In the grand scheme of being Orthodox, I suppose my family wasn’t all that strict when I was a kid. While we maintained a kosher home and I went to yeshiva, my mother wore pants and didn’t cover her hair. Still, growing up Orthodox meant there were certain things we just didn’t do, like drive on Shabbat and eat bacon (which, incidentally, I still don’t do, but it’s more of a “bacon grosses me out” kind of thing).
These days, my husband (who was raised Reform) and I embrace a Jewish lifestyle and work hard to create a Jewish home, but we’re clearly not Orthodox, and we don’t pretend to be. We eat at non-kosher restaurants. We drive to synagogue. We do plenty of things I didn’t do growing up, and I’m OK with that.
See, the logical part of me is very OK with that, because being Orthodox just doesn’t fit my lifestyle. In fact, a big reason I stopped being Orthodox was that I felt stifled by the rules and restrictions rather than inspired.
Take cooking on Shabbat, which is something Orthodox people don’t do. To me, the beauty of Shabbat is that it’s a break from the norm. It’s a day of rest, but more so than that, it’s a time to connect with family and do the things I normally don’t get to do during the week—such as cook. To me, cooking on Shabbat doesn’t detract from the spirit of the day. If anything, it actually helps make it more special and meaningful, because these days, only on weekends do I have the time to whip up complicated, from-scratch dishes in my kitchen.
Going shopping, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like Shabbat to me, and so I don’t do it. In fact, there are a number of Shabbat-related rules I do keep. Furthermore, though my husband and I eat at non-kosher restaurants, our home is kosher. We do these things because they’re meaningful to us, and I break certain rules because they’re less meaningful to me.
But sometimes I can’t shake the guilt that comes with breaking the rules I followed so strictly as a child.
For example, to this day, I still feel guilty about driving on Shabbat. I do it anyway, but when I actually stop to think about it, something about it just doesn’t feel right.
I tried explaining this to my husband, and he didn’t get it—not because he was being insensitive, but because as someone who was raised Reform, he was never taught to believe that driving on Shabbat is a “bad” thing or the wrong thing to do. But when I get into the car, there’s a part of me that thinks, “Here we go again, time to violate a major commandment.” (Ironically, much of the time when I’m driving on Shabbat, it’s actually to synagogue, which you’d think would make me feel less guilty about it, but that’s not always the case.)
And it’s not like I really have a choice at this point to stop driving on Shabbat (unless, of course, I want to resign myself to never leaving the house on Saturdays). Our synagogue is over a mile away, which is doable with young kids in ideal weather. But as anyone on the East Coast will tell you, for at least half of the year, it’s either too hot or too cold to trek for almost three miles round-trip with a toddler and twin infants in tow. And to get anywhere else, like a park or a friend’s house, we absolutely need to drive. So I guess, subconsciously (or maybe not so much), when I moved into my current house seven years ago, I also made the decision that driving on Shabbat is just going to be something I do—even if it’s something I feel bad about.
A big part of me is resigned to this perpetual guilt, but I’m taking steps to accept it rather than uselessly pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve never been one to invalidate feelings, whether they’re my own or someone else’s, and while continuing to feel guilty about not being Orthodox isn’t exactly productive, it’s also not something I can help. I can’t un-know what I know, and I can’t un-feel what I feel.
There’s a good chance that guilt is always going to be a part of me, just like my past is a part of who I am. And while yes, I could do without the guilt, I’m grateful for my Orthodox upbringing. Even though it’s not the path I ultimately chose, I can’t argue that it helped shape my life as I know it today.
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