Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Frum Week

What happens when a Reform Jew adopts Orthodoxy for a week? That question is answered in an article by Emily Langowitz - a Reform Jewish young woman who is a senior at Yale University. Being serious about her Judaism - she wanted to know what it was like to be completely observant.

Reform Judaism offers people tremendous personal autonomy. But she started wondering why she chose to do only certain Mitzvos and not others. My guess is that she probably also felt that given the freedom of choice she might be missing out on something. So for one full week she became completely observant. From keeping fully Kosher; to fully keeping Shabbos; to modesty in dress; to davening Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv (with a Minyan and behind a Mechitza). She called it Frum Week.

In the article she describes both the difficulty and exhilaration she felt in taking it upon herself. Here is an excerpt:

Frum week required much more diligence and mental exertion than I’d anticipated. I’d thought studying for Organic Chemistry exams was hard, but nothing gets those brain cells firing like trying to figure out how to eat without violating the rules of kashrut. A previously unknown state of hyper-consciousness was required before I could touch anything on my tray.

I found myself in Catch-22 situations daily: If I didn’t eat bread with my meal, I had to figure out four separate blessings before I could start; but if I did, I had to recite the motzi (blessing over bread) at the beginning and the long birkat hamazon at meal’s end. Did my quinoa with roasted peppers count as a grain or a vegetable? My roommate brought home cookies—were they hekshered (determined to be kosher)? If so, were they dairy? If dairy, when was the last time I had eaten meat? And how was I to categorize various soups?

I would stand in the lunch line, chatting with someone about how I had to say a b’rachah before I ate anything, and only then realize I’d been picking string beans off of my plate for a full minute without a second thought. I had never realized how mindless eating could be for me until I was suddenly forced to think about everything I put near my mouth.

It is so interesting to see just how difficult it is for someone to be Frum who isn’t used to it. For most of us, being Frum is almost second nature. The things Emily had to concentrate on hardly makes a dent in my thought processes throughout the day. All of the things she described are things that I barely think about until I do them. And when I complete them, I do not give them a second thought.

I never thought of it this way but being observant is hard if one is not used to it. There is so much to learn and so much to be considered at any given moment in order to be fully observant. And yet for those of us who are used to it – we tend to do all these calculations subconsciously.

My sense of her words is that it was an over-all very positive experience – albeit a difficult one. But at the same time it seemed to be a bit over-whelming for her in the end. And she expressed a bit of dismay at what she saw as a woman she simply did not counting!

After her one ‘Frum Week’ she went back being a Reform Jew. I get a sense that she almost felt relieved that it was over. But I believe that being fully observant to the best of her ability had an over-all positive impact on her. In fact I am convinced that she is a spiritual person who may very well take another – less pressured look at full observance of the Mitzvos.

I note that she says that it was her Reform faith that gave her the strength to do what she did. I’m not exactly sure what she meant by that. But one thing I am sure of is that she has enhanced her Judaism by her adventures in Orthodoxy. And I am convinced that there is a place in Orthodoxy for Emily Langowitz and all other committed Jews of any denomination.

It will however take more than ‘do it yourself’ observance. It will take becoming better educated about what Orthodoxy truly has to offer. Orthodoxy is more than about just observing Mitzvos. It is about a way of life; it is about serving God according to His will. It will also take a better understanding of the role of a woman in Judaism - a role that makes a woman unique and yet equal to a man in the eyes of God. When she realizes just how valuable that role is she will come to know that indeed a woman does count!