, their teachers, other women, or the community as a whole).

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
In the branch of Judaism in which I was raised women have traditionally been barred from becoming a rabbi. This bothered me to a great degree when I started to analyze it as a younger adult. At that time, it was becoming more common to have women in other, lesser positions of power -- like a yoetzet who is trained to make decisions regarding marital purity laws. More recently (in the last year), an Orthodox woman was ordained as a rabbi. This was met with severe disapproval from the larger Orthodox community but I was inspired and excited by it. I think that not allowing half of your society to have input into the decision making processes that govern their lives is straight-up unethical.

Other branches of Judaism have been ordaining women as rabbis for decades now. The Rosh Hashanah service that I recently attended was led by a female rabbi and it was one of the most inspirational and amazing services I'd ever been to. I do believe that it's only a matter of time (though maybe still decades away) before the idea of the female rabbi becomes increasingly acceptable among the Orthodox.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
Orthodox synagogues segregate women from men. Other branches of Judaism do not. Intellectually, the segregation bothers me as I don't see why women shouldn't be as engaged in the services as men. However, on an emotional level, when at a traditional service, I still feel more at home and comfortable when there are separate sections for men and women. I do not like this about myself.

14) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I don't have any children and currently don't plan to. If I did have children and they wanted to marry outside of Judaism, I would support them. However, I imagine that psychologically, there would still be a part of me that would be upset about it. This is especially ironic because I, myself, would consider marrying someone who isn't Jewish.

This inner, judgmental (and Orthodox) part of me exists and is real but I am not happy about it. It's a result of years of training and is more instinctual than faith-based. I recognize it and try to fight against it. It's the same way people will recognize that racism is wrong and try their best not to be racist but still find themselves instinctually making racist assumptions, etc..

Here's a riddle that illustrates my point. Someone told this to me and my inability to figure it out surprised the hell out of me:

A man and his son were driving down the street when suddenly they got into a huge accident. The ambulance came and found that the father was dead on arrival but the son was still alive. They took him to the hospital where he was instantly admitted to the emergency room. There, the doctor looked down at the boy and exclaimed, "That's my son!" Who is the doctor?

**Answer and commentary is at the bottom**

15) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
No. And even mainstream Orthodox Judaism doesn't believe that.

16) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
I think everyone who practices something that they consider to be Judaism is a practicing Jew. However, it bothers me when Orthodox Jews claim to speak for Judaism, deriding all other branches of Judaism as inauthentic and wrong.

17) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.

18) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Yes. I feel like traditional Judaism and the Torah devalue me as a woman. The Torah seems to be directed at men and seriously devalues women, from my perspective.

19) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
No. Neither atheism nor Judaism gives me peace of mind.

20) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
No. It's completely illogical and nonsensical. I don't even believe in God. Why would I believe in reincarnation?

**The answer to the riddle in #14 is that the doctor is the boy's mother. This may (hopefully, especially in context?) seem obvious, however when presented with the riddle, many people will struggle and say, "The man in the car was his adoptive father and this is his natural father," "He's the son of a gay couple," etc., etc.. Indeed, this is how I answered it. When I found out the answer, I was disgusted with myself. Why was I, a feminist, assuming that the doctor was a man to the extent that I was ignoring the most obvious answer? Obviously, even as I've reexamined gender roles ad nauseam and concluded that contemporary gender constructs are problematic, I've still absorbed that ideology into the way I think on some deeper, subconscious level.

1 comment:

  1. You seem very confident in your decision to become an Atheist. Is there a possibility that you could be wrong?
    What if there really is a creator and you are denying his existence?
    Religion is in a shambles and it is far easier to withdraw from all religions than to wade through the messy swamp of 'made up' traditions and beliefs.
    What bugs me is things like spirit mediums. You would probably need a first hand experience to believe that there are unexplained forces out there. If these spirit beings do exist be they good or evil, the possibility that there is a creator becomes a reality.
    Speak to people that you trust. Many, many individuals have had some kind of encounter with spirit forces.
    For me personally, I have had a friend who's house was possessed by a spirit force which physically held him to the ground on occasions. Twenty years ago I went to a fortune teller out of interest sake. The woman laid out my entire life for me in great detail. All to much to ignore.
    As for how or if the creator wants us to worship him, I can't help you there. I am still searching myself.