Wednesday, August 10, 2011


 Despite my lack of homemaking skills and artistic ability, I have recently developed an interest in home decorating. Hopefully I will manage to make my home at least somewhat more inviting and livable. To get decorating ideas, I have started to spend some time watching decorating shows on HGTV.

One common theme that I have noticed on many of the shows is that of "repurposing". Repurposing is essentially a fancy name for taking old furniture or household fixtures and modifying them to meet the homeowner's current tastes. If one is willing to put in the effort, repurposing is clearly and excellent way for people to decorate their homes in a way that is stylish, yet cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.

However, the process of repurposing does not always go as planned. I once tried to restain some porch chairs, which worked fine until I gave up in the middle due to the exhaustion of being nine-months pregnant. My youngest is now three and I never finished the job because I did not take the effort to finish what I had started. Another way that repurposing can fail is when due to the nature of the item, it cannot be repurposed as intended. My mother once began a project of covering the old upholstry on her dining room chairs with new upholstry, only to find that the backs of the chairs would no longer fit into the frame. Therefore, she ended up with pretty but useless dining-room chairs.

While the term "repurposing" was likely coined by home decorators, the concept is hardly unique to interior design. In many aspects of life, people take ideas and experiences from the past and attempt to modify them to fit in with our times. Jews in particular have a tendency to try to repurpose Judaism in a way that makes it relevant to modern times. The early secular Zionists celebrated Shavuos as a harvest festival representing the importance of cultivating the land of Israel, and many of today's Reform Jews create human rights sedarim for Pesach.

If Judaism is repurposed, is it still Judaism?
Can Judaism be repurposed effectively?

The answer to these questions seems to be found in our interior-design example. One can repurpose an object in such a way that it maintains its essential characteristics, or one can repurpose it in a way that it becomes an entirely different object. If one paints a table, it is still a table. However, if one cuts off the legs to the table and sticks it on the wall behind a bed, it is no longer a table but a headboard. Both the painted table and the headboard may be much more beautiful than the old table, but one has been changed to the point that it is no longer a table. Therefore, it seems that certain innovations can in fact enhance Judaism and make it relevant even to those who have difficulty with traditional Judaism, while others change the religion so radically that it is hardly recognizable. The effectiveness of the repurposing depends on whether the repurposing made that table look better or worse, which is to an extent in the eyes of the beholder, but still somewhat objective. Similarly, if an individual wants to repurpose Judaism, he or she needs to ensure that it is done in a way that enhances his or her life rather than detracting from it.

Should one repurpose Judaism?

For many people who are Orthoprax or OTD, the answer seems to be yes. Just as repurposing furniture has the benefit of saving money and the environment, repurposing Judaism has the potential to save relationships and improve ones state of mind. By finding new ways of or reasons for keeping mitzvos, one can help keep ones family together. Additionally, people typically find comfort in the rituals of their youth, so finding a way to incorporate these rituals into a new lifestyle can increase ones peace-of-mind and even help one focus on the positive memories of the past.

So perhaps there is an advantage to partial observance?



  1. Needless to say it's very difficult for a person raised in the orotodox world, where everythig is verboten, to look at the world thrugh a clear lense. Some of us are for various reasons "socially orthodox". It seemed to have worked for all of these years. In retrospect I could only wish that I was not

  2. If you take a look at Judaism ITSELF, it's clear that there was plenty of repurposing involved.

    At one point, it was a religion fixed in a particular place, and worship consisted of offering sacrifices to the right deity in the right place. Religion was local. That's why the Assyrians brought in Israelite priests to teach the Samaritans.

    Then....along came the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylonia. Eventually, many find there way back, re-establish the Temple, only to be followed by the destruction of the Second Temple and Roman exile.

    So...the Temple-based, place-based religion of the Sadducees was clearly not able to work. At that point, Judaism did something quite unique for the went mobile. We saw the rise of rabbinic/Talmudic Judaism. The G-d of Israel was seen as the universal G-d, prayer replaced sacrificial worship. That transition would eventually change the world (esp. since some basic theology and moral teachings from Judaism would get incorporated into Christianity and Islam).

    The other sort of repurposing that took place involves Bad Moments in History. One of the innovations of Judaism was the idea that when things happen to your people that suck - you look inward at your own conduct, and you also learn empathy for others. So, we have the teaching that we are supposed to be nice to strangers, because we were strangers in Egypt. We also have the Prophets yelling and screaming that we need to stop oppressing widows and orphans, or we'll be invaded by Assyrians or Babylonians.

    Both of those forms of repurposing continue to this day. Forget whatever you may have been told about the outside, evil secular influences of democracy, feminism, secularism, etc. corrupting Jewish souls. If you take a look at these things, you'll find that Jews were often the leaders, not just followers, and many will link their activism to their Jewish background.

  3. JRK,

    I don't think it's repurposed as much as you are leading it to, or, at the least where Mrs. Fence is asking. "Bad Moment" Repurposing? This is not something that was repurposed but something from the very beginning till this moment. That IS Judaism. Fence is asking something different I believe. Can you totally pull Judaism apart, and put it back together again—not based on Judaism values, but based on other values and still call it Judaism?

  4. Hi, love your site. I'm new to this OTD scene. I started a blog you might find of interest-- Do you think that you could link to me? Thanks.

  5. Sure Kopheres, I will be happy to link to you

  6. Holy Hyrax,

    I would think that JRK has a point with regard to repurposing. It seems like replacing korbanos with tefila really was a substantial change but because it was instituted by the rabbonim it remained part of Judaism. However, it seems that as time goes on Judaism gradually became less flexible.

  7. Even having rabbonim (as opposed to kohanism) as the main spiritual leaders was a significant shift, and not without controversy. The Sadducees opposed them during the Second Temple period.

    For a good read, pick up "Jews, God and History" by Max I. Dimont. It's a bit dated, and shoving thousands of years of history into a paperback may have been a bit ambitious, but it's a good starting point if you want to think about the big picture with Judaism, and get an idea about what influenced Judaism, and what influence Judaism has had on the world.

  8. You combined my two favourite passtimes . . . home decor, and thinking about Judaism! Excellent analogy - love this post!! I used to be of the mindset that once you "repurposed" Judaism it was not Judaism. So once I accepted that I was very unlikely to become a theist, I threw away the whole thing. My husband's family is observant (I'm from a secular family), and this forced me to participate in Judaism on a social level (I'd go to meal, abstain from reciting prayers. Boycotted shuls completely on high holidays) . . . Long story short, I came to reevaluate, and now feel that Judaism has always needed to evolve to stay alive. I have found a very happy place in Humanistic Judaism, which by taking God out of the picture, arguably turns Judaism in to the "headboard". When I asked my BT brother what he thought of me attending the new congregation, he said: "Call it what you want . . a coffee club, a community centre, but not Judaism". It is interesting that some will see my going to my first Yom Kippur service in over a decade, as officially leaving Judaism.

  9. My post in response to yours . . Thank you for getting the ball rolling . . .