"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


'Are You Religious?'

I never know how to respond when someone asks if I'm "religious." On the one hand, I'm proud to tell people how much my religion means to me—I couldn't just say "No" if I say the Shema twice daily, celebrate the holidays as much as I can, and go to shul most Saturdays. On the other hand, as someone who doesn't keep kosher (not in the conventional sense at least), isn't shomer Shabbos, and doesn't wear a kippah, I couldn't say "Yes" because the extent of my religious involvement probably doesn't meet the expectations of the person asking the question.

Generally, I say that I'm a Conservative Jew and that Judaism defines my life in more ways than people might realize. Or I say that I'm religious in my own way.

There's no reason to think that everyone has to fit neatly into one camp: ultra-religious or not religious at all. While researching my upcoming posts about tefillin, I came across this quote from a November 2006 e-mail from Dan Kliman to the Veggie Jews Yahoo! group:
People do indeed define down Judaism and often use the "buffet method" for their mitzvot. … On Yom Kippur, my Rabbi talked of how it is nearly impossibly for anyone, even a great tzadik (righteous person), to fulfill all the commandments; therefore, we should think in terms of bettering ourselves rather than achieving perfection.

I think we can all find ways to go down the path of self-improvement in terms of religiousness and religious observance.

One of the ways I've managed to do something new is by counting the omer. (The counting of the omer will begin on Sunday.) I'd never counted the omer before last year, and I had a lot of doubts about whether I'd be able to keep it up for 49 consecutive nights. But I affirmed the importance of this mitzvah and became determined to do it. In fact, I was so determined that I blogged for 49 consecutive nights (counting the omer with a different reason to go vegetarian each night). I will not be blogging the omer again this year—it's too much work. However, I'm definitely up to the task of counting the omer for seven weeks in the conventional sense.

In the last few months, I've had a lot of opportunities to assess my pick-and-choose manner of religious observance. It's not perfect, and I aspire to do better. But so long as I keep moving in the right direction on the path, I'm proud of where I am now.


  • At 4/17/2008 12:03 PM, Blogger Kol Ra'ash Gadol said…

    Er, you are aware that Conservative Judaism sys that halakha is obligatory; it's Reform that says one chooses what is meaningful to the individual.
    It's great to be on a not-yet path, as long as you realize that the goal, Jewishly is to serve God, not to feel moved. I applaud your struggle, and your choices. Keep it up. I hope that you will find it in you to make the commitment to kashrut and shabbat someday, too!
    Many blessings

  • At 4/17/2008 12:04 PM, Blogger Kol Ra'ash Gadol said…

    ...Although of course, as a vegan, you're essentially keeping kosher anyway.... It's only a matter of doing it with intent....

  • At 4/17/2008 9:06 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…

    Kol Ra'ash Gadol, thanks for your response.

    I should've realized that when I deleted a bunch of personal examples, I'd come across in a less favorable light. Oh well, I guess we don't really need to debate that here. :-)

    Regarding your second comment: As many heebnvegan readers probably recognize, I do consider myself "kosher by default," with the intention of keeping kosher. I accept that as someone who doesn't check for a hechser on products (which are all vegan anyway), etc., a strict assessment would say that I don't keep kosher in the "conventional" sense. As the post I linked to discusses, however, I think being vegan is a fantastic/ideal way to observe the laws of kashrut (and not contribute to unnecessary animal suffering—tza'ar ba'alei chayim).

    On a side note: When I've had doubts about whether shrimp can suffer and whether it's necessary to avoid eating them from an animal welfare perspective (I certainly recommend not eating them; see http://www.askcarla.com/Answers.asp?QuestionAndAnswerID=364), the number one reason I don't eat them is because they're trayf. I think this shows that my "intent" is not lacking. :-)

  • At 4/21/2008 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is a really interesting post. I feel like I might am in a similar position, and am often unsure how to answer this question. When you have a minute I would like to invite you to visit a new online Jewish publication which deals with this and other questions of modern Jewish identity:


    We're always looking for new contributors, so if you or anyone you know might be interested in submitting something we would be happy to hear from you.


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