Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wherefore art thou, RW reform?

I don't give a hoot about halacha. I just don't. I wasn't raised with it, I don't see any good reason to follow it, and I certainly don't consider it binding. So, despite my father's many, many freakouts any time he sees me with a yarmulke on my head ("This is not a fucking shul!"), my position on Jewish law (and the presence of a shiska girlfriend) should demonstrate to him that there's no danger in me running off to Chabad anytime soon.

That said, last night I went to a Reform Kabbalat Shabbat. And, well, it just wasn't me.

Let me explain. I wasn't raised going to any shul, and in college I roomed with a friend who spent years (and years, and years) in the Conservative movement. At this point I've been to a few Conservative shuls, and though I don't identify either as a CJ or with CJ's theology, I must confess that there's something to their services I'm quite fond of. I like the Hebrew (though transliteration is a must), and I really like Carlebach-style singing. Ideologically, I'm basically somewhere on the Reform-Reconstructionist end of things, because I don't feel the need to grapple with halacha (count me in for Kaplan's vote-not-veto), and I really like the idea of individual choice- especially since, if I'm honest, that's what I'm going to do in any case.

So a few weeks ago Shiksa Girlfriend and I went to a nice, pretty small (and elderly) Conservative shul. Everyone was very nice to us (surprised, in fact, to see people they'd never met before), and were even impressed at our ability to "read" Hebrew (thanks to some handy transliterations a friend made me for my birthday). Last night, though, we went to a large Reform shul. I prepared SG by telling her it was the city's Jewish equivalent of a Mega-Church.

And indeed, it was. The whole time I was sitting there, I felt very, very uncomfortable (not unlike the last few times I've been to Reform services, come to think of it). To be fair, this isn't about ideology. It's largely about style. In regards to style, though, this was totally NOT my thing. The transliteration wasn't what I was used to (you-don-'t ne-eed to hy-ph-en-ate ev-ery wo-rd); and the whole thing seemed like a very weird combination of a couples mixer meets Jewish summer camp.

Sorry, did I say camp? Guess what the rabbi's sermon was about. See, it turns out evangelical Christians are scary. Fine, tell me something I don't know. Do we really need to spend the whole drash talking about a movie you saw last week? And comparing evangelicals, even the crazy dominionists, to Hamas? Yeah, fine, they train their kids to hate the government and non-believers. It's not like this is an exclusive thing here. Settlers in Hebron do that, too.

And it was particularly surreal hearing the rabbi complain about weirdo Christians given the fact that the music sounded like something from a Pentecostal fund-raiser (or light-Christian rock music station), right down to the- and this part scared the crap out me- weird finger waving at the end of the song. Sort of like a cross between this stuff and jazz hands.

Me: "Are they being ironic?"
SG: "I can't tell."

It's weird, because I usually spend all sorts of ridiculous energy defending Reform to bashers on the net, and one of the most regular cheap shots they toss out is that it's like church. Well, at this point I can say, it's not High Reform- which was certainly designed to emulate the German Lutherans of the day- but the comparisons are definitely there. The place I saw last night looked pretty damn charismatic Protestant to me. That's not a dig, it's just an observation. And it's not what I want.

I'm glad Reform exists. It needs to exist. (Not unlike my feelings about Orthodoxy- I would never choose it, and I have plenty of issues with it, but good for them.) And I haven't ruled it out yet. But at this point, my Conservative college roommate has ruined me: I need a more traditional service. So the search continues.

Money quote of the night upon leaving the shul:

Me: So, that was different.
SG: Yeah.
Me: Not to offend them- or you- but...
SG: What?
Me: It was just so... Christian!
SG: Wait, why are you lumping me in with them?

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