Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Faking it

"Are you a Hasidic Jew, or an Orthodox Jew?" That's the question someone dropped on me out of the blue -- someone who was obviously neither. That's a false dilemma if I ever saw one, but something I wasn't particularly in the mood to explain just then. "Both" I said. And that was the start of a two hour in-depth conversation. With a Catholic, born to a Jewish mother, and harboring the grandiose dream of living a Hassidic life. Oops.

And so it was that I -- doubter, apikores, rebel that I am -- found myself making Hasidic life sound all palatable and reasonable and sensible to an outsider on the verge of opting in, all while suppressing the urge to say, Are you out of your fucking mind??? For how could I do any different? He was obviously delighted to have found a real insider, someone who could help him make sense of it all: the rituals, lifestyle, isolationism, conservatism, language, funny dress. Somewhat of a self-educated religious scholar himself, he already knew all about the laws and minutia that govern daily existence.

--"You recite a brachah before eating?"
--"Pretty much."
--"Isn't it tough to remember sometimes?"
--"Nah. It becomes second nature."
--"I don't think I could give up my dream of having a professional career in my field of study."
--"You don't have to."
--"Not many Hasidim have a professional career, do they?"
--"That's because most don't bother getting a degree. But you already have one."

And so on. Hamming it up. Being the deity's advocate, you could say. It's an odd thing. I am no longer that paranoid about an insider catching me breaking the rules: eating in a non-kosher restaurant, sending email on Shabbos, skipping tefilin. What will they do? Not count me as the tenth in a minyan? I don't daven with a minyan anyway (or daven at all). If their delicate sensibilities are liable to get wounded by such outrageous acts, I'd suggest they don't snoop. And if they feel the need to tell me about their hurt sensibilities, I'd advise they go defenestrate themselves -- carefully, because they're apt to get hurt.

But in the presence of outsiders and most especially, knowledgeable outsiders, I sometimes feel duty-bound to play the part. Live up to my fashion sense and sartorial choices. So there is a secular Jewish woman watching me buy a non-kosher bowl of chicken soup. Will she suppose it's kosher? Will she conclude Hasidim don't eat kosher? Will she think me a hypocrite? And here is a Jewish-Catholic man thrilled to get some spiritual encouragement and opinions from someone who walks the walk. Should I burst his balloon? No, I don't think I can do that.

So I fake it; I make the right noises and motions and say the right words at the right moment. Yes, it can leave me unsatisfied, but why rain on someone's parade? I'm sure lots of people can relate.