books and reading · culture/multiculturalism · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · rabbi · religion

Jewish Guilt is Heavy

I recently finished “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.” I was interested in reading it for many reasons. I wanted to read about Judaism through the eyes of people who don’t live in the Orthodox world I live in. I wanted to understand Judaism through the eyes of secular Jews. I also wanted to read about Judaism through the eyes of Jewish women. But I’m not sure that after reading the book, I’m any closer to understanding any of these groups.

Surprisingly, there were some Orthodox writers in the book or those who had grown up Orthodox. The Orthodox world looked completely different through the eyes of both these writers. They talked about worrying about skirt lengths and community pressures. They talked about wanting to act out. There were rebellious undercurrents in their writing that didn’t speak to my experience coming from the secular world to the Orthodox world. Looking at the Orthodox world from these vantage points was interesting, but at the same time I wondered if they were perpetuating a stereotype about Orthodoxy. But then, aren’t some stereotypes founded in truths?

The secular Jewesses were no easier to understand. How did they still feel connected to Judaism without knowing much about its practices? Why was there this guilt about not knowing even when religious practice did not interest them at all? And were some of the essays written by these women Jewish only because the women identitified as Jews? What makes a piece of writing Jewish? Does it have to be about Judaism? What does that mean? I walked away with more questions than answers.

Then there were issues with just being a Jewish woman. The best essay in the bunch, the one I enjoyed the most, was by a woman rabbi, Rabbi Sharon Brous. I devoured her insights with such pleasure and sadness. It was a shockingly honest portrayal of how she feels about being a rabbi in a world that isn’t used to, doesn’t want, rabbis who are women. Her issues with being a Jewish woman made sense to me even if I couldn’t relate to them at all. They made much more sense to me than all the women struggling against their Jewish mothers and grandmothers.

Obviously, I don’t have a Bubbie, I’m not even sure how to spell it (Bubby? Bubbie? Bubbe?). I’ve even recently cut ties to Bubbies I’ve adopted along the way. I don’t have a Jewish mother and apparently, a Jewish mother-in-law is not the same. So many of the women in the book were struggling to be good Jewish women in light of their strongwilled predecessors. Sometimes, the shoes were too big to fill. Sometimes, the shoes led to a lot of Jewish guilt.

It was nice, though, to read about so many Jewish women in one place. I’m kind of sad that Jewish Living magazine died earlier this year. It wasn’t perfect but I think it leaves a void. I do wish there were more places to tell Jewish stories, Latino stories, women’s stories and I wish that the places that are out there got the recognition they deserved.

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One thought on “Jewish Guilt is Heavy

  1. I share your sentiments about the magazine. I only read a few issues of it, but felt it was a nice answer to thinks like Good Housekeeping which have such a clear Christian slant…useful in some ways, but not so much in December and April.

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