I refuse the guilt

Jewess has generously agreed to share some of her heart-felt, heart-stirring writing with Blog Midrash. Please comment and let her know how you feel about what she wrote here. Deena

Deena wanted to know if I feel or experience any sense of guilt over not leading a frum (Orthodox) way of life. I have felt guilty for a long time, but not anymore. The feeling of guilt over not being frum has left me a while ago. I do these occasional check ins with myself. For example, as I get ready to sit in front of my laptop right after I light Shabbat candles, I pause and ask myself “You know what you are about to do goes against the hallacha, so do you feel guilty over breaking the hallacha?” The answer is “No, I don’t feel guilty.” Body, mind and soul, I feel balanced and peaceful. I am at peace with myself for making my choices and taking responsibility for them. And I feel that for the very first time in my life my choices are my choices alone, which is a new experience for me.

Let me elaborate on what I mean when I say “my choices are mine alone.” The “me” isn’t a stand alone that grew up in a vacuum; the “me” is a composite of an infinite number of variables, such as my culture, my parents, my brothers and sisters, the books I have read, communities I have been part of, places I have traveled to, people I have met, my experiences, dramas, furkas, etc. The inside of “me” has so many imprints of others that at some point I couldn’t see my own imprint. And on top of it all, the voices of shame and guilt were the loudest voices inside the “me’s” head and they were always judging me.

You see, I find that most of us (Jews and non Jews alike) are raised to be good people through guilt tactics, with a heavy dosage of shame mixed into an already destructive dynamic that teaches us to be judgmental of ourselves and others. And the end result is a damaged person, who is constantly wavering between senses of guilt and feelings of shame. This person is her/his own harshest critic. I certainly was that person.

In my case, the beautiful structure of Judaism has been abused and shaped into a harsh lash by the Orthodox fundamentals (and those can be found among haredim, hassidim, black yeshivish, knitted kippah, and so on), that is cracked over people’s consciences via guilt, shame, and judgment, to whip people into being good Jews. In fact, I have witnessed any form of rigid fundamentalist employ these very tactics to whip its followers into whatever mold the structure adheres to.

I didn’t come to Judaism so I would be part of a kollel lifestyle that I find very degrading towards women. And I certainly didn’t appreciate being guilted and having implied that I wasn’t fulfilling my role as a Jewish woman for refusing to date guys who wanted a kollel lifestyle. It wasn’t what I wanted, and I resented being forced into accepting something I didn’t believe in. Also, unfortunately, in my case I have witnessed certain circles that seem to promote learning self respect of being a Jew through harsh judgment of non-Jews. Is the point that we guilt non-Jews for being born as non-Jews, and through that guilt we make ourselves feel good about being Jews?

What finally did me in was hearing some Orthodox ladies shaming feminist movements to explain why a frum way of life is the path for a woman. Well, goodness, had it not been for the feminist movement that got women rights to work in the first place, kollel wives couldn’t support their kollel husbands! But it seemed to me that rather than consider this fact, they chose to make strong judgmental accusations.

Despite various negative experiences, Judaism as a structure is the most beautiful one to me. Nonetheless, at this time, I feel that I need to simply put everything on hold to allow myself to heal over certain experiences. G-d’s law is lived on here, in the now, through people who sometimes make mistakes, and sound law can be twisted into destructive force by the people. While I understand that the law itself is sound, I also recognize I need time and space to stay away from it all.

The unhealthy dynamics of guilt and shame that lead us to often very painful and never ending judgments of ourselves and others are really everywhere. I see it everywhere, not just in Judaism. I see parents raising children through these dynamics, people having relationships with themselves, and each other via these dynamics, Jews do it to Muslims, Muslims do it to the Jews, black folks do it to white, and white folks do it to Latinos, and the “charmed circle” continues on… Not to sound overly depressing, but at times it seems that entire world is engaged in these dynamics, and that leads me to wonder many things… But that is the thought for another post…

Long story short, about a year ago or so I learned how to listen to myself, my own voice, be aware of what I want or need, stopped feeling guilty all the time, let go of my shame, and started to accept myself. And so when I ask myself, “Do you feel guilty for not being frum?” The answer is: “No, not at all.” Because right now (and I don’t know when, if, why or how this might change in the future), being frum and doing frum things feels untrue. And I am strong enough not to feel guilty about it, and not allow others to guilt me.


5 thoughts on “I refuse the guilt

  1. Great post. I feel the same way. However I do feel guilty when a frum person seems me doing something not frum, such as driving or using my phone on Shabbat. Does this ever happen to you?

    1. Jenny,

      It has stopped happening to me a while back. I think it stopped last Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanah are the only holidays that I observe fully, and during the last Yom Kippur there was a loud and clear thought in my head as I was having my one on one conversation with G-d that after the Chag is over, which I have kept as a frum person would, I am going back to being non-frum, and I was OK with that.

      Nowdays whenever I see a frum person doing a frum thing, what comes up for me is a hope that s/he is following halachah because of sincere belief in it that comes from within a good place.

  2. Jewess,

    Thank you very much for writing this. I am glad you are not feeling guilty any more. That is not a good place to be when talking about living your life.

    I come from a very different environment. I do not remember being guilted into anything by my parents or community (not that I had one). Before I converted, these were the kinds of things that infuriated me about “religion”.

    I am glad that you have not left completely and you have found a place to live with intention. I hope you keep writing. Can you share the process of moving away from the frum community?

    Thank you,

    1. mTp,

      Your journey is your own, and that statement is true for every single individual out there. It is great that you have been spared destructive forces in your journey to your Judaism. Sadly it doesn’t always work out that way for everyone.

      I don’t believe there is a “process of moving away from the frum community.” It isn’t as if there are recommended steps (or perhaps not recommended) one can take, and the end result of these steps is non frum way of life. I find myself wanting to say “It is what it is for me because my journey…”

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