"?עַד־מָתַ֞י אַתֶּ֣ם פֹּסְחִים֮ עַל־שְׁתֵּ֣י הַסְּעִפִּים֒"
This blog is my attempt to deal with being "on the fence" about yiddishkiet and to develop a workable plan for how to manage the many contradictions inherent in living a double life.
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?