The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

September 20, 2012 by

Down the Rabbit Hole: Gifts from a Religious Crisis

“I love Shabbos. I know I’m struggling with the details, but I love the way time spreads like a picnic blanket. I like the meals, I like going to shul, I like having time to nap, to take a walk, to see a friend. I like the community and the camaraderie. I worry about my new habits. I worry that Shabbos will be lost to me.”

A little over a year ago, much of my life was shifting wildly or was already shattered: my relationship, my living situation, my health—and my religious observance. I had been secretly breaking Shabbos for a while, and finally acknowledged to myself that I was no longer committed to halakha, traditional Jewish law.

And so I gave up halakha, and fell down the rabbit hole.

1.  Secret Shabbos Superpowers – It felt, at first, like I had entered a secret society of superheroes. Want to be in New Jersey for Shabbos dinner and the Upper West Side for Shabbos lunch? With the magic of public transportation I can travel easily from one place to the next! Waiting a long time for a Shabbos guest who is mysteriously missing? Not to fear—the Shabbos guest has secret Shabbos superpowers too, and with the use of text messaging I can find out that she is sick and staying at home!

2. Crying on the Subway – One Friday night, I was on the train coming back from seeing my family. I had recently returned from traveling and my father was about to travel himself; that one evening was my only chance to see him for weeks. I didn’t regret my choice, exactly, but the feeling of not observing Shabbos was as palpable and painful as the feeling of struggling to keep it. I cried on the subway as I realized that there would be no escape from figuring it all out, and finding peace.

3. This is what it means to be an Off-the-Derech Baal-Teshuvah: it means you grew up less observant—or in my case, completely secular—became traditionally observant later in life, and then walked away from observance. For me this year, it has meant carefully constructing a childhood that I love dearly, then suddenly growing up and leaving my childhood behind. Yet I didn’t want everyone to make the choices I was making; I wanted the Shabbos world to keep going whenever I stepped away. How else could I come back to visit?

4. No Breaks – I thought that I was on a break from choosing and continuing on a religious path. I became, meanwhile, very involved in a start-up shul, and promptly began berating myself: I couldn’t explore different options when I was investing so much time and energy in one community (and a Modern Orthodox one, at that)! Until it dawned on me: there are no breaks. The path continues. Every moment is meaningful, and I am in a particular community because I want to be.

5. Shabbos vs. Saturday – For me, Shabbos isn’t exactly a day of the week—that’s Saturday. Shabbos is instead a choice to put myself in a certain environment. Though I spent many happy Saturdays this year skipping Shabbos, especially when traveling, sometimes the day was difficult because I wanted to observe Shabbos somehow and couldn’t; I had made a choice in advance to put myself in a Saturday situation. These days, I usually opt to make Shabbos plans, just in case I want them once I get there.

6. Between All and Nothing I wrote a whole post about this one. Right before the holiday of Shavuos, I stopped freaking out so much about an observance end-game, and attempted to embrace a Jewish life of ambiguity and doubt. Since then I really have let go of a lot of angst.


7. Anger –  “I’m straight up mad at halakha,” I recently said to my rabbi, who’s known me for almost ten years now. I had realized that, underneath it all, I was angry—at halakha, and also at Orthodox Judaism, at Conservative Judaism, at religion in general, at human nature, at God. I’ve been thinking lately about becoming halakhic again, but keep stopping myself because I’m so damn mad.

I ranted at my rabbi for a while. I ranted about the issues of women’s and LGBTQ inclusion in Orthodoxy, about value systems and how halakha is only one of a few of mine, and often contradicts the others. He couldn’t answer everything, of course, but the conversation was nevertheless both helpful and humbling. Regarding my anger, he said, “If you’re mad, it means you’re in it—mazal tov.”

When I was at the door and about to leave, he grinned and said, “You’re doing great.” Strangely enough, I still don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going… but I think he’s right.