The woes of a half-observant Jew

Consciously keeping only part of the Torah’s commandments often feels right to me. I drive to shul or a Shabbat meal on Friday night but usually sleep in Shabbat morning. Often I’ll drive to the beach for a walk on the famous Vancouver seawall or go hang out with friends. Sometimes I rent a movie though I try not to spend money on Shabbat.

I used to buy a few different products without a hechsher but just lately decided to go fully kosher. Well, minus the canned hearts of palms that don’t have a hechsher (because they’re just so good!) and the fact that I cook on Shabbat. Oh, of course I eat in vegetarian restaurants but what do you expect, living in a city where keeping kosher means never eating in a nice restaurant?

Most of the time I don’t know what to think about my decisions. Good for me, I’m living the way I feel I need to right now or bad for me, I’m such a hypocrite?

As someone who grew up in a “fully” “observant” home, I was taught that it’s all or nothing. You are striving to fulfill all the mitzvot. If you are, at some point, not observing a certain mitzvah, this is bad and you should be working on changing this.

Well, that was fine until I started feeling progressively claustrophobic in that way of life. I tried for years not to give up my Orthodox life because really I do love it and I loved being part of the Orthodox world, but I couldn’t figure out a way to continue being Orthodox and emotionally OK.

After I graduated high school, I realized that I was starting to feel like something was “missing”. I went on to study in a yeshiva which – though a wonderful experience for most of the girls who attended with me – left me feeling more empty. Then I spent the next few years hoping a solution would arise to save me from my ever progressing feelings of disconnectedness and shallowness in my life. I tried to find a rabbi I could talk to. I met a few and found solutions from none.

In the end I realized that as much as I dreaded this decision, my only option was stop being fully observant. I said to myself that if Torah is truth, I am going to have to leave it and hopefully come back to it in my way. The way that is good for me.

The thing is that I didn’t leave it out of anger. I never really wanted to leave it. And as such, once I decided that I should leave, I still wanted to continue to observe as much of it as I felt I could.

But that means that now I almost always have some feelings of inconsistency and hypocrisy in my life. I’m in a constant struggle trying to decide what I’m willing to do, what I want to do, and where I draw the line (in either direction). It’s also difficult when one week I could feel like I want to be more strict and other weeks I really don’t connect. But I know (or I try to know) that this is the only option I’m aware of that is best for me at this time. So I live with the inconsistency.

But sometimes the inconsistency becomes a lot more complicated. For example, this year Tisha B’Av came out on Sunday. Of course I take Tisha B’Av very seriously. No food, drink, leather shoes, sitting on chairs, etc. etc. But, do I cook on Shabbat for the meal before the fast? Do I take a shower in anticipation?

I admit, I did both but it felt very strange. It was like I was sacrificing one very important mitzvah for another. Halachikly, I do not know which one carries more weight, but definitely it feels very wrong to be cooking on Shabbat for Tisha B’Av. Does it not take away from the seriousness I put on Tisha B’Av in my life?

These moments come and go but they do make me wish that I wasn’t sitting on the fence, with one leg on one side and one on the other (as goes the Israeli song). They make me one moment want to abandon all Torah actions until I’m ready to keep it “all” and the next make me want to be able to finally return and do things “properly”.

But then I remember that as crazy as it seems to the outsider, and often as crazy it feels to me, the way I’m living is the best I can do right now. I want to be keeping as many mitzvot as I feel I can. And I cannot (yet) do more than I’m doing. And so, I choose to continue my life of inconsistency and hypocrisy.


2 thoughts on “The woes of a half-observant Jew

Add yours

  1. Deena… There is so much I’d like to say about what you wrote, maybe I’ll write you a nice, long email… ;) but let me say just this:
    inconsistency? maybe, as far as the definition goes. but hypocrisy?? I see only truth and candidness. And as one observant jew once told me: When you stand before God do you think He’ll ask you whether you observed the shabbat and halachic Kashrut? I like to think he’ll want to make sure you’re an honest person who’s led an honest life and been nothing but honest with himself and with others. As far as what exactly honesty means, well, that’s a question unto itself…

  2. A very honest and compelling essay…
    One thing I can say is that many of us struggle with similar feelings in our lives…we keep as many mitzvos as we feel we can. Remember that we are told in the Blessings and the Curses (Tochaha) that the curses come to those who REJECT the covenant…you have not rejected the covenant, you are just struggling with the amount of your observances….best of luck and keep a positive outlook!

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