Boxes are for things, not people

I have long eluded boxes.  This is not new to me.  What is new to me is people feeling like they absolutely must be able to place me in one.  And I am not alone.  There has been a lot of talk around the web over the past few weeks about who fits in what denominational box and what exactly defines the walls of those boxes.

I will never understand who gets to decide the walls and what they are made from because it seems they are always shifting and organizations and individuals like to try to change the walls constantly based on what they feel defines the box.  Often times, the walls seem to be based on an other-ness, a sense of “if you don’t fit in what I think defines my box, you must belong in that one” – even if the people in that box feel the same sense of other-ness about the person you want to place with them.  This all sounds very vague, and it is intentionally that way because while there have been some big things in the news on these points, it is also very personal for me.

The only box I ever fit in - Post by Melissa

There is no box for me. You cannot put walls up to define me amongst a group of other Jews.  I do not fit in any denominational boundaries.

And while I have come to accept this about myself, many people I meet along the way do not know how to cope with this.  They keep trying to place me into a box I don’t fit into – trying to make me into something I am not.  Perhaps this makes people feel better about themselves for some reason.  Perhaps they think it gives clarity on some level.  Its hard for me to say why people do what that they do, what I can tell you for sure is that it doesn’t feel good to me.

So, to save you all the trouble of trying to box me in, here is what you need to know.  I do not identify with any denomination in Judaism today. I do my best to live a shomer Torah life. I learn and question and learn some more each time something comes up, so that I can make educated decisions, based in halacha.  I avoid leniency or stringency for the sake of leniency or stringency – striving to live a more centrist, yet religious, lifestyle.

As for others, stop trying to make them fit what you want or expect them to be.  Religious and spiritual journeys are highly personal. We are all on a path (which is ironically also the literal translation of halacha), and there is nothing to make one stop dead in their tracks like feeling judged about the direction their path is taking at any moment in time.

We need to support, love, and respect one another in these times more than ever. I love this video‘s reminder of that, so I shall leave you with this as a happy note.


8 thoughts on “Boxes are for things, not people

  1. I wish more people would read this and internalize it. As a Jew of color, a convert (who found out later that she was born Jewish), someone who prays at an Orthodox synagogue. someone married to an [others usually insert box here] Orthodox rabbi but feels she converted to Judaism NOT Orthodoxy and embraces all Jews, people are always trying to find a box for me. I can’t get through an introduction at any Jewish event or meal without someone trying to box in my race, my ethnicity, whether or not I was born with the right to be there, whether converting or being born Jewish gives me the right to be there anyway because I don’t “look” or “act” or “talk” Jewish.

    The Jewish community doesn’t realize how many people it scares away with its boxes. If I can’t have a conversation with you until you box me in and make sure that I know at least 5 or 6 people you know (Jewish geography–something difficult for someone who didn’t go to Jewish schools, camps, programs growing up), I might not end up having a conversation with Judaism at all because I might mistake you for representing all Judaism and all Jews because it’s what I come up against time and time again without fail.

    The hardest road is for those who are still trying to find there place in the Jewish world. They are not sure what box they fit in. They don’t even realize what all the boxes are or that they are so many. But still, people try to force them into a box. I see them pushing a square peg into a round hole and taking away the beauty of discovering Judaism for the first time, of falling in love with it, of making it about more than what you wear, where you live and your politics (something people are starting to use as a box they feel is connected to how Jewish you are).

    Frequently, I’ve seen a conversation fall flat when you don’t fit in a box or when you fit in a box that people don’t like (mixed race, convert, newly religious, not religious, secular, etc). One minute ago, we were connected by being Jewish but now we must disconnect because we cannot connect. The system will not have it. Does not compute. How can I feel connected to someone who isn’t checking off all the boxes that I fit into or is completely out of the box? Perhaps, because we’re all Jewish. Or simply, because we’re human. Individuals were born to defy boxes and Jews were born to live within that tension of being an individual and living within a community.

  2. Thank you dearly for this dose of sanity and clarity in these crazy last few days.

    Forgive me if my comment is less vague.

    Over Shabbos I was dismayed hearing someone being nastily critical of one very public Jew’s very private spiritual journey.

    On a not unrelated note, I attended a concert last night that was spectacular. What a voice, matched by the artist’s equally beautiful neshama…. and face.

    He is a living breathing holy soul, as is every Jew… not some caricature for us to box in!

    Your post touches in part on why I choose to maintain an inconsistent chitzyonius: sometimes donning the black/white yeshivish look, other times colorful clothing and kippot…. sometimes rolling up my beard and tucking my payos, other times not. I guess it’s something of a statement that I don’t want to be boxed in! …. and a personal reminder that I must seriously work on myself to avoid boxing in others, too.

  3. Nicely put. Try saying ‘I am a pre-1810 Jew’. Before the start of Reform in Germany, there were no formal denominations. Although one could argue that there were various sects that came and went. And splits between the Hassidim and Mitnagdim, etc. Or try, ‘I belong to the only denomination defined by the Torah and halacha.’ Or, you could even try ‘go to hell’. 😉

    Following how I was first taught by Rav Dov Bigon (student of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook), I have always resisted categorizing Jews unless there is some halachic necessity of the moment. None of the denominations used today fit that purpose. It’s easier for me since people will simply say that I’m Orthodox. But my religion recognizes no denominations. Actually, the ‘Sefardi’ world didn’t have to contend with denominations until confronted with Ashkenazi silliness. In most of the Eastern communities in Arabia and Asia, one simply belonged to their local community; and each person did what they did and believed what they believed. There was typically one synagogue and rav, and they understood that they had to serve all the Jews in the community without compromising the halacha. For the most part, it worked pretty well.

    Maybe we need a box for all the Jews who refused to be boxed? ;-P ‘I belong to the non-denominational denomination.’ So, what would be the criteria to let people in? 🙂

    You have it right, IMO. Stick to your guns. Don’t worry about other people’s hangups. Maybe they’ll learn from you; maybe they won’t.

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