I’m Denominationally Conflicted. Are You?


I’ve been “denominationally conflicted” for a while now—and I suspect I’m not the only one whose intellect doesn’t match her emotions when it comes to Judaism. While I believe fiercely in egalitarianism (although I did not have a bat mitzvah, I loved reading from the Torah for three of my siblings’ bar and bat mitzvahs), my heart doesn’t soar in the Conservative shul to which my family belongs to the way it does in ultra-Orthodox settings. 

My attempts at understanding the disconnect between what I believe and what I feel have yielded only vague hypotheses. Sometimes I think it’s the women-only spaces created by gender-segregated services which appeal to me. Maybe it’s something evoked by the accents, the intonation, the melodies, the mannerisms, the motions. It could also be the cozy, communal feeling of being outsiders together which comes with a recognizable dress code and a set of habits and traditions often viewed by gentiles and secular Jews as mysterious and unsettling. 

As a kid, I spent my summers at a girls-only Lubavitch sleepaway camp in the Pyrenees Mountains in France. Whereas at home I adhered to no dress code whatsoever, in camp we all wore opaque wool tights, ankle-length skirts, long-sleeved shirts that covered our collarbones, and close-toed shoes.  Buttons and zippers were frowned upon. “When a door is open, you want to peek inside,” instructed one of our counselors, “So too buttons make men want to peek inside.” I was nine years old, but I recognized immediately that this was a creepy thing to say, and filed it under the category of “things to report to my parents when I get home.” (However ridiculous I considered the counselor’s ideas, however, it does not escape me that I’ve remembered her exact words for all these years—clearly they made an impact.) 

2 comments on “I’m Denominationally Conflicted. Are You?

  1. sara on

    Well spoken. I’ve also been trying to write an article about liberal synagogue aestheitcs

    (…the failure of…) and this hit it just right.

  2. Historian312 on

    Completely agree. And the day I saw a talit-clad husband lie down on a pew and put his head in the lap of his talit-clad wife during the Shabbat-morning Torah reading at a local Conservative shul, I was so appalled that I haven’t been to a non-Orthodox service since…. I’ve spoken to Roman Catholics who have a similar dilemma: they’re politically and culturally liberal, but modern church services don’t carry the same spiritual “juice” for them as do traditional services. Thanks for your excellent post, which expresses a truth many of us experience.

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